What Happened to CES? Is the era ending?

What Happened to CES? Is the era ending?

It’s been another year of insane coverage from CES. We’ve seen some great things, but the number of great things were heavily diminished by the number of “oh, me too” products on the market.

In 2011, we saw so many companies doing the exact same thing (and many of them doing it poorly) that it’s hard to even view this year’s CES in a positive light. Is the innovation gone? Has the consumer electronics market become so single-minded that there’s simply nothing left to do? I don’t think so, but it sure looked that way.

Tablet Terror

Of course, in 2010, one of the biggest stories of the year was the iPad. It truly was the game-changer that showed the slate to be a viable format both for consumption and production. But what we saw at CES was that everybody seemed to be making one, yet very few were actually making anything we’d use.

The notable exception? The Xoom. The Motorola project, while still in early stages, appears to be very promising. However, even though the hardware is important, the real story is in the Android 3.0 operating system. This OS change didn’t require CES in order to be a big deal. The fact that we first saw it at CES just means that more people saw it at the same time, but it would have been a big deal even on any random Tuesday.

What’s worse? Some of the manufacturers who came to CES didn’t even have a prototype. Apparently gone are the days when we could walk into the Las Vegas convention center and drool over things that may or may not appear while we at least got to see a physical representation of a final product. It seems that now it’s perfectly acceptable to show up with just an idea or a drawing and talk about what could be rather than showing us. For those of us who have become addicted to the bleeding edge of gadgets, this is unacceptable.

Forget About Phones

HTC Legendphoto © 2010 John Karakatsanis | more info (via: Wylio)Let’s face it — the smartphone market is ruled by 2 names: iPhone and Android. Most Android phones are pretty similar, and there’s only 1 iPhone. With all of the releases at CES, there was nothing that really excited us very much. Oh sure, we liked some of them. Some were very pretty and they’re easy to be excited about. But really, there was nothing that was entirely new. Bigger screens, better cameras and an operating system that we’ve seen every day simply don’t bring excitement. It’s CES. Show us something we’ve not seen.

The real story, and the one that took over CES without even being there, came from Apple with its iPhone release on Verizon. But even that isn’t some technological change from the norm. It’s simply a CDMA version of an already-released phone.

While this is neither the time nor place to talk about what the next big things in mobile might be, it’s certainly the place to express disappointment in the fact that we didn’t see any of them this year.

Robot Rhumba

Oh sure, there were robots. There are always robots. But why didn’t we see anything that was truly new? Even the fabulous Courtney Boyd Myers, our robot aficionado, seemed a bit underwhelmed. While we’re not expecting 2011 to be the year that we all turn into The Jetsons, it’s always nice to walk a show floor and see the things that could eventually happen.

From everything that we saw this year, it was like a re-hash from years before. When the most exciting robot that we’ve seen thus far in 2011 actually got announced before CES, it’s like our childhood gadget dreams have just gone down the drain.

Window Washing

So Windows will eventually run on ARM processors. This actually is exciting, but only for a very small segment of the population. The rest of what we saw from the Microsoft camp, excluding the incredibly cool new Surface 2 table, was met with a pretty large amount of “meh” across the Internet.

Where is our completely connected house? Why are refrigerators suddenly a bigger deal that the things that we can actually play with? Let’s face facts a second time — technology and gadgets are supposed to be fun! Nobody actually needs these things in order to survive, we simply raise their necessity value in our own minds in order to justify our love for them. Microsoft, for years, has led the pack in providing us with eye candy that we’d love to own but can’t just yet. This year, aside from the Surface 2, that desire factor just wasn’t there.

Remains of the Rest

What’s really unfortunate about how things went down this year is that there are some incredibly cool, useful products out there. Things such as the iHealth system seem, at this point, to need a show of their own in order to really stand out. Yes, they’re still consumer electronics, but they’re electronics that make a difference in people’s lives instead of just being fun.

It gets more and more difficult with each passing year for products such as the iHealth to gain air time. Why? Because we’re constantly being inundated with bigger and “better” versions of products that already exist and so it’s hard to get face to face with those ones that don’t. So that makes me wonder — is the era coming to an end? Are so many companies worried about keeping up with the proverbial Joneses that it has stifled true innovation? Let’s hope that’s not the case.

Maybe between now and CES 2012, the tablet wars and 3D mania will die down and companies will be forced to truly innovate in order to impress the gadget-worshiping masses. For now, if you want to check out all of the things that we found cool at this year’s CES, make sure to take a browse through TNW Gadgets.

Read next: CES 2011: Polaroid's GL30 Instant Digital Camera

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