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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

My Annual CES Summary 2013


CES 2013   -  Annual CES Summary

I went to the Consumer Electronics Show this year (for the 34th consecutive time), and saw “watt’s new in gadgets lately”.  I usually have someone along, at least for a few of the 4 days, but this time it was just me, cruising the showfloor isles and actually, covering a lot more ground/minute (I kinda liked it). Getting to the show is always a challenge. If you stay at a big hotel on the strip, they have shuttle busses. And I often stay at Circus Circus RV park, but this year I stayed at a motel off the strip with no such shuttles. It was about 1.3 miles from the convention center, and taxi cabs lines after the show can run 45 minutes plus. Plus the long drive in uber traffic. Plus the $20 fare! So, I rode a micro kick scooter! And Wendy made me a backpack for the 9 lb. personal transportation vehicle, which I wore around at the show with no fatigue what so ever! A ‘couple days I found a bike rack and just locked it up. It worked great! – ‘Speaking of personal transportation, there were a few innovative vehicles showing this year. An “around town” electric motorcycle for $3,500.  A 28lb. electric micro scooter (I wish I’d had that for this show!). And even motorized shoes!

The big fanfare was, as always,…Gorgeous TV’s. OLED TV’s (organic light emitting diode)(no, you don’t have to water them, or apply plant food) are the state-of-the-art right now, and “4K” screens have 4 times the resolution of our current, 1080p HDTV’s. –‘There’s no content yet for these screens, but they’re hoping we’ll start to buy some of these very expensive sets ahead of time, and enjoy the built-in upconverters, which do make even our currently available 1080 content look quite nice! I saw in the Panasonic booth “The World’s Largest 4K OLED TV”. Then, I went to the Sony booth, where I saw “The World’s Largest 4K OLED TV”. I guess competition is fierce in this ubiquitous category!?

Perhaps the strangest thing I noticed was how many headphones were on the show floor this year. I’m ‘talkin HUNDREDS of manufacturers of headphones!! They seemed to be in EVERY booth. –And being spot-lighted and pushed and touted as being the “best headphone around”. As if they just invented the device for the first time. Now, my memory isn’t as good as it once was, but, I believe I’ve seen headphones at the show before. And these are the big, “over-the-ear”, “DJ style”, regular ‘ole dorky ordinary looking headphones we’re talking about (there were a lot of ear-buds still too, but the big headphones were absolutely everywhere.) I just don’t know what makes all these manufacturers think that suddenly, EVERYONE wants to buy and use big headphones this year?? –If anyone can tell me, please do so in the comments field below. (by the way, my favorite big, over-the-ear headphone that I got recently, and now use all the time is the Phillips O’Neill. –I think they’re the “best headphone around”. –It’s like they just invented the device for the first time!).

Phone cases. -‘Were there any phone cases there, you ask? –‘Any iphone cases? …? Uhm, …yes, I think I did see some phone cases there. At one point, I roughly estimated that if EVERYONE on the planet bought 10 different phone cases (you know, to coordinate with your outfit for the day), there will still be dozens and dozens of phone case manufacturers that will go out of business. To give you an idea, there was a hall there at the convention, “North Hall”, which is way bigger than a football field, and it was two-thirds full of phone cases. Seriously. ‘Shouldn’t we be searching for a cancer cure or something, other than making so many slightly different phone cases?     …..---However,…here’s one phone case I thought sounded great! I plan to get one as soon as they become available.

Microsoft is an interesting company. They showed here at CES for decades, with one of the biggest booths. But this year, for the first time, they DIDN’T show. ? THIS year. The year that they are hoping like hell to stay in business and stay relevant in the world of computing with their new operating system that is supposed to actually work well this time, and work so well, as to make everyone forget how many decades of turkey versions of windows we have suffered through. NOW, in the year 2013? When so many have walked away from their Windows machines and are running their lives more and more with either a Mac, Linux, or, in most cases, just iOS (iphones/ipads) and Android devices for most of their daily needs. I think I woulda’ actually had a real booth THIS year.  ‘There was the Intel booth, which might’ve just as well have had a giant Microsoft sign on it. Where every imaginable new configuration of laptop/tablet, tablet/laptop, detachable keyboard, flip-over screen, use-it-in-the-pool, what-have-you version of Windows 8 devices were on display trying to show you that “We can innovate too!” (after years of being footnotes in the shadows of innovations from Apple and Google).  – Well, from what I’ve seen, they CAN innovate (when threatened with obsolescence), and the new version of Windows finally DOES work well (after decades of re-booting). The totally revamped operating system seems to be very smooth and powerful, and the “hardware partners” have certainly done their homework and come up with some exciting new devices. My favorite is the Asus Taichi, with a screen on each side of a laptop!   So,… what remains to be seen is if it is all too-little-too-late, or if these new families of product lines from Microsoft and friends can achieve a come-back from near obscurity, and become a major player in this new portable digital revolution. I hope they make it. And their new phones are cool too. And we need more than just two kinds of phones. (Although, - next year…Ubuntu for phones!)

