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TMCNet:  Tech fair as big as ever, but is it fit for purpose?: 20,000 products on show at CES in Las Vegas Some say expo focusing on hardware looks out of date

[January 08, 2013]

Tech fair as big as ever, but is it fit for purpose?: 20,000 products on show at CES in Las Vegas Some say expo focusing on hardware looks out of date

(Guardian (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) The world's biggest consumer technology expo opened yesterday to a familiar scene: thousands of gadget buffs streaming down Paradise Road to the cavernous Las Vegas convention centre, eager to glimpse the devices and trends of the future.


For the next four days the Consumer Electronics Show will unveil technological advances and launch 20,000 products and prototypes - a vast bazaar showcasing new phones, new televisions, new tablets, new everything.

"Oh my God, I can't believe I'm here!" squealed a voice as crowds surged through the doors. Tweets from those visiting the booths of Samsung and the like declared them "awesome" and "amazing".

The event is as big as ever: around 150,000 industry professionals - entrepreneurs, executives, designers, bloggers - crawling over 1.85m sq ft of exhibition space. The chief executive of mobile chip maker Qualcomm, Paul Jacobs, who delivered the keynote speech on Monday night, said its wares would change the world. "There are almost as many mobile connections as people on earth. Pretty soon mobile connections will outnumber us." But there is a problem. Sceptics say that the world has changed faster than CES, that the pre-eminence of the internet and software has marginalised an event still tethered mainly to hardware, and that CES is sliding into limbo as a consequence.

Wired, the technology magazine, declared on the convention's eve: "As software matters more and more, CES matters less and less. The internet is already the world's largest trade show. Gadget blogs are the new conventions.

"Sure, big electronics shows offer the opportunity to meet people and forge relationships. But even that transaction is being moved online in the era of real-time social media." Hardware has become increasingly meaningless as upgrade cycles accelerate and spread across platforms, it argues, citing the Nokia Lumia 900, a flagship phone hailed as the next big thing at last year's CES. It was a hardware triumph but disappeared after Microsoft announced Windows Phone 8, rendering the Lumia, which used Windows Phone 7.5, obsolete.

One problem raised by the news site BuzzFeed was the event's focus on hardware at the expense of software and services. The other was that social media had displaced traditional conventions as forums to showcase products and ideas. It noted that none of the four technology companies which "truly matter to people" - Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google - were exhibiting at the expo.

In his keynote speech Jacobs exuded optimism and said "Gen M" - generation mobile - would keep the industry humming. He underlined his point by unveiling Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 800 Series processor. And as if to rebuff accusations of dwindling relevance, Jacobs spiced up his speech with eclectic celebrity guests. Director Guillermo del Toro came on stage to show a clip of his new robot film, Pacific Rim, streaming it from a tablet that uses a new Qualcomm chip.

This week's CES is expected to be dominated by ultra HD TVs, supersized smartphones, acrobatic PCs and sensors which replace the mouse by tracking gestures and eye movements. If any of that catches on CES will claim, as ever, that you saw the future here first.

(c) 2013 Guardian Newspapers Limited.

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