LAS VEGAS – If there's one thing the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) succeeds in doing every year, it's making Canadians angry.
That's because the thousands of electronics and technology companies that crowd into CES to announce flashy new products are increasingly making them available only in the U.S. or, even worse, other parts of the world – but not Canada. CES may as well stand for the Canadians' Envy Show.
This year is certainly no different. Google kicked things off early with a pre-CES announcement on Tuesday unveiling its highly anticipated Nexus One smartphone. The "superphone," as Google dubbed it, will be available in the U.S. and in several test markets, including the United Kingdom, Hong Kong and Singapore. Canadians who are desperate for more competition and choice in wireless are, at least for now, shut out.
Television technology is always a big story at CES, and here, too, Canadians often miss out. A slew of internet-connected TVs are on their way to U.S. markets, bringing many online services – such as Netflix video rental – to living rooms in an easy-to-use format. U.S. release dates for 3D TVs, the big story of this year's show, have been set, but again, there's no word on Canada yet.
It's not the technology companies that are to blame for this, says Darren Huston, Microsoft's corporate vice-president of consumer and online; it's that Canada has put up many walls to keep them out.
"For most American companies, they would think of their strategy as being a North American strategy if there weren't any restrictions," he told CBCNews.ca. "That would be the absolute natural thing to do. It's not because Canada is small at all; it's because there's barriers that get put up. When you have to do a redo for Canada, that's when people hesitate."
Huston, who oversees everything from Microsoft's MSN portal to its mobile services to Windows, isn't some smug American pointing out problems with Canada. He's a proud Canadian from Kamloops, B.C, who studied at Trent University in Peterborough, Ont. He's worked in executive roles in other countries, overseeing Microsoft's operations in Japan, as well as in other companies, including Starbucks.
For Microsoft and other technology companies, the problem often comes down to licensing rules and Canadian-content regulations. For example, in the U.S., the company's Zune portable music player benefits from an associated online store where consumers can buy songs, a functionality that is largely absent in Canada.
"When you get into things like why doesn't NBC broadcast [online] into Canada and all those kinds of things, that's where you start hitting the major walls," he said. "[With Zune], it's because of music content licensing. It's just completely different."
On the wireless side, a lack of competition between Canada's big cellphone companies – some of which are Microsoft partners – has been an issue for many technology companies, which partly explains why many hot new phones are late in coming to Canada if they arrive here at all.
"The mobile space, there's got to be more competition in Canadian mobile, the data plans are just ridiculously expensive," Huston said. "That's the kind of stuff that gets in the way."
On the other side of things, new technologies flow smoothly where there are no restrictions, he added. Microsoft's new search engine, Bing, came out of beta testing last year at the same time in Canada as in the United States because there were no regulatory, licensing or competitive hoops to jump through.
Hudson said Canada is an attractive market, ranking about sixth or seventh in the world.
"People do want to be there; it's not a small market," he said.
Unfortunately, if some of the walls that exist don't come down, Canadians might be doomed to an annual bout of techno-envy in January, with additional doses thrown in throughout the year.