CES 2018: The winners and losers
As this year's edition of the Consumer Electronics Show winds down, I'm left pondering who won or lost at this year's surprisingly spectacular show.
Winners... are dreamers
Part of the issue with declaring "winners" in a CES context is that it's no longer as simple as lining up a selection of TV sets and working out who's made the best one.
Indeed, that hasn't been the case for a long time, but in recent years, and especially in 2018, CES is just so many different shows all wrapped up into one.
Just as one example, if you were into smartphone accessories, it would take weeks to pick through every single smartphone case option on display if you stopped to actually assess them all.
You could equally spend the entirety of the show in the Las Vegas Convention Centre's North Hall looking at automotive technology from the likes of BMW, Ford or NVIDIA, for example, because there's no shortage of that stuff.
Although that last one's an unusual case, because if you'd said to most folks only a few years ago that NVIDIA would be primarily focusing on AI-driven vehicles, they would have presumed you were talking about a new iteration of Grand Theft Auto, not an actual in-world vehicle running on NVIDIA's specific in-car technology.
But that's a real sign of the times, because while CES of old used to be a display of the most wow-bang products, what has stood out the most at this year's show has been the level to which technologies are converging and bringing about new ecosystems and possibilities.
As such, there was a lot of talk around what companies are going to do in a 5G-enabled IoT world, but fewer physical products that you could gawp at, wondering what folks would think of next while you worked out how you were going to pay for it right now.
Sure, there were obvious showstoppers like Samsung's slightly ludicrous 146 inch Wall TV, and while I can't deny the inherent lust factor of a TV that fits together (or comes apart) like Lego, or for that matter the quality potential of micro LED TVs, don't expect to be buying Wall TVs any time soon. Samsung's 2018 TV lineup in Australia will almost certainly be QLED models, not micro LED, given that Samsung hasn't announced The Wall for anywhere on the planet just yet.
Likewise, while I like the concept behind Razer's Project Linda, it's an idea that's been done before that even Razer isn't sure will ever be an actual product.
What Samsung did to a large extent (and competitor LG also offered up in its own way) was instead provide a vision of an ecosystem of products. Sure, IoT isn't a new industry buzzword at all, but this year saw many companies talking up tangible consumer implementations of this stuff, generally guided by voice assistants.
In Samsung's case, it's the realisation of the promise to bring Bixby to everything, but that's also a wedge into a world that's rapidly being dominated by Google Assistant and Amazon's Alexa. In Australia, we're an Alexa-free world right now, but Amazon has stated it expects to launch in "early 2018", at least as far as its own Echo speakers go.
One interesting note here is that while LG's incorporating Alexa into some of its product ranges, LG Australia representatives told me that they don't have plans for those models in Australia in 2018. As such, within an Australian context, Google Assistant and Bixby might be the big winners there.
For its part, Sony played a more traditional CES game with new TVs and headphones, as well as that adorable new Aibo model, but there again, unless you pre-ordered one in Japan, you can't actually buy a new Aibo. Pity, because he's damned cute. Again, in this context, he's a future product you can't quite have yet, if ever.
Of course, there were plenty of smaller products from tiny vendors at CES, but this was a very mixed bag in terms of absolute standouts, especially as some were either delayed products or in some cases items that have been shown at previous CES events.
Want a laundry folding robot? There were a couple on show at CES, but at least one was only a "demonstration prototype" that the makers told me was there to give people an idea of what the final model (not due until 2019 at least) might look like. It literally had a clothes feeder at the top that clothes dropped into, and another one with (different) folded clothes below. At least they were honest about it, but at the same time, apparently, they do have "working prototypes". So why not show them?
I can't deny that Table Pong was fun, but that's a product that was backed out of an existing Kickstarter that's somehow tripled in price since that time, which is quite a markup... and the Kickstarter backers don't have theirs yet anyway.
CES always has plenty of "ideas" products that don't seem to quite make it to market in any real way, but this year, having the big players talk up their future plans much more than their new and dazzling array of products (for the most part) brought them into a weird convergence with the wacky products crowd.
Losers... get wet and dark
If there's an obvious loser at this year's CES, it's sadly CES itself.
The first day saw rainfall of only 12mm bring significant quantities of the show crashing to a halt, with Google most notably having to bring out a massive blue tarpaulin to protect its outside tent and cancel other external activities, while inside halls were rife with drips and sodden carpet you couldn't walk on. Vegas isn't built for drainage it seems, or to put it in terms Vegas would get, they gambled on no rain... and lost.
Wednesday seemed better in a weather sense, but this was just the convention centre lulling us all into a false sense of security because condensation on a transformer managed to fuse power to the entire show.
I was waiting for a product briefing with Alcatel when the power blew, taking everyone by surprise, not least the show coordinators. It's not what they would have wanted by any stretch of the imagination, but while matters like integrated assistants and actually useful IoT might have been the technology themes of CES 2018, it seems all but inevitable that the lasting memory of the show will be recalling where you were when the lights went out.
Alex Kidman travelled to CES 2018 as a guest of Samsung.