International CES 2011 is in the history books and it was a wonderful show. Over 135,000 attendees, over 20,000 new product announcements, over 1.6 million square feet of exhibit space — it was a non-stop tech festival that truly has no equal anywhere on Earth.
Samsung, Sony, Sharp, Toshiba, Mitsubishi, Panasonic, Vizio, Joe, Sally, Tom, Dick and Harry all had impressive displays of Internet-connected Televisions. If you were thinking of “cutting the cord,” this was your show. Every manufacturer displayed their own version of a world where all you need is an Ethernet cable and an ISP.
I was also extremely impressed by the array of tablet computers — each ready to climb the formidable hill created by Apple and topple the iPad from its perch. And, for each tablet, there were a dozen smartphones and mobile devices that promised to reduce Apple’s dominance and offer a better version of connected living.
But for all of the technology on display, the most impressive part of CES was what I didn’t see — consumer aspiration. It was simply missing. Everywhere you looked you could find new technological solutions — but where were the problems?
The goal of the “cord-cutters” (people who wish to find an alternative to expensive cable television service) is to save money. How do a bunch of pay services like Netflix, Hulu Plus, MLB, etc. save you money? You’ll actually spend more on premium content — assuming that you can even get the sports packages you seek from online distributors.
Microsoft offered a seamless experience from desktop to handheld to laptop to gaming console to television. I play games on my Xbox and I’m sure to enjoy versions of those games on my Window Phone 7, but do I need Sharepoint or Word or Excel on my TV? The reason most people carry two phones isn’t because they want to. They carry two handhelds because, if one is issued by the company they work for, 100 percent of the content and data that passes through the company device is owned by the company. The second mobile device is for personal use. How does a seamless experience between all of your personal, business and home screens match the reality of that work/life scenario? How does it work in a household with more than one member — who gets the remote? Which computers get to sync with which devices through which cloud account?
I don’t mean to pick on Microsoft. Real problems that real consumers have in their connected worlds were absent almost everywhere. Instead what we saw were screens full of widgets and apps that offered a glimpse of a possible connected future, but no process for making it a reality. Most of the Internet-Connected TVs on display were metaphoric “concept cars,” exciting to look at, but far from street-ready.
In and of itself, there’s nothing wrong with engineers inventing solutions for non-existent problems. In fact, I love looking at the newest, fastest, coolest, most remarkable tech. That’s one of the big reasons to attend CES.
That said, I think it’s important to remind ourselves that content distribution, content creation, advertiser sales, advertising spend, Internet service providers, multi-system operators, telephone companies, the FCC, the Congress and consumers all have extremely divergent agendas.
The aspirations of consumer electronics manufacturers are laudable. They want to increase margins by adding service layers to their hardware. But I didn’t see any kind of council or consortium to bring a comprehensive solution to the content distributors or advertisers.
While discussing things I didn’t see at CES with my friend, Jeremy Rosenberg, at Music Choice, he observed that he didn’t see any note from CES or coverage by anyone that touched upon the wave of tablets likely pushing back the number of TVs per home.
He recalled that, at last glance, the average numbers of TV per home had risen to 2.5 and was still rising. His question, “Will this reverse as tablets roll out and TV Everywhere and Adaptive Streaming rise to meet them?” One of the big drivers of tertiary TV sets is folks like us who may indulge our children and/or ourselves with TV sets for viewing audiences of one in a kid’s room or a viewing audience of one at a home office desk … it will be easy to just let tablets handle that. Will there actually be less TV sets per household?
All in, I thought International CES 2011 was a great show and I am sure we are going to love all the new toys that come out over the next few months. My advice … just keep looking for the stuff that’s not on display.