CES 2013’s Big Untold Stories

While the announcements at CES tend to eclipse everything else at the show, including the prior announcements, often the bigger events are going on behind the scenes. This year, Nvidia, Microsoft, Qualcomm, and a bunch of Chinese companies you’ve never heard about — and one you have — were far more interesting than the headliners.

I’m going to walk you through some of the stories that likely weren’t covered anyplace else but were bigger than most of what were covered. I’ll close with my product of the week.

Sony Got Screwed

CES used to be Sony’s show. Before Apple, Sony was the dominant consumer electronics vendor, and an entire section of the show is carved out just for it. Only thing is, Sony’s section is basically the basement of the show existing far back in the convention in an area few folks see or can get to.

In effect, it pays what appears to be a premium for a massive space that is so horridly located most folks never see its wares, while newcomer Hisense (the GE of China) took over Microsoft’s premier space and got all the foot traffic.

Sony actually had one of the best of show products for aftermarket car audio, a hot smartphone, and a waterproof media player, but I doubt most at the show were even aware the products were announced let alone saw them.

This was just sad because Hisense, in its first year at CES, basically wiped the floor with Sony and didn’t have anywhere near as interesting a product lineup. Location, location, location.

Audi Beat Ford, But?

Going into the show, I was convinced that Ford would dominate the automotive segment with its new car application platform, but it was bested by Audi. Ford tried to do too much in the booth, including a massive focus on electric vehicles and chargers. Audi just focused on its top cars and its 3D audio solution, and its light tunnel booth could pull you across the room — it kind of looked like Audi’s cars were driving out of heaven.

Its 3D audio solution, which was developed in conjunction with Bang & Olufsen, is amazing. The speakers power out of the dash and the result is sound in a car like you have never heard before. However — and this is the problem with tech in the car industry in general — it had two cars in the booth. There was a Q7 I don’t find interesting, and an S-5 RS (I drive an S-5) I lust deeply for. The new sound system doesn’t come in the S-5 because it is too early in that car’s cycle to do a major revision.

So I fell in love with the car and the sound system, but since I can’t buy them together I won’t be getting either. The car companies are still not getting that technology needs to move faster than their three-to-five year cycle and should be far more modular than it currently is.

Ford is actually making more headway here and while Audi had the best booth, Ford is clearly leading in overall execution.

Nokia Kicked Smartphone Butt

It used to be that while everyone was at CES, Apple would launch a product like the iPhone from California and convince us all we were in the wrong state. Well, Nokia almost did the same thing this year, in that its numbers on Lumia phone sales hit during the show and got us to all start looking at what we were using as phones. Damned if a huge number of us hadn’t converted to Lumia 920s and not told the others.

Anecdotally, the 920 appeared to be the most popular phone among device analysts at many of the events. Windows Phones still have a bit of a stigma, so we weren’t being all that vocal about what we were using. However, watching the iPhone users complain — almost constantly — did give many of us some of our best grins during the show.

It was the combination of the phone sales results and CES that created an “oh crap” moment when we suddenly realized we were far from alone in loving the new big Nokia. Maybe Nokia is back.

Nvidia Launched Its 2020 Game System Early

A lot of the early buzz at the show was connected to two products Nvidia launched — three really, but I’ll get to the third in a moment. The two that were the most disruptive were its GeForce graphics rack mounted servers (yes, rack mounted servers at CES) and its Shield gaming system. Together they basically made the current — and increasingly troubled — mobile and traditional game systems obsolete.

The back story is how confused folks trying to cover this were. They saw an Xbox controller with a screen and folks playing on a TV and thought this was some kind of console game system, which it wasn’t. It was a mobile, standalone, client-to-client, client-to-TV, client-to PC, client-to-cloud dynamic gaming system that not only replaced all current gaming concepts but introduced bends of all of the above no one had seen before CES.

This system should have been at least five years rather than five months out, and the result was clearly that a lot of folks blew out their minds trying to wrap them around this concept. I’m not even sure I fully get it yet. What folks did get was another announcement, and that was Nvidia’s real time High Dynamic Range camera technology for cellphones. It addresses bad lighting digitally, and it is a technology that most of the top-end cameras don’t even have yet.

Tabletop PCs to Kill PowerPoint

There has been a pretty big effort to kill PowerPoint, largely spearheaded by a guy named Edward R. Tufte who argues it is killing businesses. The problem is — or was — the lack of really different alternatives. Before now, 3M, Lenovo and Panasonic were showcasing tabletop PCs and prototypes that could allow people to work together on concepts and ideas and avoid the “pitch” approach that Tufte argues is killing western innovation.

The irony is, of course, that Microsoft was first with this concept with a product launched at CES some time ago: the Surface Table. Fortunately, two of the three new products run Windows. Unfortunately, the one most likely to be used by businesses to replace PowerPoint is from 3M and it doesn’t appear to. There is some real irony here.

Dell Launches Modular PC but Doesn’t Know It

One of the more interesting products launched at the show was from Dell’s new Wyse Division — a PC on something about the size of a key fob. It was presented as though it was a little thin client, but it really wasn’t that at all. Running full Android, it was a modular computer that could be plugged into things to give them full tablet functionality with Bluetooth accessory and touchscreen support if needed.

This thing could revolutionize the computing industry, but it kind of showcased the difference between Steve Jobs and everyone else. Everyone else would have launched the iPad as a touchscreen netbook instead of the new magical product that became the iPad.

If mixed with a little of that old Steve Jobs magic, Dell’s Project Ophelia could still be something incredible, but that won’t happen if it continues to be positioned as a thin client.

Wrapping Up: China Was Huge

Lenovo dominated the top end of the PC vendor space and was aggressively showing off its wares. Hisense replaced Microsoft with its TV lines, and one of the coolest products I saw — and want to buy — was the Black FXD700 in-car DVR from ThinkWare.

Granted, the car I fell in love with was the new Fiat Viper, but there is a better chance I might actually get the DVR.

CES was the best ever this year, and I think China was a good deal of the reason. Go figure.

Product of the Week: Lenovo Horizon PC

Product of the Week

I wanted to put the product I most wanted to own from CES in this section, and it had to be a product in the market, which knocked out the Panasonic table PC prototype. It also had to be a product I actually got to touch, which knocked out the Sony car stereo, because I never had the time to hike back to the Sony section of CES.

I almost selected the car DVR from ThinkWare, but you not only can’t buy it here, it doesn’t seem to have menus in English yet, according to the woman in the booth — and I don’t speak or read Mandarin. However, for years — about seven — I’ve tried to buy a Surface Table. I’ve been denied, on grounds I’d only get bored and upset with it.

Lenovo IdeaCenter Horizon

Lenovo IdeaCenter Horizon

Well, the closest thing in the market that I can actually buy is the 27″ Lenovo Horizon PC. This all-in-one beauty can be placed flat on the table so you can play games — and someone better port the satellite game from the Microsoft Surface Tablet Windows 8 or I’m going to be really pissed.

This Windows 8 supersized tablet really explores the future of collaborative touch — but honestly, it is the chance to play top down view strategy games (which I’ve always been hooked on) that has me drooling about this product.

At CES, there was a lot of my drool on the floor, but of the products I could actually buy, the Lenovo Horizon tabletop PC is my product of the week — and it is a ton cheaper than the Microsoft Surface Table!

Rob Enderle

Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.

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