Las Vegas, that amazing artificial oasis of sin and entertainment in the Nevada desert, is not among my favourite cities at the best of times. And when the world’s top consumer tech show happens there in January, and getting a cab is a nightmare... well, I was happy to skip CES 2009. But I did get a flurry of reports from friends and colleagues (and trusty PR services) – and learnt that things were different this year.
The crowds were thinner. You could get a cab without waiting an hour. And then a surprised friend reported stripped-down attendance at a strip club on Saturday, a sure sign that the slowdown was taking its toll. That’s not the sort of CES-time Vegas I remember. Hey, but I stuck to The Strip (the road that has 18 of the world’s 25 largest hotels), not the strip clubs, honest...
Despite all that, CES ’09 saw lots of products, and participation, even if it missed a few big names. The Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas is the world’s top consumer tech show. Not counting just crowds (this is a trade show, sans the junta), but participation and impact. Products first seen at CES include the VCR in 1970, LaserDisk (1974), the CD player and Camcorder in 1981, the DVD in 1996, HDTV in 1998...
I’ve been to IFA Berlin, and though it’s way older and bigger in area and visitors, it lacks the excitement and charged air of a CES. CeBit in Hanover is huge, but more of a pro show, with less of consumer electronics. CES is pure consumer tech. Mobility and green tech were hot at CES ’09. So were ultra-thin, HDTV LCD and plasma displays, especially Panasonic’s thin plasma screens, and wafer-thin organic LED (OLED) displays. Neat.
And there was pop icon Stevie Wonder, who uses a BlackBerry and can now use an iPod – now that the Nano has speech assist. He came to CES to convince companies to keep blind people like himself in mind when designing their gadgets. Most gadgets are inaccessible to the blind.
Some other personal picks from CES ’09... Palm is Back: My vote for ‘product of the show’. No, Palm isn’t dead yet, and yes, I’m biased, having used three generations of Palms. After the Treo smartphone of 2003, Palm declined, pushed out by BlackBerry and Apple. Then, at CES ’09, Palm stole the show with its Palm Pre smartphone, running nifty new software. The Pre is a slim phone with a large touch screen and a slide-out keyboard. I’m waiting to see if it will get me to switch back from my freeze-happy Nokia E series.
The Pico Projector: Carry a projector in your pocket, and even store and run your PowerPoint files straight from its internal memory. There were several brands, with Samsung showing an impressive model.
Asus Eee PC T91: The first Eee PC helped launch the Netbook, those light-and-cheap but usable notebooks. The T91 is a ‘convertible tablet’, with a touch screen and a flip-down tablet display. Running Intel’s Atom chip, the 1 kg network has a nearly 9-inch inch screen, and has a built-in TV tuner and GPS. I expect it late this year in India for the Rs 40,000 price range, not bad for its features.
Blu-Ray wasn’t quite there. As I’ve mentioned before, this isn’t quite as happening as some make it out to be. Old CES hand Philips was missing this year. And Apple was missing, as usual. It says trade shows are becoming irrelevant, so it’s even skipping next year’s MacWorld – where Steve Jobs usually pulls iPods and other rabbits out of his jeans pockets. Strangely, Apple is planning to be there at CES 2010!
The organisers said CES closed at 1.1 lakh visitors, a drop of over 20 per cent from last year, and featured 2,700 companies, fewer than last year, but including 300 new exhibitors.
So even if the strip clubs saw less action, CES did well, with 20,000 new technology products.
Prasanto K Roy ( pkr@cybermedia .co.in) is chief editor at CyberMedia, publisher of 15 specialty titles such as Dataquest and Living Digital (Skyline photo of Las Vegas’s Strip on top of page: wikipedia.org)