The Consumer Electronics Show is like Cherry Blossom time in Japan or on the Potomac. Just a great way to start fresh and see if the industry can get it right this time.
Before CES President and CEO Gary Shapiro could open the festivities, Google's Eric Schmidt decided he'd pull a Steve and take the wind out of Shapiro's CES sails with his new product unveiling.
Schmidt may have said a quick prayer before the introduction of the Nexus One smartphone, but a little planning and focus on the organization's customer service and customer support might have been of more assistance. Or, he could have studied Stephen Jobs more closely while he was on the Apple board. Lousy start to the new year?
The dozens who snapped up their Google Android units from the company site are now wondering if they maybe should have visited a carrier first. Who knew customers actually wanted service and support?
Early Nexus One customers who paid a premium for their Android smartphone found being first in line isn't always a good thing.
Smartphones and eReaders
There was the usual: Smartphones; eReaders, tablets; 3DTV; Content everywhere; Storage. Half the portable devices sold/used are what we call POTs (plain old telephones). No one holds a press conference to introduce one though. Today, it's all about showing off your smarts.
Google's non-event didn't slow anyone down. Everyone showed off their killer do-everything unit(s) — surf the web, watch TV, play music, text, send/receive e-mails, read the news, get directions, follow your winnings. Did someone say, "make a phone call"? Since you can only get into the Apple app store with an iUnit or secret handshake, Everyone announced their own app store. But even smartphones are old hat.
Players are upping the stakes for the units with a new classification — smartbooks. That will put a tremendous squeeze on ereaders, tablets and netbooks. Hard to believe that the world suddenly wants to read again, but everyone is bringing out their version of an ereader.
Kindle and Sony may be doing well, but there is no way everyone can survive in the overcrowded market. Sure, maybe Steve will do okay, but is there an Apple $1.99 iBookstore in the offing?
TV Sales Set Records
TV set manufacturers had been having record sales this past year (we didn't say profit) because of high-def conversion and they're determined to keep the train going.
There's plenty of room in the U.S., since about 115M homes have one TV, 48M have HD capable sets, and 16.7 percent of households only own one TV. If HD doesn't get your credit card out, then we'll try new things: 3D TV, Skype, and IPTV (or iTV)
3D TV is promising; and if you ask Panasonic, Samsung, LG or Nvidia, it's ready for prime time! But, it requires: a new receiver (naturally) that won't be economically feasible for a couple of years; a new BD player; active glasses ($100 to $200); non-glasses sets will be available about the time you've paid off your first unit loan (3-4 years); a steady stream of "gotta watch" content — soccer and football may be good reasons; some assurance the cable guy isn't going to charge a premium on top of his premium rate. Then there's Skype on TV. It may be kind of nice but, is it a reason to buy a new TV? Are you willing to buy special camera, added setup, special connections? Do you really want to see friends and relatives on your big screen HD set?
But Internet TV does sound like an interesting option, especially with: all the free content being uploaded; freedom from cable bundles and rising monthly costs; increased availability for VOD (video on demand) per usage charges; greater long tail choices of video options to learn, entertain, educate, whatever.
The new sets, connectivity options and the flexibility of when you watch makes the iTV and Roku box look darn good.
More Distracted Driving
The auto industry has figured out that the best way to get us in and keep us in our cars is by adding a robust computing/entertainment package. Auto manufacturers have slowly begun to view CES as one of their biggest opportunities to promote their technologies, their leadership. This year was no exception with all the majors showing their integrated computing, communications, entertainment, monitoring/management systems. So sexy you don't want to take your eyes off them.
At CES (and the Detroit Auto Show that followed), they showed us the future. Granted, we can't even dial a phone number on our Bluetooth system but they're planning to give us a cockpit that will be without equal.
Safety folks screamed bloody murder, and with good reason. Cell phones used while driving — both for talking and texting — have been accounting for thousands of highway accidents.
We eventually realized that the new PC/CE cars aren't being targeted at us, even though they want us to buy one. Nor our kids. It's our kids' kids that they're after.
Two-to-10-year-olds have all this technology as a natural part of their lives. The rest of us have to unlearn our past and learn what's new/now.
The kids' kids will be light years ahead of us. They'll use a smartphone in so many incredible ways because it is their first computer. They read naturally with the screen because it is their book.
By the time they're driving, the screens and technologies will be better and they'll be able to scan the setup and know what's going on, where, how and have a virtual world view. Makes us feel retarded and our kids aren't far behind in this race!
Stuff for Old Folks
But we did see stuff that ordinary folks can use, today. D-Link and Netgear led the way with outstanding in-home content solutions that let you stream audio/video anywhere in the house with Wi-Fi or Ethernet.
Entertainment everywhere with D-Link's introduction of a sleek wireless entertainment solution for the home that will supposedly manage all of your content — audio, video, photo — and send it throughout the house for you to enjoy. The company plans Wi-Fi additions for security, management, monitoring and more. And they're setting the stage for a more complete home management solution with security and home/energy management capabilities.
What we like from both firms is that it isn't a box that you have to keep adding more boxes to, but you can easily and economically add features and capabilities at a modest incremental cost.
Imation seems to be one of the first storage companies to wed Wi-Fi connectivity and high-capacity storage in a single home storage solution. If the 2TB bit buckets are as easy to set up, manage and use as most wireless products, it could be a hit.
One unit that seemed to have potential was Imation's Wi-Fi storage device. Coming out of the gate, it "feels" a little pricey for 2TB unit; but the combination of 802.1n speed and the ability to centralize and easily access stuff from anywhere in the house (through your Wi-Fi home entertainment network) could be a welcome addition.