Of CES 2012 and missed expectations

Ah, Las Vegas. I had hoped never to return. Yet there I was last week, in the ticket line at the Vancouver airport, cursing myself for making it in time and bringing my luggage and passport.

“Maui or Phoenix!” an attendant began to shout, pacing back and forth between the ticket counters. “Anyone going to Maui or Phoenix needs to step to the front of the line!”

We made eye contact. For one brief second, I thought she was beckoning me to a less wretched destination. “I… I’m going to Las Vegas,” I said with my hand half-raised.

She stared at me blankly. “Maui or Phoenix! Anyone going to Maui or Phoenix, step forward now!”

A man in a Hawaiian shirt and khaki shorts waddled past me. I looked at him with a loathing, jealous look. His flight would be long, but he would soon be sipping margaritas and sunbathing. I would be nursing my chapped lips and trying not to step on blisters during long marches between casino hotels. I would be hurrying along sidewalks just narrow enough to dispense deep lungfuls of car exhaust. I would be getting friction burn from the strap on my new messenger bag.

My mood bottomed out three hours later, when I emerged from the walkway into the McCarran International Airport. I encountered the slot machines that would haunt my waking hours for the next week. Oh, please, not again.

Then, somehow, it wasn’t as bad as I thought.

I’m not saying Vegas is any less awful of a city than when I went there last year. I’m not saying it’s any less grotesque or absurd. My friends tell me they know people who work there, and they tell me those people are happy. They say you can make a good living there, with good restaurants, endless entertainment, and a reasonable cost of living. What’s not to like? I don’t think I’ll ever see Vegas that way. Maybe this city just attracts a certain kind of people—people happy to go there on vacation, to settle there, to raise a family there. Maybe, when the rest of us get dragged there despite ourselves, we can’t help but hate it.

And maybe, after a while, we start to tune out the bad parts.

Last week, the garish lobby of the Venetian felt like a fact of life, not a cause to stop, mouth agape, wondering why anyone would build such a thing. The people at the slot machines looked like regular people just going about their regular days, not wretched souls unknowingly paying for the hotel’s marble columns and impossibly kitsch indoor canals. The overpowering fragrances at the Trump Hotel and the Wynn didn’t make me want to choke on my own vomit. All I did was chuckle to myself. “Hah. It still smells like vanilla in here.”

Somehow, it all seemed normal. Normal like a crazy homeless man you see on the street every day on your way to work. Normal like an old lady wearing big sunglasses and a fur coat and too much perfume, trying to accessorize away the years that stole her beauty. Normal like little Jimmy getting sent home from school because he smashed a slug with a rock and poked at its guts with a stick.

This year, Vegas just seemed like a quirky backdrop to CES, not an attraction in and of itself. That was lucky—because while I tolerated Vegas better, the show seemed a lot worse to me.

“Hello there, how are you? Come right in. Here’s our new product. It looks like the product we released last year, but don’t be fooled, because it’s slightly different. Have you seen our new tablet? It runs Android and has a black bezel and tapered edges. Have you seen our ultrabook? It’s thin and light and cheaper than the MacBook Air. Yes, it is going to be obsolete in three-and-a-half months when Ivy Bridge comes out. So, how’s the show been for you guys so far?”

Meeting after meeting, hotel suite after hotel suite, that’s what the friendly PR reps we all know by name told us. We smiled, we nodded, we asked questions. We took pictures and wrote it all up in the hotel room at the end of the day, our feet throbbing and our eyelids drooping from the exhaustion. We posted it all on TR because that’s what we do, and new products are new products. There were even a few small veins of glittering excitement in the dull, grey bedrock—the high-DPI Transformer Prime, the 7-series mobos.

But the veins were too few and the rock too hard and thick.

I remember Computex 2007. It was my first trade show, my first trip to Taiwan, and my first time being in Asia. Asus announced the very first netbook there, the original Eee PC. Intel demoed the first Atom-based handhelds. Via showed me the first x86 motherboard the size of a business card. OCZ let me try its first brain-wave-powered game controller. I got first-hand word—anonymously, of course—about upcoming processors and graphics cards. I drank my first glass of snake blood in an outing with other press guys, and for the first time in my life, I flew home with the fulfillment of having covered an exciting trade show.

Were there any firsts at this year’s CES? None come to mind. CES 2012 was a show of second tries and third wheels, like the $529 Tegra 2 tablet from Toshiba and the convertible ultrabook from Lenovo that folds flat with the keyboard exposed below. It was a CES of me-toos and maybes, where prototypes of dubious value intermingled with MacBook and iPad lookalikes. There was no big, earth-shattering story this year; nothing like the birth of the netbook at Computex ’07 or the unveiling of Nvidia’s Project Denver at CES ’11.

Last Friday, I packed my bags and grabbed a cab back to the McCarran International Airport. I smiled and nodded at the TSA officer who grunted a sarcastic “bonjour” after seeing my French passport. I ate an unfulfilling lunch at the Chili’s near security. I figured out why my iPhone could get onto the airport Wi-Fi and my laptop couldn’t. I spoofed my laptop’s MAC address, got online, and hammered out our last bit of CES coverage for the week. I closed my laptop and stood in line at the gate. I realized how crowded the plane would be and made a last-minute run for the washroom before boarding.

I got into my seat and waited for the plane to take off. And then, for the first time in my life, I flew home from a trade show feeling nothing but disappointment.

Comments closed
    • Darkmage
    • 8 years ago

    The Samsung transparent LCD didn’t wow you? The video I’ve seen looked spectacular.

