LAS VEGAS — CES, the annual Consumer Electronics Show, is staggeringly huge, crowded, and noisy. It’s sensory overload. About 3,300 booths fill enough floor space for 35 football fields. Trying to take it in is exhausting and expensive.
(It’s a particular drag for the 3,300 exhibitors; because CES falls at the beginning of January, their employees’ holidays are neatly ruined every single year.)
And if you go to CES, everyone back home will ask you: “So what was the hot new thing this year?”
The answer this year is the usual: “There really wasn’t one big breakthrough product or category — it was more like a refinement and expansion of technologies that were already bubbling.”
Also: Buzzwords. (Dan Tynan/Yahoo Tech)
There were, however, a whole bunch of crazy ideas that will never succeed. Some of these ideas were on display at the big booths (Toshiba, Sony, Samsung, and so on), wedged between giant TVs. And the area for small startup companies was entertaining for creativity alone.
The IO Hawk self-balancing plank. (Rafe Needleman/Yahoo Tech)
Now, in past years, I wrote snarky columns about the CES spectacle. “Why,” I moaned, “do so many companies spend so much money and time coming up with so many products that are obvious duds?”
I mean, I could have told you from Day One that the WebTV-type boxes would never catch on. Nobody wants to read The New York Times or shop Amazon from a TV set. It’s just too clunky.
Similarly, did the TV companies really think anybody would want to put on 3D glasses to watch television? That one bombed big-time, too.
Now it’s curved TVs. Oh, come on — really? May as well give up on that one now, folks.
And a side note to Sony: a $1,200 music player? I don’t think so.
The Walkman is back! (Daniel Howley/Yahoo Tech)
But this year I finally realized something: CES is not meant to be the Home Shopping Network. It’s not Best Buy.
The concepts and prototypes trotted out at this show are half-baked and uncertain on purpose. This show is closed to the public; it’s only for analysts, journalists, and the power brokers within the gadget industry. In other words, CES is the manufacturers’ chance to run things up the flagpole to see who salutes. To experiment.
I used to mock the CES exhibits, noting that half of them never see the light of day. But you know what? That just shows that the process works. A company might come up with some idea, show it at CES, realize they’re wasting their time, and then move on.
I do wish the show weren’t the first week of January. I wish there weren’t so much copycatting. I wish there were another way.
But until somebody comes up with that better way, CES will keep chugging along as the worldwide center for high-tech trial runs.