Useless gadgets not for the real world
CES is the world's largest annual consumer technology trade show with 3100 exhibitors. Photo: AFP Photo
The Consumer Electronics Show, which concluded on Friday in Las Vegas, used to be a loud, flashy, hype machine of a conference for computers, DVD players and these futuristic MP3 players that could hold dozens of songs.
These days, it's a loud, flashy hype machine for next-generation TVs, technology that may find its way into your next car and far too many tablet computers that won't come anywhere close to taking the place of the iPad.
As the technology we most use has shifted from the physical desktop to mobile devices and products we want to relax and use from the couch, CES has transformed as well. Missing at the big trade show are big players like Apple, Microsoft and Google and recently even big PC makers such as HP and Dell have chosen to market themselves elsewhere.
Wacky gadgets at CES
The Mondo Spider, right, a 725-kilogram mechanical spider powered with hydraulics, and the 544-kilogram Titanoboa. Photo: AP
I stopped going to CES years ago, partly because of travel budget issues but also because it's a bad place to keep perspective on what products will actually survive and hit the mainstream.
Like the environment at South by Southwest Interactive, where so many buzzed-about startups seem as if they could survive outside the festival bubble (but eventually don't), the expensive, well-lit showroom space at CES can fool you into thinking you're seeing spectacular technology that'll soon arrive in your home.
In fact, you're seeing what's about to become a bloodletting. Did I mention that the Consumer Electronics Show is a lot like "The Hunger Games"? Hundreds, if not thousands, of products are rolled out at the show and a mere handful will become success stories. Many of the rest will fade into memory, the victims of bad timing or a disinterested market.
With the understanding that we're viewing things at a safe distance, let's take a look at what was touted as hot at this year's event and the chances that these technologies will actually make it to the real world this year, beyond the fantasy gadget-lust bubble of CES.
Also known as "4K," this means big-screen TVs with about double the resolution of current HDTVs. All the major TV manufacturers including Sony, Samsung and Panasonic rolled out Ultra-HD sets at CES, and by most accounts, they have jaw-dropping clarity.
But for the time being, they're very expensive (think $20,000 or more), and nobody has figured out how we're going to get content to watch on these sets. Super-high-capacity DVD discs? Much, much faster internet speeds for streaming or downloading? This tech is coming, but we're not ready for it yet. Chances we'll use it this year: 0 per cent.
Cameras with wi-fi
The question isn't whether this technology will take off but rather why it's taken so long. Camera phones have been clobbering the point-and-shoot market and companies like Nikon and Canon have been slow to add the ability to upload photos directly from a camera to the web.
We'll see a flood of internet-enabled cameras this year as well as hybrids that look like phones with touch screens but take higher-quality photos with improved optics. Chances we'll use it this year: 90 per cent.
Alternative video game consoles
The graphics company Nvidia unexpectedly introduced "Project Shield," a hand-held Android-based game console. And the video game company Valve has plans to bring its own hardware to living rooms to run games. But Valve says it probably won't have final hardware out this year and Nvidia's effort seems half-baked.
It's not even clear if the next big game consoles from Microsoft and Sony (the next Xbox and PlayStations) will debut in the next year or two. The outlook is fuzzy, but it doesn't seem like gamers are looking for more hardware; they just want better games. Chances we'll use it this year: 15 per cent.
As I wrote before after the Los Angeles Auto Show, car companies and tech companies are working to bring more app-like functions to the dashboard. CES was another big showcase for this kind of technology for entertainment, navigation and communication. Whether you believe it's dangerously distracting tech, it's inevitable. Your next car will likely be internet-connected and app-enabled in some way. Chances we'll use it this year: 80 per cent.
It took a long time for laptops to overtake traditional desktop sales. The transition from laptops to tablets such as the Samsung Galaxy and the iPad is happening much more quickly. PC makers are scrambling to make laptops with touch screens that can convert into tablets (so-called "convertible" PCs) as well as big-screen desktop machines that can double as over-sized tablets.
Lugging around a 20-inch or larger tablet screen seems ridiculous, but Windows 8 makes some of these touch-screen devices necessary for PC users. Many of these ideas won't survive and the transition will be bloody, but there'll definitely be many more tablets and touch screens to choose from. Chances we'll use it this year: 55 per cent.
An iPad stand ... to poop on
I'm not just being vulgar, I swear! iPotty is a totally real product, a potty-training toilet with a built-in iPad stand. If you've ever potty trained a toddler (I just finished my second tour of doody), you may be just desperate enough to buy this as a way to keep your kid entertained and planted in the seat.
I'm not saying it's great technology, but it's certainly eye-catching. (It catches other things, but let's stop right there.) Chances we'll use it this year (if you're a sleep-deprived parent): 50 per cent.
The New York Times