Major takeaways from CES 2013

January 11, 2013

As this year’s Consumer Electronics Show comes to an end Friday, what were some of the major takeaways from the gadget event? The Post’s Hayley Tsukayama reports :

Unplug the displays and turn down the lights: International CES is closing shop Friday until next January. And while the 2013 run certainly wasn’t the flashiest the trade show has ever had, there were still some major announcements and innovations.

For one, nearly every presentation in this ostensibly hardware-focused show had included something on content or the connection of devices in a wider ecosystem.

That made for fewer whiz-bang, head-turning announcements, but it did sketch a fuller picture of how technology could have an impact on everyday life. TV-makers have recognized the video-on-demand market and are developing tools that let users search all of those services at once. That move forward makes up, in part, for the companies’ publicity blow-out for televisions that are too big for most consumers and too advanced to show nearly any current content.

It also highlighted, more than ever, that companies that focus more on their devices and less or not at all on content are in danger of being left behind. Engineering marvels such as Sony’s water-resistant Xperia Z are impressive, but they seem like random solutions to problems that aren’t much of a problem. Do you really want to take your phone into the bathtub, anyway?

For the game industry, CES showed that gamers want new hardware, Tsukayama reports :

Gamers are certainly hungry for new, innovative hardware. For proof, look no further than this week’s CES tech show, where three game devices picked up a tremendous amount of buzz because they promised to pull hardcore PC gaming off of the desktop.

Nvidia’s Project SHIELD offered a glimpse of more mobile PC play by essentially putting a screen on a console controller. That raised gamers’ heartbeats not only because it untethers them from the keyboard and mouse, but also because it opens the door for more advanced streaming games.

Perhaps most threatening for Nintendo, however, was the announcement that the game company Valve is working with Xi3 Industries to deliver the Piston console, to bring streaming PC games straight to the TV without the user having to connect to a computer. Valve also said at E3 that it’s working on a “Steam Box,” which will run the Linux operating system. As VentureBeat reported, it’s not yet clear how closely related the two devices are.

Right now, the prototype console doesn’t have the multimedia and video-on-demand partnerships that give the Xbox, PlayStation and Wii U a place of honor. But because Nintendo has taken a while to amp up its entertainment, having started offering its social and searchable Nintendo TVii service only in December. That arguably makes it the most vulnerable to disruption from these upstarts. That will only increase as the technology advances to make network lag — skips between a key or button press and the action in games — increasingly less of a problem.

As gamers shift their interests from physical discs to digital downloads — for evidence, you need look no further than the ever-shrinking PC sections in game stores — leaner, more mobile machines are becoming more attractive. That could knock more traditional consoles out of the living room altogether.

And if you’re still wondering why CES is such a big deal, Tsukayama explains why it is a notable event :

Yes, CES gets a bad rap these days — and there are a lot of reasons why. Major companies pull out of the show to set their own announcement agendas (see: Apple, Microsoft). And many of the show’s “hot products” of the year don’t always pan out in the real world (see: ultrabooks), have super limited appeal, or simply never come out at all. In many ways, CES has earned its reputation as a disconnected confaband echo chamber.

So, why bother with it at all?

It’s not an easy answer, particularly if you’re not one of those people who fall in love with a new gadget every month. But CES, with all its flaws, is still a bellwether for the technology industry and worth watching , particularly as personal technology becomes more important in daily life.

On a high level, the very criticisms of CES — that it’s a hardware show in a software world, that it needs star companies to make it interesting— are indicative of shifts in the industry at large.

Devices seem to have reached a plateau for the moment. They can get slimmer, faster, lighter and bigger and have more battery life or come in new colors. Those are all useful changes, but rarely feel like anything to write home about. Innovation is increasingly coming from the software side of things, from content partnerships and novel applications of technology, which make gadget-driven news a little less interesting.

That’s apparent at CES, which has also taken pains to focus on content, entertainment and trend news and to foster conversations about what it means in a world on track to have more mobile connections than people.

CES also continues to serve as an important stage for smaller companies and others who don’t have the star power to get much attention when they have their own events. Press releases and launch events are great when you’re Apple, but the chaos of the CES firehose also gives smaller companies the chance to catch the eye of someone important as they wander through the convention.

But, most of all, CES is still one of the best places to see what’s coming down the pike and what companies are dreaming up.

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