CES 2013: Sorting the Nuggets From the Dross

CES, the international consumer electronics show conducted every January in LasVegas, is easier to hate than it is to love. Hype drowns out substance. Innovative andinteresting products are easily overshadowed by rooms literally full of craptastic junk.Travel/logistics can be a nightmare — especially given the surge in attendance to some150,000 this year. And let’s not forget the myriad ways that Las Vegasseems to transform reasonable people into doltish twits.

CES also offers a macro view into the IT industry that’s hard to beat, and this year’sshow was no exception. That may be because with global economies showing somesemblance of life, vendors responded optimistically. At the same time, some techsectors are in the midst of fundamental, evolutionary changes whose effects wereapparent across the Las Vegas Convention Center and the dozen or so hotelson the Strip that were hosting related events. Following is an overview of CES 2013announcements and products I found especially compelling.

Mobility en Vogue

Not surprisingly, mobile technology products, such as smartphones, tablets, laptops and hybrids occupied a lot of CES booth space.The mobility theme was apparent across numerous other areas. Onthe ridiculous side, count in the hundreds of vendors selling skins, earbuds,chargers and other smartphone gizmos.

More sublime were automakers whosevehicles sported integrated mobile features, including voice-activated GPS,Web browsing, email, and who knows what else. We have seen the future ofcomputing, and it can go anywhere.

Digital Intelligence Triumphant

While mobility inspired thousands ofCES headlines, the deeper story is the degree to which digital intelligence hasbecome common across virtually every sector of consumer electronics. That’sobviously the case with computing and entertainment products, but it is also astrong theme in everything from health and fitness gadgets to kitchen appliances to homesecurity equipment.

In other words, what vendors like IBM have always called the “Internetof things” is already here.

Apple and Microsoft: Nowhere and Everywhere

For a vendor whoregularly snubs CES, Apple and its popular iPhone, iPad and iPod productswere evident everywhere, with some sections of the cavernous LVCC largelyor exclusively populated by iProducts of one kind or another. Microsoft — whichannounced late year that it would no longer participate in CES — was a similarlyghostly presence in scores of new products and announcements.

Plus, CEOSteve Ballmer’s surprise appearance at Qualcomm’s press conference lent thatalready-surrealistic event a soupcon of Windows weirdness.

Emerging Market Focus

How can you tell when a market or sectorbecomes commercially viable? When vendors begin spending money on it.That seems the case with smartphone solutions aimed at developing markets,like Intel’s new Atom Z2420 CPU. The company is working with Acer, LavaInternational and Safaricom to leverage the new chips in “value” (low cost) smartphone markets in Asia, Africa and other regions.

Add to this rumors publishedby DigiTimes that Apple is developing a cheap iPhone to introduce in emergingmarkets later this year. Though the rumors were quickly quashed, the ideamakes sense, especially if Intel’s Atom Z2420 projection of 500 million handsetsales is accurate.

Reinventing the PC

For a product class that many claim is in its deaththroes, personal computers made great strides at CES 2013. First, Intel’sannouncement of its fourth-gen Haswell Core processors, slated for late 2013,should deliver on the company’s Ultrabook vision with all-day battery life, full-blown system performance, touch enablement, Intel’s Perceptual Computingfeatures (gesture, facial and voice recognition), and ever-thinner, more stylishdesigns.

The following day, AMD hosted a press conference to discuss itsgraphically intensive Surround Computing strategy, as well as the PCs,laptops and tablets using the company’s latest APUs. The event highlight wasthe SurRound House demo, an immersive 360-degree positional audio systemsynched with 10 HD-capable TV “windows” that place viewers in the middle ofan intense game environment — all of it running off a single AMD-based PC.

Simplifying Big Data

Big Data has been a growing subject of interestamong enterprises, but its impact on consumers and small businesses is no lessprofound. In fact, you could argue that it’s a bigger headache for those customerssince few have the experience, skills or tools to effectively manage crushingvolumes of audio/video files, or effectively navigate increasingly complex onlinesources.

CES 2013 featured an imperial ton of Big Data-related solutions, but twothat stood out were HP’s Aurasma service and Stremor’s Liquid Helium languageheuristics engine. The former allows businesses to utilize image and patternrecognition technologies acquired by HP in the Autonomy deal to digitally enrichadvertising, signage, publishing and packaging. The latter leverages languageanalysis to enhance online content discovery, creation and consumption; think ofit as CliffsNotes for the Internet. We expect to hear more about both solutions inthe coming months.

Favorite Products

Outside of a few lust-worthy hybrid laptops and tablets(mainly from Dell and Lenovo), my favorite CES 2013 products were relativelymodest. The new NAS storage products from the LenovoEMC joint venture arewell-designed and attractively priced, and offer cloud-based features that couldmake me rethink my use of local storage.

Fujitsu’s ScanSnap iX500 is a terrific,simple solution for scanning and saving paper records, including receipts. PrivateWiFi offers an intriguingly simple solution for encrypting and securing the data onphones, tablets and laptops being used on public WiFi networks.

CardNinja getsmy best-of-show award for best/simplest/most useful product — a sticky-backedpocket designed to hold up to eight credit cards or cash that turns any smartphone into a physical wallet.

Darwin Award Contenders

Is there anything more annoying than a carwith a blaring sound system? How about a motorcyclist with the same thing butno muffling doors and windows? Now bicyclists can join in the ear-numbing funwith the Scosche boomBOTTLE, a Bluetooth-connected speaker designed to fitin a bike water bottle bracket.

Scosche may have received a CES Best Of Showaward for its contribution to public noise pollution, but that may lose a bit of shinethe first time a boomBOTTLE owner is run into the weeds by an irate driver.

Charles King

E-Commerce Times columnist Charles King is principal analyst for Pund-IT, an IT industry consultancy that emphasizes understanding technology and product evolution, and interpreting the effects these changes will have on business customers and the greater IT marketplace. Though Pund-IT provides consulting and other services to technology vendors, the opinions expressed in this commentary are King's alone.

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