It’s been a tough few years for the CE industry. GPS sales collapsed, the unfulfilled dream of 3D didn’t buoy the TV industry, and netbooks were eaten by tablets (one tablet in particular), sending manufacturers scrambling at the last minute to restart their long-dead design and assembly plans for slates. It’s hard out there for a Samsung, Sony, HP, Dell, etc.
I won’t give away any spoilers, but this year’s CES will be as boring as dirt. From what I’ve seen so far in pre-briefs, laptops are more of the same, tablets aren’t very exciting, and TV is stagnant. Considering we’ve seen the lowest prices we’ll see in most of 2011 until next holiday, no one will be able to impress us with huge, cheap TVs. Considering we know the iPad 2 will be dropping next spring alongside a few HP slates (maybe a Palm OS device) and some Windows 7 systems for the truly brave, not much will be able to surprise us in the show hall. Even some of the the most interesting products out there – the media sharing devices, the NAS systems, the SSD drives – have kind of blown their wad. If anything, we’ll see some iterative changes to existing technology.
I’m a Debbie Downer, I know, but trust me: there will be plenty launched at CES but little that will impress us. There will be no iPhone surprise (unless you count a potential Verizon launch of the iPhone 4) nor will there be something as exciting as the Pre launch a few years back. That’s just the way it is. You can say that MS is showing off Windows 8 at the show, but who cares? It won’t ship for a year or more so it’s on par with an E3 announcement in the summer of a gaming platform that will launch two summers later. Look – Microsoft is still flogging the Surface in their press tent and that thing is as old as space.
It’s not really the manufacturers’ fault. They’re skittish animals by nature and a mixture of slow buying patterns in early 2010 and no promise of recovery (although spending is up to record levels this holiday). My hope is that 2011 will embolden designers and developers to create something new for 2012. I’m sure the 2011 crop of tablets will be more impressive as they roll out in the spring and I’m sure at some point 3D TV will make sense (perhaps after the Nintendo 3DS convinces kids that 3D is cool.) We shall see.
We’ll be there, friends, and we’ll be live-streaming the whole thing. However, I doubt we’ll come out the other end with must-have hardware. The sooner we accept this the better, because it’s going to be a tough slog to visit laptop after laptop (Now with SSD! And no optical drive!) and tablet after tablet (Now with SSD! And with an optical drive!). Here’s hoping I’m wrong.