CES 2012: the shape of things to come?

One of the funny things about going to CES is that you’re expected to be plugged into the overall vibe of the show, so you can return and tell your friends and family about "what’s hot" in technology. As a journalist, that’s especially true, because we have access to press events, show previews, and the like. The trouble is, as I’ve explained, CES for us is an endless parade of meetings, cab rides, rushed walks, and foot pain. The time we spend on the show floor itself is minimal and mostly involves rushing to that next meeting. Beyond that, we simply don’t cover the entire span of consumer electronics and don’t get much insight into what’s happening in the broader market there—not that, given the scope of CES, any one person or small team really could.

One can catch the vibe of CES in various ways, though. I’ve already offered my take on the state of the PC industry at CES 2012, which was more about following Apple’s template than bold innovations, somewhat unfortunately. In other areas, a few highlights were evident as we rushed through the week.

One new creation that stood out easily at the press-only Digital Experience event was Samsung’s amazing demo unit: a 55" OLED television.


This puppy was big and bright, even in the harsh lighting of the MGM Grand ballroom. The most striking thing about it to me, on first glance, was how impossibly thin the bezels were around its edges. To my eye, which has been frequently exposed to various Eyefinity demo rigs and display walls, the sheer thinness of the frame around the screen was jarring—in a good way. After that, one noticed other nice things about this OLED monster versus the average display: near-perfection at difficult viewing angles, amazing brightness and contrast, and much truer blacks than you’d see on an LCD. Unfortunately, this display is still far from being a true consumer product. We didn’t get a price tag from the Samsung rep on hand, but the number $50,000 was thrown around only semi-jokingly. If you wanted to see something wondrous from the future at CES 2012, though, the display itself certainly qualified.

Another way you can catch the tech vibe at CES is simply observing the attendees. That’s been a reliable method on many fronts, from the number of folks there to the gear they’re carrying. In years past, CES has been all about iPhones and an utterly, laughably jammed AT&T network, unable to service ’em all. iDevices were again everywhere at CES 2012—I’d put the iPhone ownership among attendees at somewhere around 50%, easily—but what impressed me this year was the apparent consolidation of non-Apple phones. That contingent didn’t consist of a host of smartphones of various types or even a varied selection of Android-based phones. Instead, it seemed like virtually all of the cool kids were toting one of two devices: a Samsung Galaxy S II or a Galaxy Note. Those big, bright screens and thin enclosures were everywhere, and one had to do a double-take at times: does that dude have a really small head, or is he using a Galaxy Note as a phone? Or, you know, perhaps both? In a world where two-year contracts tend to define when a smart phone upgrade makes sense, it’s amazing how many CES attendees had upgraded to one of Samsung’s new offerings in recent months. Also impressive was how much those big screens and thin cases looked like the future, and how much the tiny little iPhone 4/4S display looked like the past.

CES attendance is also considered something of a bellwether for the tech economy or even the economy as a whole. In 2009, as the wheels were coming off of the banking system, attendance at the show dropped dramatically. I was there, and although things felt a little lonely in the convention center, the upside was most evident: no cab lines, no pressing crowds, few waits at restaurants. Recovery was slow and incremental. The show felt like it was back in force last year, and this year, the crush of people was as inconvenient as anything since 2008, probably up a bit from 2011.

One thing that hasn’t changed much is the state of Las Vegas itself. For a number of years, we had the fun task of scoping out the latest massive new casino hotels as they opened up, from Paris and the Venetian to the Wynn and Aria and so on. In 2009, though, commercial building loans dried up, construction stopped, and half-completed structures sat idle, some partially built with cranes atop them. Some still sit that way. One of the more memorable examples was the frame of a new tower for the Venetian, left sitting exposed to the elements for years, obviously rusting. That always stuck out at me, an odd contrast to the bustling activity of the Venetian below.

