The 2011 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was held earlier this month in Las Vegas. This was the 25th consecutive year that I've attended the show in Sin City, something that I would have never imagined when I first went there as a wide-eyed pup in 1987.
CES hasn't changed all that much over the years - most of the exhibits are still in the Las Vegas Convention Center. But the show has grown tremendously over the years. 25 years ago, attendance hovered around the 100,000 mark. In 2006, over 140,000 people attended CES (although I still believe that's an inflated figure). Last year, attendance dipped to around 113,000 and the show lost about 200 exhibitors. However, this year attendance came back roaring back with an estimated 140,000 people and 200 more exhibitors showed this year bringing that total up to about 2700 manufacturers and vendors. Over 30,000 people from outside the United States attended the show this year, a new record for foreign attendees. Could it be that the global recession is waning?
The "wow" factor was down significantly at this year's show. There really wasn't anything new that rocked the electronics world at CES. Most of the new products that were shown had to do with improving consumer electronics devices and products rather than revolutionizing a given platform.
While most of the shows in the past have centered on new technologies, the theme of the 2011 centered on the Apple iPad - a product that wasn't even officially shown at CES. Since its launch in April 2010, Apple sold 7.5 million iPads worldwide by the end of their fiscal year in September. And then they turned around and sold another 7.3 million iPads during the last three calendar months of 2010. Trying to catch up with tablet craze, over 80 different companies unveiled touch screen computers at CES this year, most of which will feature the Android 2.3 operating system. And it isn't all about being able to play music, read books or magazines, or play games on the thing - a lot of manufacturers are looking at touch computer tablets as being an everyday household gadget, just as you'd use a microwave, television, or a dishwasher around the house. The only difference is that the touch tablet would CONTROL most of the electronics in your house.
While most of the tablets are going to continue to be media centric, a number of applications are already available for controlling music systems, appliances, heating and cooling, and other controllable electronic devices in the home. And the list will continue to grow in 2011. Already, custom integrators are using iPads for controlling lighting, home theaters and music sources in higher end home installations. Many mainstream electronic manufacturers are adding iPad or tablet interfaces to their line-up for full wireless control of their products from any room in the home.
Along with tablet computers, smart phones continue to be a hot item. Both Verizon and T-Mobile unveiled plans for even faster 4G networks to work with new generation smart phones and tablet computers. The only problem is that they're in the planning stage right now with no guarantee as to when these new networks - or products - would become available.
At previous Consumer Electronics Shows over the past years, personal viewing devices were supposed to be the rage of the future. (See my post from four years ago on what was supposed to be the advent of mobile video products here.) However, that fizzled greatly with slow-to-adapt technologies and the lack of available programming. Last fall, Qualcomm announced that they'd be shutting down their FloTV application for smart phones and personal viewing devices. The bandwidth that they owned for FloTV was sold off to AT&T who wants to develop their own Mobile DTV programming service. RCA announced at this year's CES that they will be releasing portable viewing devices later this year that will use a new wireless video standard set up by the Open Mobile Video Coalition. The group consists of broadcast networks and manufacturers who will provide programming and products for people who wish to watch television "on-the-go". Already, nearly 70 channels are available along with local news, weather and traffic in some selected markets. And 3-D programming may also be available with Mobile DTV as LG showed a small tablet-sized video device at CES that allowed the user to watch 3-D images without glasses.
Speaking of 3-D, it appears that many of my somewhat educated guesses on the format from my earlier post on the Pros and Cons of 3-D have begun to come true. Sales of 3-D televisions and related hardware are down significantly from manufacturers projections, as much as 40 to 60 percent below where they thought sales would be at the end of 2010. Prices were sliced on 3-D televisions during the holiday selling season as consumers were very slow to adopt the technology for their homes. Much of it has to do with the lack of viable 3-D viewing content and the fact that you have to wear glasses to see the 3-D image. Added to this, there's a confused public because there are 3-D televisions that use different types of active systems and some that use passive systems. Once again, manufacturers shot themselves in the foot by not adopting a standard for 3-D systems and confusing the public once again.
