Editor's desk: CES 2013 wrap-up

CES is a strange show. Apple's never been there. Google stopped going a couple of years ago. Microsoft stopped last year. BlackBerry didn't even have a booth this year. Sure, the mega corporations that also happen to make Android and Windows Phones, Samsung and LG and Sony have massive booths, but they're filled with televisions, home appliances, and technology prototypes than new, hero-class phones and tablets.

For iOS enthusiasts like us, it's mostly endless walls of iPhone cases, and to some degree iPad cases, with a few other accessories thrown in. Some of them are gorgeous, a few exciting, a few truly innovative. Many of the big accessory makers didn't even have new stuff to show at CES, just stuff they'd announced previously but hadn't wheeled out for the buyers, press, or consumers yet.

Part of that is timing. Early January is an odd time of the year to have to schedule new product announcements around. It's why Apple stopped doing the Macworld Expo Keynote. Part of that is the scale. Given the televisions, the cars, the appliances, the gadgets -- everything that could be a show in its own right, cramped all together -- it's hard for any one thing, in any one niche, not matter how innovative, to get attention.

Given the sheer quantity of stuff, it's easy to get lost. Watching the coverage can almost be as daunting as walking the floor. It spills from blog to blog, the way CES spills from hall to hall, hotel to hotel.

But taking a step back, there are a few larger things that emerge.

  • Big TVs. Super HD televisions are everywhere. The branding sucks -- what happened to 2160p or 4K? -- but the sets themselves are gorgeous. Of course, an iPad 4 is 1536p, so if the set is big enough and you're close enough, Super HD isn't anywhere near the Retina quality we've gotten used to. Still, if you've wanted a set bigger than 50-inches, they're coming. They'll cost a fortune, but so did HD and plasma/LCD tech at one point. (I remember seeing a 24-inch plasma in Hong Kong for $25K in the late 90s.) Would Apple enter that market with the TV equivalent of a Thunderbolt Display? Maybe eventually, but probably not in the way expected.

  • Big phones. Apple went to 4-inches this year, but most Android phones seem to be going to 5 or even 6. I'm not sure where the border between phone and tablet exists, but they're blurring it. I used a Nexus 4 on T-Mobile during CES (my iPhone is locked to Rogers), and even that was a little large. 6-inches is stupid large. I think Apple could increase its share of the addressable market by doing something closer to 5-inches, but if you want anything bigger just get a tablet and carry it on your shoulder, and own your 80s beatbox vibe.

  • Big platforms. Originally, accessories added value to phones. Now they're starting to use mobile technology as a platform for their own value. Whether it's small companies using the iPhone as the "brain" or "interface" for their own products, or large companies using Android as an embedded operating system across their appliances, everything is becoming connected. Unlike Samsung and LG, Apple doesn't have appliances divisions. That's a bigger topic, though, so I'll save it for a separate post.

  • Big community. Apple, Microsoft, Google, BlackBerry, et al may not or no longer be at CES, but the people who use their technology, who cover their products, who buy and sell them at retail, who discuss them endlessly online, are very much still there. I saw a lot of fellow bloggers at CES, and PR reps and people who work for the companies we cover, many of whom I only see at CES. I got to spend time with the other writers and editors of Mobile Nations, some of whom I only get to spend time with at CES. NVIDIA was kind enough to fly in several Mobile Nations readers, people I've interacted with in the comments and forums and on Twitter, and would never have had a chance to thank, were it not for CES.

  • Big surprises. A couple years ago at CES, the Mobile Nations team got to share a limo with one of the main Android guys at Google and we had a great discussion about trackballs/trackpads and the evolution of their platform. This year the CEO of BlackBerry dropped by our Mobile Nations party and we had a fantastic talk about user interface, experience, and the realities of the modern mobile space. That kind of stuff, for me at least, only happens at CES.

CES was never a big show for iMore, and its increasingly not a big show for others as well, but it's still CES, the biggest chow, the one where everything and everyone comes together.

I'm glad I went, and I'm glad we could bring all of you with us.

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, Vector, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Editor's desk: CES 2013 wrap-up

4 Comments

Rene,

Good perspective on CES. I read Phil's take which is much different since what phones and tablets announced were android based. Heck they even had a oven running android. I agree about 6" for a phone is way to big. Even 5.5" is to big. I use a HTC OneX and for me I think it is just the right size at 4.7". To bad the big companies like apple, google and other couldn't at least do one announcement at this show. I think with there presence it might attract more people and more smaller companies displaying their technology. Sure new TV technology is great but I find myself paying more attention to my iPad, MacBook Pro and phone more than I do the tv. Of course I am think one sided here and just about mobile technology.

I won't say that 5.5" is too big for a phone, considering that there is a market for phones that big. However, after holding the Note 2, I don't see how much bigger a phone could be and still be usable or practical. I watched the video for the Huawei Ascend Mate, and wow - that is a big "phone." I welcome such products if there is a market for them, though. I actually want to see a bigger iPhone this year. I don't mean a 6.1 inch iPhone, but I think it would be interesting to see Apple introduce an iPhone that is say between 4.3" and 4.7".

Re: "...everything that could be a show in its own right, cramped all together..."

I think the visible parts of CES - the show floor and the (insane) keynotes - are kind of split between prototypes of emerging consumer tech trends vs. mass-market me-too accessories and products. For example, the Ultra HD (aka 4K and 8K) televisions vs. all those iPhone cases and iPad covers. And that's fine. CES is for industry insiders, not for consumers, so future trends and current wholesale purchase orders are what CES is mostly about. From the outside looking in, anyway.

Then there's the invisible CES. The "inside" CES that we may never read about. The thousands of confidential deals being done and not done, in thousands of restaurants and hotel lobbies and conference rooms all around Vegas. Retailers negotiating prices on this year's stock. Manufacturers working component deals. Product roadmaps being revealed to potential partners under NDA. And yes, media types (including tech blog editors-in-chief) doing deals with potential advertisers.

The visible CES looks, superficially, like a holdover from the mid-20th century. On the surface, it looks like a wasteful use of non-renewable resources to bring all these people and products into one place. It's too big a show for any single person to completely cover. So you need a team if you're serious. Which makes CES even bigger and more wasteful in terms of resources consumed. Especially considering that most or all of the products' specs can be posted publicly or privately on a web page.

But it's the deals that quietly power CES. The grease that keeps the giant machine going. It may be possible to do million-dollar deals via email, but there's no substitute for "the meeting." And it's possible to do deals with many parties in many different cities, but isn't it more efficient to do it all in one spot in one relatively short time period? And wouldn't that actually reduce the greater carbon footprint?

If you look at CES that way, it's nearly indispensible.

Wow, that's quite an interesting perspective on CES. I never really stopped to think about the stuff that "we" don't get to see. It kinda makes you wonder what else we're missing...