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Half-Baked Products & Junk Clones

Tue, 01/14/2014 - 9:42am
Chris Fox, Managing Editor

Much like CES 2013, there were a few high points, a few low points, and lots of people. Too many people.

Aside from the mass scale, International CES 2014 had an inherent problem. Reporting from the show floor for an engineering publication, I’m inclined to look for the truly innovative, mold-breaking, and disruptive technologies.

Read: What CES 2014 Means for the Tech Savvy

Last year, the big stir was bendable cell phones, and even that technology was, at most, mildly innovative, with little realistic application for those of us outside the trendy circle.

Read: Bendable Phones Are Bunk

At CES 2014, the big thing was a combination of headphones and portable speakers. Amplification. In addition to my day job, I’m a musician, so I can appreciate the fact that embedded smart phone speakers are basically junk. But does this technology really warrant 65% (my somewhat zealous estimate) of the CES show floor? Bluetooth speakers and colorful headphones are old news – anybody recall the Sony Walkman? That had headphones too). 

My point is that though there were a few hidden gems (as always), CES 2014 brought little new technology to the limelight. The unfortunate circumstance is not that the product launches are dictated by what consumers want (neon headphones and tiny speakers), but the fact that these elements block out the innovation and truly profound areas of the show.

For instance, CES 2012 hosted only five 3D printers, while this year presented 28 3D printing vendors in a tech section all their own. Though this number is more telling of the growing consumer interest and demand, many of my fellow press members were still under the impression that this 25± year-old technology is new.

Another example of hidden innovation was in the automotive sector. Surrounded by companies toting car stereo systems and speakers, a couple of insightful companies (some big, some small) were presenting their innovative designs and technology. Toyota, among them, unveiled its hydrogen-powered FCV and Formula E revealed the Spark-Renault SRT 01E electric race car.

Now, when I set out to write this, it was going to be a ragging, nitpicking piece about how lackluster CES has become – because it has. But, I found myself reading an editorial at Wired, where Mat Honan said, “CES is a grind and a deluge: a long hard slog where you take meeting after meeting about all kinds of TVs and tablets and smartphones that are largely indistinguishable…”

Not only is the deluge of CES’s enormity wearing on journalists, but there also hasn’t been a profound showing of innovation since the emergence of the smart phone. Combine that with an ever-increasing public knowledge of CES’s, and a perfect storm of half-baked products and junk clones is abound.

Some of the real closet innovations at CES 2014 came from the target market, consumers. Crowd-funded products were abundantly present, looking for further investment or shelf-space. Not to mention the massive number of crowd-funded campaigns that were being launched at CES, like Henry Liu’s company, Full Spectrum Laser, which was launching a campaign (funded within a day, or so, of launch) for a desktop stereolithography printer.

Between the continued emergence from recession and large companies catering to the quick sell, CES 2014 was mediocre. Innovation is still rampant, hidden under terrible marketing schemes and bad booth design. Those elusive new technologies are sure to develop into full-fledged products that rock our world, like the smart phone, and the days of uninspired, wearable electronics and ultra-super-mega-high-def TVs will be less than a blip on the radar of CES’s past.

What do you think the future of the consumer electronics industry holds? What area is poised for the next disruptive technology? Email chris.fox@advantagemedia.com.

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