With that said, 3-D is not going away anytime soon. There were still a number of 3-D displays at CES this year with manufacturers showing video displays that will not need glasses for people to realize a 3-D image. Active and passive systems will still be the best to view 3-D, but a handful of manufacturers are working on devices that will allow for a 3-D image to be shown on kiosks or small billboards in the future. I'm not holding my breath.
But there's also a lot of neat little things that you come across at CES. Being sort of a grilling junkie, I ran across this product that was right next to our exhibit at the Las Vegas Convention Center - the iGrill. It's a heat probe/Bluetooth transmitter that paired with a downloaded application to an iPod/iPhone/iPad will give you instant temperature readings of meat that you're cooking on the grill or in an oven. You can program in a target temperature and the iGrill app will tell you the approximate time the meat will be ready. And what got my attention is that you can attach two probes to the transmitter which would be handy for me when I'm cooking a beef tenderloin when my father-in-law comes around. He likes his meat well-done while I like mine pretty rare. I could put a probe in the small end of the tenderloin for more done while having a probe in the large end for less done. It retailed for $100, but it turned out that we've got a relationship with one of the distributors of the product and they said they could get me one for cost.
My company showed at three places at CES - we had a booth in the iLounge area of CES, a part of the show floor where companies that sell iPod/iPhone/iPad accessories and products were lumped. (Apple, interestingly enough, did not show at CES this year. When someone asked me why they didn't show, my reply was, "Because they don't need to.") We showed the Focal XS 2.1 computer loudspeaker system and the new Focal XS Book 2.0 speaker system (XS Book below left on either side of the iMac). The Focal Book system garnered a lot of attention for the high quality of sound and the deep, rich low frequency information that it generated from a little box. At $399, we're going to sell a boat load of these things.
We also showed products at the Venetian, part of the high-end audio exhibits at CES. We had a number of products from Cambridge Audio, Focal and Micromega on display in two suites at the Venetian. And over at the Mirage, we had three suites that were open to only our existing and potential dealers where we had active displays from Focal, Micromega, Pathos and the North American debut of a new product we just picked up for import into the U.S, a French company named Devialet (duh-VIA-lay). Devialet's D-Premier hybrid integrated amplifier (above right) with a built-in digital-to-analog converter may have gotten the biggest buzz for high end equipment. We had an event on the Friday morning of CES for both the audio press and a selected number of dealers. And it's already begun to get some major attention from reviewers. Click here to see one review on the D-Premier (with more pictures).
Here's one other little product that we're now importing into North America. It's the Minx loudspeaker system from Cambridge Audio. It's little cube shaped speakers remind many people of the Bose loudspeakers, but only with more versatility and better sound than the Bose speakers. It's paired with a sub-woofer (you can choose from three different sizes of sub-woofers) and you can also get them in packages for home theater use. I've been living with a pair of the small Minx cubes and a 200 watt Minx X200 sub-woofer for about two months now and I have to say that I'm overly impressed with the sound quality of the little system. And those that I've showed it to are also equally impressed. I anticipate I'll be selling a ton of these systems to my dealers in 2011.
There's been kind of a morose in the consumer electronics industry over the past couple of years. With the economy in the tank, people haven't exactly been rushing out to buy high-end consumer electronics. However, I'm sensing a turn around for 2011. People I talked to in Las Vegas remained cautiously optimistic, but upbeat for the prospects of a better year than the last three. My business in 2010 was up about 43% over 2009, primarily because I put on one very large account in the Chicago area. I anticipate my business in 2011 will be up another 25% because of added accounts and some commitments I've received for more business this year. CES was definitely upbeat this year and I, too, was upbeat after the show was over. After a few years of muddling down the road, I'm looking forward to finally having a great year. And I'm hoping that goes for everything to do with consumer electronics.