The 2013 edition of the Consumer Electronics Show is wrapping up today. It’s been a week of staring at a seemingly endless stream of TVs I can’t afford (the ultimate example being a $300,000 4K set from Westinghouse), tablets that seem to be reproducing like rabbits and computers that are desperately trying to crash the tablet party.
After all that, what are my top takeaways from one of the technology industry’s most crucial events? Here are 10 things that struck me most:
1) My current TV is now officially lame. But I’m not forking over $20,000 or even $10K grand to replace it. I paid $1,500 for the 40-inch LCD TV in my rec room two years ago. After admiring Ultra HDTV models from Samsung, Sony (NASDAQ:SNE), Panasonic (NYSE:PC) and the rest that pack that sport four times the pixels and double (or more) the screen size of my “ancient” set, I was depressed. But not enough to pay those prices. Selling premium TVs at premium prices may be the key to pulling TV makers out of their extended doldrums, but good luck getting consumers to agree to that plan.
2) TV makers are shooting themselves in the foot. That’s because they’re displaying multiple compelling technologies, some of which won’t be commercially available this year. Even if I were ready to shell out $20K for a new Ultra HDTV, I saw the new OLED prototypes everyone was showing off the next day. Those won’t be available until next year. Oh, and glasses-free 3D — the development, from Vizio, could give 3D a much-needed boost. That was also on display, and also not available. Why pay $20K today when something obviously better is coming next year?
3) “Phablets” are the new smartphone. Or maybe smartphones are the new phablets. Samsung put out the 5.3-inch Galaxy Note in 2011, and everyone laughed, derisively coining the term “phablet.” That’s when a big smartphone display was 4.3 inches, and Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone was 3.5 inches. Samsung sold a ton of Galaxy Notes, and at CES, a 5-inch screen became the new default size for smartphone displays, while Lenovo introduced a 5.5-inch model. Since all smartphones (except Apple’s) are now phablet sized, can we please consign the term “phablet” to the dustbin and go back to calling them all smartphones?
4) Samsung is on a roll. It was leading the pack everywhere at CES. Samsung started the whole phablet thing that everyone is now jumping on. Its flagship Ultra HDTV (and its heinous stand) were front and center. Its home appliances are smart (many with WiFi and built-in tablet displays). Its Galaxy S III smartphone is breathing down the iPhone 5‘s neck as the world’s most popular. Its chips are in just about everything (including Apple’s gear). And it just announced a record quarter. Yes, it still has Apple litigation to deal with, and its tablets haven’t exactly been setting the world on fire, but 2013 should be a very good year for Samsung.
5) Sony is showing signs of recovery. Its TVs at CES were impressive, and the new Xperia Z smartphone is a looker. If my contract were coming up for renewal, that’s an Android phone I’d consider — and I’m an iPhone guy. Use of near field communication (NFC) in home-theater components is brilliant. Sony isn’t out of the woods by any stretch, but CEO Kazuo Hirai seems to be having some success steering it back to the kinds innovation and quality products that were responsible for its earlier success.
6) The video-game portable/console market faces a shakeup. Nintendo (PINK:NTDOY) is already in a tenuous position with casual smartphone and tablet games eating into its market. The last thing it or the other console makers — Sony and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) — need now is new competition, but they’ve got it, thanks to Nvidia (NASDAQ:NVDA). It unveiled its own portable console that plays Android and PC games.
7) Apple has a tough road ahead in smartphones and tablets. The competition isn’t sitting still. From faster processors to bigger displays and an ever-improving Android operating system (plus the new Windows 8 devices), incremental upgrades of the iPad and iPhone may not be enough in 2013.
8) An Apple TV is likely to remain a moving target. That’s not just because of content licensing and distribution issues, but items 1 and 2 above. If Apple has a completed prototype based on 2012 technology, it’s already outdated. If it releases one in 2013, many potential buyers will hold off, waiting for an OLED and/or 4K display version. If Apple incorporates those technologies in 2013, its TV will be a $10K or $20K status symbol that sells by the hundreds.
9) 3D printing is a stealth disruptive technology. 3D printers were big at CES, and 3D Systems (NYSE:DDD) was leading the pack with new models that address one of the 3D home printer’s key shortcomings: limited size. Its CubeX series (starting at $2,799) can print objects as large as a basketball and won CNET’s award for Hottest Emerging Technology at CES. Keep an eye on 3D printing in general and 3D Systems specifically, because this has the potential to take off rapidly.
10) We’re getting closer to the connected home. But we lack something to manage it all. You’ve likely heard the term “the Internet of things,” bandied about. This is the idea that our homes, appliances, cars and everything else we own is getting connected. That concept was on full display at CES where even plants were communicating with iPhones via Bluetooth. The ability to use a mobile device to check or interact with Internet-connected appliances, thermostats, game consoles, lights and cars is great. What’s missing is a master control. Having to run a dozen different apps that work independently and don’t share data is a pain, and results in missed opportunities for further energy efficiency. Whoever comes up with a plan to coordinate all of these connected devices, with “one app to rule them all,” is really going to have something.
Oh, and tablets are huge and will be even more popular in 2013. But we already knew that.
Now, I’m going back to watching my lousy TV. The one that was a must-have from CES in 2010.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.