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Thursday, January 14, 2016

CES Annual 2016 Summary

CES was fascinating, as always. There’s always hundreds of “wow, why didn’t someone think of that before?” products to see, even if they’re only in a prototype form, and may never get produced, for various reasons. But this year’s show didn’t seem to have any “this is clearly going to change things in this category” items. I mean, there were thinner, prettier TV’s, as there always are, and a great deal of focus on autonomous driving cars (which really will change things when they actually start appearing on our streets, - in as little as a few years!), but no particular breakthroughs were really the talk of the show. Which is fine. Because when technology advances too fast, it can actually be hard to implement it smoothly. Take tablets, for example. When tablets like the iPad came out a few years back, there were hundreds of different models on the show floor. The buzz that everyone must want one, because they’re so hi-tech, and the ease of making them cheaper and faster made manufacturers put all their efforts into the category, and you literally couldn’t walk 50 feet at the show without bumping into another one. And now, a few years later at this years’ show, I could count on one hand all of the tablets I saw presented in the entire show! Manufacturers lost a lot of money making all those different models of a thing no one really even thinks about too much anymore. I actually kinda thought that at the time (and mentioned it in the blog). I think this year’s example of that is drones. There musta' been a hundred different drones on the show floor this year!!? I know everyone wants one, because they’re so hi-tech (I know I do), but, for what? (and how many do we really need)(and how many of these manufacturers are going to lose their ass?) Another trend I sorta predicted was fat phones. I was an early adopter and proponent of the first large phone - the samsung Note. And touted the benefits of all that screen real estate right in your pocket for relaxed reading/browsing/mapping etc. And sure enough, almost all phones are huge today. But I’ll go out on a limb now and predict that they may shrink a little again. The 6” screens are just too big for most people (guys, anyway, without purses) to carry around all day. I know I, for one, am thinking of jumping the Note bandwagon after four happy years, and going for maybe a 5.2” screen phone again. I just can’t get my fat phone out of my increasingly tight jeans very easily any more! (I guess that’s not the fault of the phone!).

An interesting event at this year’s show, that I’ve never seen or heard about before in my previous 36 yrs of attendance, was a patent dispute resulting in U.S. Marshals confiscating product and leading booth operators out of the show! 

CES is not primarily for the big guys to strut their stuff, but for all the thousands of tiny startups to be able to show their little product idea, that they have poured their hearts into (and maybe their 2nd mortgages), in hopes of finding enough buyers to make a few bucks, or at least break even. And mostly to find acceptance and recognition for their ingenuity and hutzpah. I had a small booth there for 5 years in the late 90’s, selling my line of small car subwoofers, and so I can relate to these little booths (that I enjoy more than the big ones), and see them as not just shining examples of entrepreneurship and the free enterprise system at work, but as an artistic/creative achievement of sorts, a kin to a production in the formal arts (book/movie/play, etc.).

But you wanna know ‘what was cool at the show?’ So let’s get to it!

It’s weird but the last few years at CES have had an increasing number of automakers with gigantic booths. This year there were about 10 of them! There weren’t hardly any before a few years ago. Why, you ask? I don’t know! I realize there is more electronic/entertainment/connectivity type stuff in them, but who are they trying to sell to, other than the consumer aspect of the attendees? The main point of a trade show is to show and sell things to retailers and distributors. I was glad to see BMW there again giving test drives of their amazing electric car, the i3. They even let us test drive the $150k i8 hybrid this year! 

O.K., so there were thousands and thousands of cool products there, but this one wins my ‘best of show’ prize, for being ingenious, well implemented, affordable, and very useful! It’s “Fake TV!” Not new at the show I guess, cus they say they’ve sold 200k of them on tv. But it was new to me, of course, since I haven’t watched a commercial in 3 decades.  >Another truly useful thing was scottevest, clothing that understands that we’re turning into androids and we need good pocketry.  >Possibly tops on the topic of ‘really useful’ is this wonderful news that the micro usb plug (called “usb-b”) is going away soon! And will be rapidly replaced, on all new phones and gadgets by “micro usb-c”. A much, much, better designed plug that won’t wear out in a year or two causing bad connections, and it features ambidextrous (‘reversable’) plugability, the way the new apple lightening plug does! AND, (this is where it gets real interesting) using a universal standard, will transmit video and all other types of data both ways, super fast, and charge up to 40 watts!! The new Google Nexus phones and MacBooks have it already and the rumor is apple may even switch their iPhones over to it as well. In other words, in a few years, we may hardly remember these old plugs that were all different and ‘dumb’ (not “smart”), and every device everywhere will plug together with everything and share data rapidly, and charge rapidly, and be easy to plug in,…even in the dark. ‘Can’t wait! Plugging devices together and having them play nice for super fast file transfers. Then the dream of plugging your phone in during a layover at the airport, and having a nice size monitor/full size keyboard/mouse workstation will become a reality!

