With the conclusion of another Consumer Electronics Show, it’s time to take stock of the annual techno-circus in Las Vegas.
Every year, thousands of technology companies gamble through the release of new products at the event. Who hit it big this year, and what flopped?
Hitting the jackpot
Human health: Technically, the big story going into this year’s CES was the arrival of Ultra High-definition television. But really, the big story was made up of thousands of smaller ones, with a multitude of sensor-laden, connected gadgets being launched. From bathroom scales that can detect heart rates and air quality to headbands that measure stress levels to forks that monitor eating speed, inventors and entrepreneurs are finding no shortage of ways to track various aspects of human health and habits. Some of these may seem silly or gimmicky, but taken together, they demonstrate a clear movement toward improving health through individualized technology. For those who choose to adopt such gadgets, they’ll be armed with much better data about themselves when visiting the doctor, which can help take much of the guesswork out of diagnosis.
Apple, Google: All of those health gadgets – indeed, a huge overall proportion of new gadgets at CES, including TVs, washing machines and assorted robots – are connecting to smartphone and tablet apps for display, control, sharing and manipulation purposes. Virtually every one of these app creators is choosing Apple and Google’s Android as their platforms of choice, which means the tech giants won huge mind share at this year’s show despite not having official booth presences. By adding significantly to the critical mass of the duo’s app offerings, gadget makers are solidifying Apple and Google’s dominance of the smartphone and tablet markets.
Robot cars: So far, Google has netted all the headlines as far as developing self-driving vehicles is concerned. But at this year’s show, both Toyota and Audi announced their own autonomous projects. With two major automakers entering the fray, the field of robot cars has been legitimized – it’s no longer just a weird Google side project. Autonomous vehicles can’t come soon enough, in fact, with traffic accidents being one of the top 10 causes of death in the world. There are few tasks that humans do worse than drive cars.
Netflix: There’s little doubt that Canadians love Netflix – take-up has been quick, according to analysts and regulators. But the company is walking an edge of sorts; internet service providers are making its life difficult by limiting how much consumers can use it and by raising the cost of its programming. At CES, Netflix announced super high-definition – an even better streaming quality – as well as 3D content, only available so far in the U.S. Both announcements mean Netflix subscribers will be using more of the monthly data allowances. It’s a move that pushes the envelope. Will ISPs and media content owners push back?
Bendable screens: Samsung has been talking about display screens that can bend for a few years now, but its actual product – called Youm – looks closer to becoming reality. There’s some scuttlebutt that it could be included in the Galaxy S4, the company’s upcoming smartphone. But the case for the necessity of such screens hasn’t effectively been made – why do consumers really need displays that bend?
Ultra HD: For the past few years, television makers have been pushing one new gimmick after another in an effort to restart sagging sales. First it was 3D, then it was internet connectivity, but with most consumers already owning a flat panel, they just weren’t buying it – at least not in the volumes that the manufacturers were hoping. Now, the companies are getting behind Ultra High-Definition, or TVs that have four times the resolution of current screens.
The problem is, UHD panels are coming at very large sizes – more than 80 inches, typically – with enormous, $20,000-plus price tags to match. Some vendors, such as Sony, announced smaller screen sizes at CES, but it’s an open question as to whether the extra resolution is effective or even needed on anything but the biggest panels. Another open question is whether or not there’ll be any content that takes advantage of the super high-resolution. Sony is one of the biggest pushers of the technology, but it has only 10 movies that use it.
Sony: Speaking of Sony, not only did the company expend a lot of effort at CES in pushing a technology that nobody seems to want, it also didn’t say a word about the one thing people really want to know about: PlayStation 4. With Nintendo having launched its next-generation Wii U console this past November and Microsoft recently teasing a new Xbox with an online countdown, all eyes are now on Sony’s next video game console. Chief executive Kazuo Hirai mentioned in his keynote speech that games were one of his four priorities, yet he never came back to the topic. It was odd and disappointing, given that Hirai is the former head of Sony’s games division.
Research In Motion, Microsoft: Converse to gadget makers cementing Apple and Google’s domination of smartphones tablets is the fact that they aren’t doing Research In Motion and Microsoft any favours. By making increasingly fewer apps for BlackBerry or Windows phones, the consumer electronics world is making it that much harder for those two companies to convince people to buy their phones and tablets. The snubbing so far is somewhat understandable, given that both RIM and Microsoft are in the process of rebooting their mobile efforts, but the flood of Apple and Android-connected devices means the hole that they have to climb out of is getting deeper by the day.