How I spent my CES vacation (part 1)

I thought I would break my CES trip into 2 parts.  Part one will be about technology (stuff I saw) and part two will be about marketing (how the stuff I saw was presented).  In all fairness, I didn’t see everything on the floor, but I did hit all 3 halls + the Hilton.  For a really good overview of CES, visit the team over at engadget – I think they did a really good job of covering CES.

OK, with that explanation (which probably isn’t necessary anyway) out of the way, let me dive right in by saying that CES was all about 3D or tablets.  I’m exaggerating of course, but it really did seem like every booth was either selling 3D [something] (monitors, software, glasses, chipsets designed to run 3D) or tablet [something] (tablets of all different sizes, or stands for tablets, cases, cables, accessories, etc.).  In fact, I feel like I didn’t see anything really innovative – just a lot of improvements on existing technology.

For all my complaining (or whining, if you prefer) about 3D technology, I will say that Sony did a good job of offering up 3D.  They took the approach of showing how 3D TV is just a delivery vehicle – one of many.  Sony envisions 3D cameras / camcorders and 3D gaming and 3D movies – basically anything digital should be 3D.  Of course, they forget that not everyone can see 3D properly.  I had the opportunity to see one of their 3D products “of the future” which is 3D without glasses – couldn’t make it out at all.  I’ll write about the scientific reason later, but at least with glasses I can close one eye to get the effect, but closing one eye doesn’t work with the non-glasses version.  So I think I will continue to hate 3D TV.

Alcatel-Lucent had GREAT products.  These guys used to be the BOMB!  I mean, really, Bell Labs in the day was like Skunkworks for consumers.  Now, no offense, people forget they exist.  However, I think their products at the show were excellent.  They really get the concept of integration – both from a marketing and technology standpoint.  Their booth showed how people can use their phones (or tablets) to maximize productivity and how businesses can really improve on customer service.  They had video kiosks the could be controlled by the motion of a smart phone (not the app – but just using the phone like a wand – like Kinnect without having to stand in a specific spot) that I think has great application at retail.

Cars were big on the floor this year – and not just for car audio.  Quite a few manufacturers were showing off voice recognition, integrated GPS, intelligent heads up displays (HUD) and more.  I didn’t see a big push about “green” this year.  I think Audi did a great job showing off their products.  The had real cars (not concept cars) available for people to view and had set up a series of cockpits where people could experience Audi technology in action – especially collision avoidance technology.  Nice.

Microsoft was cool, but disjointed.  I walked through their booth and had no idea what they were talking about.  That’s probably more of a marketing issue – but even from a technology standpoint – I have no idea what they want me to do.  Kinnect was on display, but just as the gaming platform – not as “this can change the world” technology.  I really think these guys have lost their way.

Intel got it.  They make chips – and that’s not sexy – so they set up a bunch of cool displays that showed how things work better when using their chip(s).  From a technology standpoint, Intel has done a good job showing people how moving processing to the chip makes the rest of a computer work easier.  Do more with less RAM, essentially.  However, just before CES, there was an article about how Intel doesn’t seem to have a grasp on tablets, so if you’re not a hardcore gamer, I’m not sure one would appreciate the new chips.

Android is certainly a game changer.  I think one of the reasons that every other booth was promoting tablet stuff is because of Android.  It’s not hard to build hardware – it’s hard to make hardware do what you want.  Android is easy and as such, tons of companies (especially from Asia) are building cheap (under $100) tablets.  I really, really expect that more and more companies will move to tablets that are designed for single tasks.  Think about it – if you have to do a lot of things, and need to be mobile, get a laptop.  If you have to do just one thing (like processing a rental car return), then use a tablet running android.  Disable everything else – and for under $100, you have a powerful mobile device.  Why have waiters carry pen and paper?  Just give them a 7″ tab and have them process the order wirelessly.  The price point is coming down so much that the efficiency gained from these mobile devices will soon make them the primary method for task management and delivery.

I saw some other cool stuff – wireless energy delivery, mobile television, augmented reality devices (think Kinnect on steroids) and video distribution to mobile devices – that I think has potential down the road.  The problem is that many of these other technologies were being presented on competing platforms.  It’s like DVDHD vs. BluRay – many companies are building hardware for consumers, but based on their own standard.  Some of these technologies are ahead of their time, but not because the technology is so innovative, but because they are asking consumers to make a risky decision about something that may not be around 2 years from now.

All in all, good show – glad I went, but I feel a little let down because I didn’t walk away with that “WOW” feeling that I had hoped.

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