Remember Sony’s Aibo robot dog from about a decade ago? Well this one’s cuter, smarter, and $700 cheaper!  >GoPro has a new smaller model of their action cams out that is only $200 and still shoots 1080p at 60 frames/sec.  >SilentBeacon is a little pendant/keyfob panic button thing that can be activated in an assault situation when fumbling for your phone wouldn’t work, and can send out (from your phone,- you have to be within bluetooth range of your phone) a pre formatted call or two or three to 911/family members etc. It seems very well thought out (their website,.. not so much). 
 >Lots of ‘fitness tracker’ sports bracelets, but not as much movement on fully fleshed out smartwatches. I guess they can’t make full smartwatches small enough or cheap enough yet for people to want them, so they’re trying to sell a bunch of these “almost watches”. I gotta tell you, I bought an LG smartwatch last spring (the one I had said I liked the most at the show last year), and I just really love it! It has definitely become one of these “I don’t know how I lived without it” types of gadgets. It truly does keep me from having to dig my phone out of my pocket about 10 or 20 times a day. And it’s really great for ignoring (‘not answering’ by swiping the watch) when I don’t recognize the caller id. You can also answer quick texts or emails by just speaking into it, and a ton of other things. But the best part for me is that it really helps me not miss calls due to my arm vibrating. As the saying goes: I feel naked without it! I don’t know why LG stopped making it but it’s Android Wear OS, so it will be supported for a long time. They sold for $300 new, which I thought was a lot, but they’re over $400 new now! Fortunately, you can find them used for $200.

There were a lot of new, higher quality motorized scooters of all kinds. I guess electric personal transportation will definitely be in our future. I liked this one the best, as it’s 20mph and superb build quality really make it a serious transportation vehicle.  >This one is kinda cool too, cuz you can sit,… but it only goes 15mph, and it’s $1,700, instead of $1,000 for the standing scooter one! Really, standing is not a big deal for a few miles here and there.  >If you’re maintaining your big iron thing (as Carlin used to call them) this new form of owners manual sure makes it easier to find stuff they’re describing in the manual!  >And if you’re still looking for a good phone mount, don’t forget ProClip.  >’Remember the term “audiophile”? How ‘bout “high fidelity”? Or “high-end sound gear”? We haven’t heard those terms for awhile now. Nor have we heard any good sound, for that matter. We’re too busy making music listening ‘convenient’, with compressed files and cheap earbuds, that we’ve forgotten about the search for the holy grail of ‘perfect sound reproduction’. Well, the folks over at Sennheiser, you know, the old german microphone/headphone company, are still on that quest, to follow that star, no matter how hopeless,… Anyway, they have developed a new surround format they’re calling 3D sound that uses 9 channels and places the mics high and low, and I gotta tell ya, the demo was phenomenal. Here’s the article on it. It may be coming to a theater or living room near you soon!

How ‘bout a really, really good sounding, very well thought out bluetooth speaker?  >Or some beautiful real wood veneer covers for your devices?  >Or a transparent TV?  >Maybe an alarm clock that wakes you with smells?  >Or the World’s First Wearable Translator, to kiss strangers?  …O.K., now we’re just getting silly. I think I’ll wrap it up.

It was a fun show. Just Bryan and I this year, as Ethan and his east coast gang decided every other year is going to have to suffice. This is us with our scooters. Not chopped hogs, but Razer kick scooters. You see, there’s zero parking at the show. We stayed cheap, off the strip, a little over a mile away from show, and avoided all the long taxi, monorail, and shuttle bus lines,…and got some exercise! (and we know how much, due to our smart bracelets!)

See you next year! (year 38!) (for me, anyway.) (It’ll be the 49th CES)