I didn’t expect much in the way of OS, phone, or tablet announcements at CES this year, if only because all the key platform drivers stayed home. Apple never attends trade shows, preferring to host its own events. Amazon follows Apple’s lead. Google takes over Mobile World Congress each year, but does not attend CES. Microsoft used to have a keynote and a large booth at CES, but chose to quit the show after last year – which was a mistake. Many device vendors also skipped the show, and some who were there – I’m looking at you, Samsung and LG – held big press conferences without actually announcing much. RIM is staging its big comeback try in New York on January 30. Nintendo is making a big bet on digital entertainment with the Wii U, but it focuses on E3, not CES.
Nonetheless, CES 2013 was a huge show, and not just in terms of sheer size. The biggest trend I identified at the show was easiest to see at the evening press mega-events, Digital Experience (Pepcom), and Showstoppers. Pepcom usually gets the bigger name vendors, but this time, smaller vendors were showing the most unique products, and Showstoppers was actually the better venue because of it. I counted dozens of innovative devices which depend on app and device infrastructure built by Apple and, in some cases, Google. Several gadgets that seemed silly in pre-CES press releases (ex: a connected fork) were revealed to be worthy concepts when I got to see them live. Some examples:
- The HAPIfork measures how quickly you eat and vibrates if the intervals are too frequent. The companion app collects the data as part of a medical weight loss program. (No, this isn’t for everyone. But it isn’t ridiculous, either.)
- The Lark Life is a wearable vibrating alarm clock whose app acts as a sleep coach. There were at least a half dozen variants on this concept on display from various vendors.
- Parrot’s Flower Power gardening sensor works with an app that not only tells you when to water your plant, but what you ought to be planting in that soil instead.
- Evado Filip’s ViVoPlay is a combination watch, three-way GPS tracker, and limited phone designed to prevent children from getting lost in public places. The companion app enables you to find your child and call them to reassure them – and tell them to stay put or how to find their way back.
- The DoorBot is a zero-setup WiFi-enabled smart doorbell which sends video of your front door to your phone or tablet when someone rings the bell.
There were literally dozens more (especially in the personal fitness category). Some have been crowdfunded through Kickstarter or Christie Street – which counts as a microtrend of its own. All of them were designed for iOS, with some offering Android apps or promising them down the road. Apple has long had a lead in apps, but as these app-driven devices become more popular it could push more people to iOS over Android. It will almost certainly make it more difficult for Microsoft and RIM to establish Windows Phone and BlackBerry 10 as strong alternatives.
- TV vendors are still looking for a way to get consumers to shop on something other than price. 4KTV is the new 3DTV – incredibly cool technology with no content (or clear consumer demand).
- The connected car is a full-fledged category now.
- Samsung is the industry’s rock star. People started lining up for Samsung’s 2 PM press conference at 7 AM, and even people with VIP passes ended up being turned away at the door for lack of space.
- The Americans may have stayed home, but Chinese vendors were everywhere at CES. Huawei, ZTE, and TCL (Alcatel) all showed off new high end phones, Lenovo launched a clever tablet/notebook and an innovative – if silly – $1,700 27” Windows 8 coffee table/tablet. On the other end of the pricing and utility spectrum, we saw literally hundreds of cheap unbranded Android tablets from Chinese vendors on the show floor.
- The OS vendors all skipped CES, but the silicon platform vendors were out in force. Qualcomm delivered an awkward and entertaining keynote, Intel and NVIDIA held press conferences, and Marvell had a huge booth. NVIDIA’s press conference ground to a halt a few times, but NVIDIA did a good job positioning the Tegra 4 as providing better pictures (not just faster performance), and its Project Shield is an ambitious new gaming hardware platform.
- Dish gets no respect. Its press conference had real news and the most swag of any vendor at the show, but the room wasn’t full. The new Hopper integrates Sling technology for placeshifting, can transfer content to an iPad for offline viewing, and still records all of prime time TV for 8 days with automatic commercial skipping. As if that weren’t enough, during the show Dish also made moves towards launching a wireless network (or, failing that, at least make Sprint’s executives miserable).
If there was a winner and a loser at CES, Apple won without showing up thanks to companies large and small building apps, accessories, and app-driven devices for iOS. Microsoft lost because it didn’t show up. Microsoft needed to be at CES this year to show off Surface, pitch developers on Windows 8/RT/Phone, and do damage control on Windows 8/RT’s UI quirks and slow PC sales.
This article is adapted from a full CES Wrap-up report for Current Analysis clients which also contains analysis of specific device launches and recommendations.