NEWS ANALYSIS: Consumer and prosumer tech has come a long, long way from PCs, music players and phones to robots, drones, VR headsets and set-and-forget cars.
LAS VEGAS—When the Consumer Electronics Show began life back in 1967, it featured new items such as stereo record players, calculators, hi-fidelity televisions and some of the first cordless telephones. These were generally necessary and useful items.
Fast forward 49 shows to 2016, and now we're looking at camera-toting drones for just about any member of the family, virtual reality headsets that show us entirely new worlds, robots of all sizes, and cars for which drivers simply set a location and then sit back and relax.
Whatever happened to the latest PCs, tablets and phones? Well, they're still here and being displayed, but they're not getting much marketing push. Dell, Lenovo, HP Inc., Acer, LG, Microsoft, Samsung—virtually all the major makers (no Apple, though) are here showing newer, faster, more capacious portable computers. But that sector of the business simply doesn't have the razzle-dazzle that something like a remote-control drone or a VR demonstration has.
It's All About Entertainment in the Moment
And if you think for one minute that CES 2016 isn't about razzle-dazzle ahead of everything else, then you are a misguided person.
In fact, what was probably the most popular large-scale demo was in Central Hall here at the Las Vegas Convention Center, where Samsung was allowing dozens of attendees to experience a roller-coaster "thrill ride" using its soon-to-come virtual reality headsets (see photo). It was quite a sight to see people screaming and throwing their hands into the air as if they were on the Matterhorn ride at Disneyland, when anybody observing them could see that their bodies were quite misinformed by the VR tech.
Some people were actually beginning to get sick from the virtual ride.
Looking around the show, LG's mega-size, 98-inch 8K video screens (available later this year) were attracting scores of onlookers, as were Bluetooth speakers from a number of manufacturers. Robot-controlled drones, a couple of 360-degree view spherical cameras (similar to GoPro) and wool caps embedded with Bluetooth headphones were also hot items.
Changeover From Useful to Exciting
Thus, the overall thrust of CES over the years has clearly changed from innovations involving useful devices for home and business that help make life easier for people to devices that make life more exciting and unusual for people. That's the bottom line for this show, and it has been for years.
One could say that most of the entertaining new items at CES are ultimately unnecessary for us in daily life. It would be nice to have a robot clean your home, a doorlock controlled by your phone, or a drone to fly around the neighborhood and photograph the horizon, but how important in the long run are any of those things? Looking at all this objectively, well, not very.
Let's face it. All this innovation is fun for some people, creates new markets and is adventurous. But few of the items getting most of the attention at CES are as important as a good, reliable, long-battery life PC or tablet or smartphone—items we cannot live without day in and day out.
News flash: Huawei is about to come out with a smartphone battery that lasts two days. Now that's good news for the reality-obsessed. You'll be using that phone a lot longer than a VR headset.