CES started as a trade show for retail. In the '80s and '90s, it was a venue for great technology intros such as the CD (1981), the DVD, (1986) and HDTV (1998). By 2000, CES was the place to launch major products such as Xbox (2001). When I look at this year's show, I see a lot of things no one needs, and few people will want. It's a Sharper Image catalog brought to life, the ultimate "Why? Because I can!" So why is it still an important event? It's the place to try and spot the new, new thing that might get consumers to replace the old, old thing. So far, I don't see it but here's what I do see.
Car Wars are the new platform wars
When Ford first came to CES, no one could understand why. Today it's obvious. The next consumer electronics platform war will be fought behind the wheel. I expect to hear a lot more from Apple and Google on this topic. As for Microsoft? The idea of MS Office in the car is truly frightening. Friends don't let friends PowerPoint and drive. As I like to say, PCs may have bugs but (Volkswagen) Bugs don't need PCs.
4K HDR is the New 3D
I understand vendors need to find a way to sell new TVs. Screens are large enough, (too large? If I offered you a 150" TV, where would you put it?) it's hard to make TV's thinner, and 3D was a total flop. I'm just not convinced 4K HDR will do the job. When I look at the best 4K HDR screens, they don't offer much improvement over a great 1080p HD experience (especially on smaller screens, at shorter distances). Even for those who can appreciate the quality, there's very little content available right now to justify the cost (unless you like Spiderman 2 an awful lot). We're not past the largest TV replacement cycle since color TV, and consumers aren't looking to buy again.
Fitness trackers are the new gym memberships
Uni-task fitness trackers aren't going to go the distance. Consumers will treat these things as they treat gym memberships; a great purchase in January but forgotten by March. Most will end up in drawers after their batteries run out a few times. I'm sure some good stuff will survive but by this time next year more than one company won't be around. Also, adding a clock to a fitness tracker doesn't make it a watch... but that's a topic for another day.
Drones are the new… something
There's a fascination with flying things that interfere with airplanes, infringe on privacy, and are generally a nuisance at best and a danger at worst. It's the perfect gadget no one needs (unless you're calling in an airstrike) but will sell in the millions before they are banned.
Apple casts a shadow over CES… Again
I'm not talking about 2007 when the iPhone introduction stole the show. (Remember the great new stuff introduced at CES that year? Me neither.) I'm not talking about the hundreds of Apple-related products on display every year. I am talking about the Apple presence shown, in every device I see, inspired by everything from Macbook to Apple Watch. If you're going to steal, only steal from the best.
That homage is ok for me, though. CES isn't just for the retail trade anymore. It's a place where visionaries try to show us the future, aspire to create the next thing to change people's lives, and find their own way to Think Different. No matter what, it still makes me smile. A lot.
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I’ve covered the personal technology beat for more than two decades at places like Gartner, Jupiter Research and Altimeter Group. I’ve also had the fun of contributing my $.02 on the topic at Computerworld, Engadget, Macworld, SlashGear and now iMore. Most recently I spent a few years at Apple as Sr. Director of Worldwide Product Marketing. On Twitter I’m an unverified @gartenberg. I still own some Apple stock.