Being in the autosound business for most of my life, I was always aware of how automakers tried to integrate computers into cars, but the public was always weary of reliability. The common joke for decades was “Can you imagine a Microsoft car? –‘Having to pull over and re-boot while in a freeway traffic jam?”  “Ha Ha!”  ‘Nervous laughter, but actually based on a very real concern. Well, finally, we’re seeing cars and other machines being improved upon dramatically by microprocessors, usually running on versions of Linux, reliably providing consistent, accurate controls on sophisticated systems of machinery and user-interface.  For the first time there is a general acceptance that computers can be trusted to life-risking tasks. And yes, I blame Microsoft for the delay in this evolution. But it’s finally here, and with careful attention to ultra-reliability, the microprocessor can and should be used to further our evolution of not just communication, science, and art, but of our day to day lives, making life easier, safer, and smoother. And that’s what a lot of this industry is about. Nvidia is a chipmaker known for helping to make great video games, but they’re about a lot more than that. Here’s an example of what our next automobiles will look like.  ‘Speaking of safety: DON’T use your phone in the car! –But,… if you do, and you’re looking for a good phone mount for your dash these guys are terrific! (use promo code 13ces127 for 10% off).

My CES2013 Whiz-Bang award goes to this stroller that folds up with a push of a button! (‘gotta see the video!)  ---  For people with big metal RV’s (I know a few), or even cars in rural areas, this cellphone booster system can improve the cell signal strength up to 20 times! You must install an antenna on the roof, an amp under the dash, and you have to leave the phone in the cradle, so you’ll need to use a headset. But it’s also great for using your phone’s wifi hotspot feature, and feeding laptops in an RV!  ---  ‘How ‘bout a computer for your plant? – With WiFi!  ?    ---   …And, there was some dumb stuff there too. …  here’s a device that beeps if it gets more than 20 feet from your iphone, in case you leave your iphone behind a lot (I don’t know if the maker, by not offering it for Android, is inferring that only iphone users do this, but…).   ---   Or,… how ‘bout the other way ‘round? Stick this button on your keys, your dog, or your kid, and your smartphone will know when they wander off, up to 100ft!   ---   ‘Ever wonder if you’re really being more active on your new plan for better health? Fitbit Flex bracelet tracks all your movements and calculates calorie burning and even better sleep habits, and graphs it all out for you to use for better health!    ---   Ok, Ok, it’s time for me to fork over the silliest thing I saw,… for those that can’t remember to eat more slowly.     ---   I’m now waiting to see, some year at the show, a device that makes us stop and smell the roses.

Ray Kurzweil is an author, inventor, and futurist who invented the scanner we all use everyday in our copiers, among other things. He’s famous for saying (among other things)  …the pace of change and innovation is getting faster and faster. We got printed books a whole century after Guttenberg invented the printing press,… The telephone took 50. The cell phone, seven years. Social networks, blogs, and wikis took three years. The pace of change is getting faster and faster. By 2045, the pace of change will be so fast we wont be able to follow it unless we enhance our own intelligence with artificial intelligence….A kid in Africa with a smartphone has access to more information and knowledge than the president of the U.S. did fifteen years ago….We're above a certain threshold of intelligence that allows us to create tools, which is why our tools grow exponentially. … We will continue to grow our mental powers by using our AI intelligence, and by 2045 you'll be talking to a biological person that’s a hybrid of biological and non-biological intelligence. .... I see it going beyond smartphones, where our devices are literally embedded in our bodies. “

Most people think of consumer electronics as just consumable electronics. Like cheap, ephemeral toys that we could all just as easily live without. But I know there is a lot of serious stuff going on here, some with positive impact on society, and real staying power. ‘Like that telephone thingy. And then that one with pictures.  ‘And that internet-web-whatshamacallit. That was a good idea too.  Let’s keep encouraging these inventer folks to dabble with stuff. Maybe next year they’ll be showing the cancer-cure-o-matic!

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