Studs, Duds, and the Lot
The Best of CES 2015
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The International Consumer Electronics Show, better known as CES, is always a riot. Well over 100,000 humans descend on Las Vegas with things that blink, bleep, and bloop. It’s a mishmash of media, buyers, sellers, celebrities, and companies that use the show as a launchpad into their year — a time when sales are typically slow following a hot holiday rush. Every year, we’re asked by peers and family to list the one or two things that really stole the show. This year, we figured we’d answer that a little differently.
There were far too many “cool” items at CES to list them all here. We’re rapidly approaching a place where even the worst of technology is still useful or nifty on some level, so the bar on what’s considered the best has to be raised. Or, at the very least, repositioned.
Audi’s self-driving A7 matters because it represents a quantum leap in automotive technology. We’re nowhere near teleportation, but Audi states that the sensors used to bring its prototype sedan from San Francisco to Las Vegas without a driver are production ready. A car that drives itself would fundamentally change the world.
Dish Network‘s Sling TV is finally bringing ESPN (and a few other channels of less import) to cord cutters. $20 per month gets you access, and you’ll never be asked to sign up for Dish’s traditional pay-TV package. What’s vital to understand about this move is who it’s targeting: Dish isn’t afraid of middle-aged folks suddenly cutting the cord and spending less. Dish is just trying to make sure present-day teens — you know, folks who think of YouTube as their television — actually spend something on Dish once they become homeowners.
Hardware returned to CES in a big way. In recent years, many innovations at CES hinged on you already having a device or an Internet connection. Not that there’s anything wrong with progress on the software front, and as it turns out, advancements in the cloud space have partially reenabled hardware’s resurgence. What’s happened is this: hardware makers no longer have to shove entire computers into everything they build. So long as there’s a simplistic interface and an ability to latch onto a wi-fi signal, you can build cheaper, lighter, less complex hardware and allow the heavy lifting to be done elsewhere.
You are, friend. One thing was crystal clear at CES: this year’s glut of new gizmos will be the most customizable ever. We may not see loads of new SKUs, but the accessory market seems to be heating up again as people look to differentiate themselves. In previous years, simply owning a unique piece of technology set you apart. Now that personal gadgets are as common as shoes and parkas, consumers are looking for ways to embrace technology while setting themselves apart.
Beyond that, you should fully anticipate a lot of headaches. The so-called Internet of Things is fully engaged, which should lead to just about every meaningful gadget of 2015 shipping with a wi-fi radio. In theory, this is beautiful. If every slice of electronic paraphernalia is able to connect to the Internet and speak the same language, you could automate a lot of your life. In practice, however, we’re anticipating a lot of quirks. Routers and mobile connections aren’t faultless, and it remains to be seen if a home full of connected everythings can recover from even minor hiccups.
Lastly, you should prepare yourself for an onslaught of gadgets vying for wrist real estate. Outside of the Oculus Rift and a few other competing virtual reality solutions, no one was silly enough to bring a face-worn wearable to CES 2015. During our week in Las Vegas, we counted but a handful of people wearing Google Glass — society just isn’t ready for something that invasive. Wrists, on the other hand, have been fair game for years. Garmin’s Fenix 3 strikes a beautiful balance of ingenuity, utility, and ruggedness, but we expect this year to be the one where companies push boundaries and discover just what folks are (and aren’t) willing to wear.
2014 will go down as the year that we all realized that none of our data is safe. Hackers created months of chaos for Target, Home Depot, a smattering of banks, and even a movie studio. You’d think that companies operating in the security sector would’ve taken advantage of that bad fortune in order to promote themselves at CES 2015, but we saw precious little in the way of newfangled security options. Perhaps it’s just not consumery enough, but it feels like a missed opportunity. Moreover, it’s troubling that no company is truly equipped with the tools necessary to stop these kinds of attacks from happening in the future.
Tablets were all the rage for the past few years, but only a handful bothered to launch at CES 2015. Even Apple’s iPad sales have dipped of late, as phablets are bridging the gap and serving the purpose of both phone and tablet for many. Plus, you’ve got ultra-light laptops selling for less than your average tablet… so, the wise buyer may opt for the far-more-productive laptop.
Despite hundreds upon hundreds of 4K televisions, there’s still no clear answer to the content question. Netflix and Amazon both showed up to demonstrate their 4K streaming capabilities, but beyond that, it’s pretty quiet. No major pay-TV provider is paving a way to deliver 4K content, and those expecting to get their fill from streaming sites need to live in an area where wickedly fast Internet connections are available.