Here we go. Another year, another CES. And, as I said before, this is going to be a weird one. Nothing – and I mean nothing – has leaked out of the deep mountain hordes of Sony, LG, and Samsung and there is no overarching concept or topic that everyone is pushing. It’s as if the big guys are now just going through the motions. And they are.
Name one piece of popular non-cellphone/tablet CE hardware made by a major company that garnered any attention this year. Except for some Galaxy and iPhone/iPad refreshes, I can’t think of any. There are no new optical or media formats, no new improvements to home theatre devices, and apart from Sonos no one is doing anything exciting in the living room space.
The heyday of CES came when hardware was hard. Now hardware is easy and selling hardware is even easier. Thanks to crowdfunding and powerful, well-connected accelerators, a whole new world has opened up to the lone inventor or small group – a world that eschews most of what CES stands for.
There is one real brick and mortar retailer left, Best Buy, and thousands of struggling Mom and Pop stores and chains that are just scraping by. None of these retail spaces want much to do with some crazy brain for DIY robots or an Arduino board/Raspberry Pi mash-up. That used to be RadioShack’s territory before they gave up. There is no place for the hardware that really excites us anymore at CES, although, by creating little pavilions of all sorts, the CEA is trying to cash in on crowdfunding trends.
So CES may have finally reached the doldrums. Iteration after iteration of speakers, receivers, and Blu-ray players are approximately as interesting to the average technophile as a stack of old Crutchfield catalogs. More PCs in weird cases, more 4K TVs, more massive booths offering little in the way of novelty and plenty in the way of overkill.
“But John,” you grunt into your keyboard. “Why are you even going?”
Because the concept of CES is far nobler than the reality. CES is the one time when everyone comes together. The makers, the builders, and the doers rub shoulders with the R&D dudes and the PR reps. The investors talk to the biz dev guys, the buyers meet the startups and, thanks to a bit of synchronicity and a lot of booze, a lot of stuff gets done at CES. Our own event, Hardware Battlefield, is a testament to the still-beguiling draw of CES as a place to get things done.
Every generation murders the gods of the last. For decades CES has been the show of shows, full of glitz, glamor, and nerds. The nerds are still there, the glitz is still flowing, but the creative force that made shows like CES, CEBIT, Comdex, and the like so vital is being sapped by the vitality of the Internet. Why do you need to meet with buyers when they’re an email away? Sure, this is face-to-face business for many but for an increasing numbers spending a numbing week in the Nevada desert is a prison sentence.
Although CES is all about the show floor, the real action happens in the shadows. That’s why we’re there, that’s why you’ll stay interested, and that’s why this creaking old ship is still sailing, years after she should have sunk.
[Illustration: Bryce Durbin, from a photo by Ben Franske]