Being a gadget blog, it’s kind of weird not being at the Consumer Electronics Show. Neither Quang nor I could make the show this year due schedule conflicts. At the same time, being away from CES gives me a sense of perspective on the show that being submerged in the whirl wouldn’t necessarily provide. So from 3000 miles away, here’s my take on CES 2010.
Tablets tablets tablets
Everyone showed off tablets. Windows 7’s built-in tablet functionality makes this viable from an implementation perspective, since that feature is built-in already. But because vendors are relying on Microsoft to provide a feature set, the tablets are boring. There’s no product differentiation – sure some are smaller or bigger, fatter or thinner, but from the pictures I’ve seen and the product snapshots I’ve read, there’s nothing really revolutionary about any of them. In my mind, that further magnifies Microsoft’s increasing irrelevance in the growth of mobile platforms. The Microsoft keynote was, from all reports I’ve read, boring. Even with Ballmer’s hyperantics, they really didn’t have much to show. Right now, the only products they’ve got that’s generating any kind of buzz are Bing and XBox360. Project Natal is interesting, but it’s a platform that presumes something many XBox360 owners might not necessarily have – room to move. I’d guess that a large number of gamers play in their rooms, and unless you’re wealthy the typical room doesn’t have the space to use Natal easily. The old handheld controls may be archaic but they also don’t require a ton of space to flail around in. Show me someone using Natal in a 10’x10′ bedroom with a full size bed, a dresser, bookshelf, desk, and piles of clothes on the floor and I’ll believe in its viability. Otherwise, I’m guessing it will be destined for a small portion of the population.
Ebook Reader, who’s got an ebook reader?
At CES 2010, it seemed everyone had an ebook reader. They were practically giving them away with entry. Many of the online vids I’ve seen make me less than enthused. I guess I am just disappointed by their lack of speed. It shouldn’t be a case where I press a ‘next page’ key and have to wait for the screen to refresh. I know e-ink is slow due to the technology and its current state, but as those e-ink screens get bigger and bigger, the refresh lag gets more and more disturbing. The few 8.5″x11″ ebook readers I’ve seen really magnify the response rate issues, and will be one of the key issues preventing fast adoption. That and publishers’ refusal to change their paradigms. Did I mention that I saved the publishing industry?
Too soon. Too expensive. Wait til CES 2012. Plus would you really want to wear those glasses all the time? And keep spares around for guests? Annoying.
Lots of new smartphones. Lots of new Android-based mobile tech. There’s going to be an interesting war between carriers and device manufacturers. I don’t know that the carriers will ever be relegated to dumb pipe status, unless Google is successful in licensing a swath of spectrum and developing it itself. But carriers will definitely be shifting to more of a partnership model than a “we tell you what to make” model. Verizon will be the carrier to watch – if they start shifting to a more device-friendly stance, then you’ll know the power balance has equalized. For all their talk about network access and being able to hook any device onto their airspace, I’ve seen remarkably few devices that actually do this.
Furthermore, as smartphones become more powerful and capable, many single-use devices (navigation, pictureframe, ebook readers, etc) are going to be obsoleted. I’m just not willing to pay for three or more different devices that are best in class when I can buy one device that does on OK job at all the things I need it to. Especially as cellphone-based cameras become more powerful and capable, that market is going to fragment into a low end and high end, with little in between. ‘Good enough’ is becoming the deathnell of many consumer electronics companies that can’t adjust to the times.
iPhone and the unicorn known as the iSlate/iTablet/iPadd/iTouch Supersized
Let’s face it – CES 2010 really showed the dominance of the iPhone as a platform (if it wasn’t apparent before). There was basically an expo-within-the-expo with iLounge’s iPhone Pavilion. But the items identified as Best Of 2010 didn’t really impress me all that much. The risk with having such an iPhone-dependent area is that the products being displayed are towards the tail end of Apple’s development cycle. So far, the iPhone timeline tends to be that June/July announces the new hardware version of the iPhone/iPod Touch, followed in the late January timeframe for the latest update to the iPhone/iTouch OS (after CES) followed by Mac-based updates a few months later. So the products being shown at CES are for a form factor/OS that will soon be previous generation once the Apple announcement cycle starts. It’s gotta be painful for the manufacturers, since they’re constantly behind the development curve (especially given Apple’s notorious secrecy levels concerning upcoming products and features).
CES 2010 seemed more upbeat than CES 2009. All in all, however, it seemed that this CES as good a one to miss as any. Nothing really revolutionary seems to have been announced, and the elephant in the room was definitely Apple’s pending Jan. 27th announcement of its Jesus tablet (if that’s indeed what they are going to do). Apple’s got a LOT of pressure to deliver something truly revolutionary, which is in a way a really sad testament to the state of consumer electronics. So many companies out there vying for a piece of the consumer dollar yet only one company is consistently able to deliver something that people seem to want. Why do Microsoft, Dell, HP, and the like even have R&D budgets? They should just slavishly copy Apple. Oh wait, they already do. Even Google, which is trying to do something revolutionary with Android and Chrome OS, is going to get bogged down by their total lack of understanding of the consumer space. Looks like it’s going to be an Apple world….