This year, while approaching the Venetian for the second or third time, I realized I hadn’t noticed the half-completed tower yet. That’s when I looked up and saw this:

Yep, they’ve wrapped the rusting frame of the tower in a plastic shroud, colored to look like the buildings around it. That, my friends, is more like what I’d expect from Las Vegas. Let that structure rust in obscurity while giving us the approximation of something better.

Comments closed
    • Dr_b_
    • 9 years ago

    OLED Desktop PC screens please.

    • indeego
    • 9 years ago

    My first visit to Vegas(2007) was my last. I was surrounded by rudeness from the moment I exited the airplane to the moment I called for a cab to pick me back up (it never showed up. Ended up bumming a ride with someone else.)

    I attempted to save my company (some) money by booking a hotel off-Hilton and it really wasn’t worth it. Just walking to the convention center a mere 1/4 mile away is more like 30-45 minutes each way due to the incomprehensible pedestrian unfriendly city outside of the strip, and the sheer massive size of the convention center, which I underestimated.

    The conference I went to was on an important regulatory compliance subject matter for my company, and when I returned I presented my findings (really fascinating stuff that I had no idea about.) I had about 50 pages of notes and scores of contacts to follow-up with. My company listened, and then completely ignored my implementation suggestions. They spent $10K for a coworker and me to go for a week, and then completely ignore the findings. Ahhh, corporate America.

    The city just reeked of “give us your money, we don’t care who you are AT ALL” the entire stay. Sure it wasn’t my money, but I just felt scummy the entire time.

    As for CES, I’ve seen nothing in any report for years that couldn’t be replicated by putting a 1080p video on Youtube and explaining it in detail, crowd free. Can someone explain to me what “being there in person” accomplishes versus just really well put on demos with Q&A by the press and customers virtually? It seems like it would save everyone a lot of time and money.

    • Sunburn74
    • 9 years ago

    Love the ultrabook movement. Absolutely love it. There are 3-4 ultrabooks I am totally eyeing for a purchase in the next 3-6 months.

    Also is it just me, or does that blond girl look just like the tall girl from “That 70’s show?”


      • Corrado
      • 9 years ago

      No, she does’t. Mainly because Laura Prepon is hot, and that woman …. is not. At all.

        • ronch
        • 9 years ago

        She seems to be really tired.

    • BoBzeBuilder
    • 9 years ago

    I have the Galaxy Note. WOOT!!!

    • Disco
    • 9 years ago

    your comment about the small screen of the iphone 4 reminded me of something I’ve been thinking for awhile. I think that the next iphone 5 will have to be in at least 2 configurations if they want to keep even with Android (or at least minimize marketshare losses). They need a large screen (4.3+ in) and a smaller screen (3.5 in) version to keep their current customers who will be eyeing their neighbors’ galaxy 2s with a hint of green.

    I have an HTC Amaze and I love the size of the screen (4.3 in). I can’t imagine going back to a smaller screen, and anything larger would be just too bulky. I’m very curious how Apple will be able to keep the ‘WOW’ factor over the coming year. I think the rapid rate of Android feature interation and new model introductions will keep things very interesting to watch.

      • yogibbear
      • 9 years ago

      I absolutely detest the smartphone large screen trend… took me forever to find one with a smaller enough screen that it wasn’t too bulky.

        • Disco
        • 9 years ago

        that’s exactly why I think they will have to put out two ‘versions’ – one with a larger screen (more multimedia/gaming focus) and another for people like you who don’t want a large screen but may still want to be in the Apple/itunes ecosystem (as an ecologist i hate using that word to describe tech – apologies).

          • vvas
          • 9 years ago

          Apple prizes pixel density, not screen size. Remember, they quadrupled the iPhone’s resolution without changing the size of the screen at all. And why would they suddenly decide to do that now? Offering a larger screen with the same resolution would reduce pixel density and throw off the carefully calculated sizes of all their UI elements, while upping the resolution would mean that apps would need to be redesigned to take advantage of a new form factor.

