Plugged in to CES 2016

I have been fortunate enough to attend CES, or the Consumer Electronics Show, in Las Vegas since starting my career as a young buck at JVC in 1995. In fact, it was known as WCES, or Winter Consumer Electronics Show, back in those days as it shared billing with the SCES, the Summer version, in Chicago until a few years later when CES took over. My earliest memories are of HUGE displays from the “big three” of the electronics business back in those days – Sony, Panasonic, and a mash up of companies such as Pioneer, JVC, Toshiba, and Hitachi. I also recall a few new South Korean players on the scene, Samsung, Daweoo, and Lucky Goldstar (now known as LG) that had not yet earned their spot on the main floor with the Japanese powerhouses. On the computer side of things, I heard Microsoft and Apple once traded blows here until Apple decided to take their news to their own stage back in California as of 1993. Video games systems also had their own empire within the CES walls with Sega and Nintendo fighting for attention and dollars.

My, how times have changed, as I just returned from CES v. 2016 and only Sony still occupies a huge corner of the show floor, but several in attendance agreed that there was very little innovation from the old giant. Samsung and LG are now MASSIVE here, but starting to be overwhelmed by Chinese upstarts such as TCL, Changhong, and Hisense and their big ideas and confident displays. While these traditional battles fight on, the auto industry is making sure that CES stays on the schedule of automotive media and enthusiasts by also putting the squeeze on traditional electronics debut news. These two massive industries are sharing more and more commonality, as illuminated by GM CEO Mary Barra’s comment when introducing the new Chevrolet Bolt as “…an upgradable platform for new technologies.” Sound an awful lot like something once said boldly by Samsung or Sony.

The size and scope of CES is just too much to address, so the following are items or introductions that caught my attention over all of the noise. As such, they just might be on your lists for Santa in the years to come.

Drones are big time…and getting bigger!

The EHang 184 will be on everybody’s CES 2016 hit list as the first human-payload carrying autonomous flying machine. While it may produce more questions than it answers at this time, remember that we saw it here, first.

Personal Screens

I tested several headphone/screen combinations, most of which act as cool windows into 360 degree Virtual Reality worlds, but all suffer from somewhat grainy or pixelated images. No faults to assigned…just limitations of the screens available and the up close viewing range. A new company called Avegant introduced a product called Glyph that solves the resolution problem by using a battery of tiny mirrors and a bright LED projector to actually project the image onto your retina. I know it sounds wrong in every way, but trust me when I report an image as clean and bright as the latest OLED flat screen TV.

The Car Biz

It did not go unnoticed by those in attendance that Chevrolet used the bright lights of CES to debut their new Bolt all-electric vehicle as opposed to the important Detroit Auto Show the following week. This is a very important car for GM as well as the fledgling EV segment of the business as the newsworthy yet relative success of expensive Teslas in certain corners of the market is not enough to yet call EVs a “hit.” No doubt low gasoline prices in conjunction with low interest rates has “driven” the recent spike in sales of larger gasoline powered vehicles, but the industry has no alternative but to embrace and produce electronic personal transportation in order to comply with future emissions and consumption government regulations. And the Bolt, with its 200 mile range and expected price around $30k, is going to be a tough argument to overcome for many American households and their 28 mile per day average commutes.

The “Connected Car” was one of the most overused phrases at this show as many companies, no matter how tenuous the link, was showing off how their tech will contribute to this brave new world. The idea of seamlessly merging of our personal, professional and transportation lives is seen as “the next big thing” in boardrooms across the industry, no matter that consumers say in survey after survey that they are satisfied with the technology and connectivity they get with their current communication devices and just want to be sure that they can access said information safely while driving. I could not help but feel that, no matter how high tech and advanced the connected car ideas were as presented here at CES, consumers are not yet ready nor do they care enough to make their next automotive purchase based on these ideas. Anyone remember the “gotta-have-it” connected refrigerator of 2010?

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