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.