          The main reason Android manufacturers constantly increase the screen size is because it’s a relatively cheap way to have a big number to focus marketing on and lure the unwashed masses. “Oh look, are phone has a 4″ screen!” “No over here, ours has 4.3!” Nevermind that most of them are still 800×480, while the iPhone4 has 960×640 at 3.5″.

          I’m still waiting for an Android phone that will offer a better pixel density than the 3.7″, 800×480 Google Nexus One / HTC Desire.

            • Disco
            • 9 years ago

            My HTC Amaze is 960 x 540, which is not as high a density as a retina display, but it looks pretty great to me. My wife has the HTC desire, and there is no comparison between the two (hers looks like crap – although I really liked it when she first got it).

            If they are not making any bigger screen phones, then I’m very curious what Apple can add to make the iphone 5 something worth upgrading to. They’ve already added siri and a pretty decent camera to the 4S. There’s not a lot more functionality that can be added other than processing power. And more graphics or cpu power is pretty unneccesary unless you have a display with lots of pixels to push. There’s only so much you can watch and do on a 3.5 inch screen (whereas the ipad3 will really benefit from higher pixel density and better processor). For one thing, it’s nice to have slightly bigger links/buttons when viewing web pages etc. and looking at google maps is much better on the bigger screen, regardless of the resolution.

            I don’t think that pixel density will be that big an issue. It was a big selling point for the iphone4, but having different screen sizes will not be that big a deal. The relatively low res of the ipad2 sure didn’t hurt its sales. Look at all the Android screen sizes, and angry birds looks fine on all of them (or at least on the different phones I’ve looked at). If they want, Apple could keep the same res and increase the size, or even increase the res to keep the same density. Some app makers may have to tweak their settings a bit, but i’m sure that if the screen proportions are kept the same it shouldn’t affect anyone too much. I’m interested to see what comes next.

            • Flatland_Spider
            • 9 years ago

            Better ergonomics.

            I had an iPhone 4 for about a day before I traded it in for a Samsung Captivate. The Captivate is wider then the iPhone in portrait mode, and it just felt better holding it. The iPhone was cramped when using the keyboard for email and text messages, and that’s mostly what I do. The extra space also makes it easier to browse the web without going into landscape mode.

            More room in the chassis.

            The bigger screen allows more room for a battery and components.

            The Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket HD and Galaxy Nexus have better pixel density then the Nexus One. They clock in at 316ppi and 315.80ppi respectively with a resolution of 720×1280. The iPhone 4S sits are 326ppi, so they aren’t that far off now.

        • cynan
        • 9 years ago

        I used to be under a similar impression. I would see people with larger smartphones and sneer at the presumed impracticality of it all. Then I got a Galaxy Nexus as a Christmas gift. At first I did find it kind of large and unwieldy, but I’ll be darned if I’m not quickly getting used to it.

        It’s just so hard to remain put out with any initially deemed unwarranted increase in surface area when you look at the gorgeous 1280×720 4.6″ OLED screen. And while it is rather large, it is the thinnest phone I’ve owned yet – which goes a long way when fitting it into a pocket (with which I haven’t had any difficulties). It just makes reading and browsing the web so much easier on the eyes. And HD video playback looks awesome.

        Yes there are other Android phones that are slightly better specced on paper due to somewhat unfortunate hardware validation policies on Google’s behalf, the camera is only mediocre for stills and there is no micro SD slot (how that heck did that ever happen anyway?), but after you see/use the screen on the Nexus, the Nexus comes out on top for overall user experience. It’s just that good.

    • dpaus
    • 9 years ago

    I knew that the LV economy had at least partly recovered when, during a week-long stay at the Rio in November, I noticed that they had jacked up all their service prices to pre-2009 levels. They’re always the bellweather on that; because you’re just far enough off the strip to make you think twice about making the trip, you’re more likely to suck it up and pay their inflated prices.

      • trackerben
      • 9 years ago

      Bananas Foster!

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