    • just brew it!
    • 8 years ago

    I went to Vegas once for a conference several years ago. The conference was fun (annual American Homebrewers Association conference, which moves to a different city every year), but the hotel and the city itself kinda sucked. And there was just something depressing about walking through a casino and seeing the hordes of glassy-eyed retirees (and Asian tourists, go figure…) passing the hours in front of the slot machines.

    • geekl33tgamer
    • 8 years ago

    I went to Vegas last year, only it was a touch more painfull getting to/from (I live in the UK). I was so excited on the 11 hour flight out of Gatwick to get there. I stepped off the Virgin Atlantic 737 after a few power naps and was “WOW”. It looked amazing, and was noticably warmer than this poky little island I call home (42C temp!!!) – I was there for 2 weeks in the Mandalay Bay Hotel. Or at least that was the plan…

    …5 Nights into the 14, I was transfering my flight back to the UK as quick as Virgin Atlantic could accomodate. I had had enough. It was too hot, very, very dry (well duh I guess), and I took a few pairs of very comfy trainers and open toe footware – Still had huge blisters and fely very drained after being outside. Furthermore, if one of those guys with the stupid prostitute cards flicked one more in my face I was prepared to floor him in a complete fit of rage – the place is just overly tacky and seedy.

    The high points, there were a few – I liked the hotel, the helicopter flight over the grand canyon and the day trip to L.A. I won’t lie to you tho, I was never so happy to be back in London after the “experience”.

    Sounds like you had a blast just like I did :-/

    • yammerpickle2
    • 8 years ago

    4K and OLED was interesting, but we have been hearing about those things for a while. I guess until they have a 4K broadcast standard and are shipping sets that is just like any other prototype that is years away. I’m still waiting on my flying car they have been talking about for the last 40 or 50 years too.

    • Buzzard44
    • 8 years ago

    I was reading in agreement with you until I read “…unfulfilling lunch at the Chili’s…”

    Then I disregarded the whole article.

    • torquer
    • 8 years ago

    I’m not sure why everyone seems to hate Vegas so much. I’ve only been there once, but I took it for what it was – a spectacle. Its not really designed to be classy in the true sense – its surreal, its exaggerated, it is what it is. I’ve never been to a trade show personally but I’d love to go. I love all the tech, the good and the bad. Maybe my feelings would change after a few dozen of them.

    Either way I think we can all agree there was none of the “next big thing” at CES this year, but technology continues to march on. I mean come on – quad core tablets! Maybe no one really “needs” one but its still cool 🙂

    • ludi
    • 8 years ago

    Never been to Lost Wages. Never even driven through it. Have been through Keno once or twice, but only because it’s in the way when you want to get to the California bay area from Colorado. That was back in the early 1990s, and the only thing I remember were the low-res color billboard display signs long before such things were made with LED’s and every car dealer and large retailer could afford to hang one out front.

    I’m thinking of a road trip to SoCal this spring, and if that happens, I’m driving right through Vegas on I-15 with the cruise control locked in place, and not stopping for anything short of an engine bay fire.

    That noted, kudos to you for braving the sights in order to bring back CES tales. Unfortunately, we’re sort of hitting the peak of another tech cycle that began with netbooks and Atom and has now leveled off with ultrabooks and tablets, and video cards have been stuck at 40nm for a while while Keplar has been delayed again, so it’s understandable that not a lot of cool stuff was happening. Maybe by CES 2013 the Nvidia/AMD rivalry will have picked up steam again and vendors will finally be doing cool things with mass-produced OLEDs, with a range of new Intel mobile designs thrown in for good measure. One can hope.

    • Farting Bob
    • 8 years ago

    The impression i got from reading all the coverage was “coming soon in 2012.. 400 ultrabooks, each more identical than the last.. 400 tablets, each more identical than the last and….ummm no thats about it.”

    Seriously, the organises of CES should have saved money and sent out a press release saying “tablets to have higher resolutions, be 2 microns thinner than last year. Here is a single photo of a random tablet, you can use it in any article because nobody will know any different. Laptops to also get thinner. Thunderbolt. See you next year guys!”

      • demani
      • 8 years ago

      Yeah-not that I didn’t appreciate the coverage, its just that it reinforced the notion that there wasn’t anything exciting going on this year.

      And I TOTALLY hear you on Vegas. I am praying I don’t get sent to NAB this year. Last year was bad enough since I was leaving my 4 month old daughter for several days, but this year will be even worse since now she can, like, [i<]do stuff[/i<].

    • eitje
    • 8 years ago

    This article made me think of a lyric from this song..

    “Isn’t it marvelous…just darling (it’s the newest thing) / It’s totally harmless, but it’s charming (it’s the cutest thing).”

    [url<]http://www.doomtree.net/2011/10/the-grand-experiment-lyrics/[/url<]

    • Bensam123
    • 8 years ago

    Lack of innovation does suck…

    • sroylance
    • 8 years ago

    did you get to see the 55 inch OLED? that sounded pretty cool

      • NarwhaleAu
      • 8 years ago

      4K televisions as well – making me reconsider buying a large TV with only 1080p.

      • Corrado
      • 8 years ago

      Its cool, but its not exactly earth shattering.

    • SomeOtherGeek
    • 8 years ago

    Wow! You had a blast!

    Well, it is good to be home, huh? BTW, thanks for your effort!

    • crsh1976
    • 8 years ago

    Nothing too exciting for 2012 apparently; ultrabooks were last year’s thing but they only started shipping late 2011, so now they’re recycling the announcements by adding “now available” to it.

    It’s going to be another year for the “real” Android tablets to ship.. until we will be told they’re coming out next year instead (again).

    More cellphones, bigger screens, longer-lasting batteries.. Good things, but nobody is exciting by a battery that promises 2 more hours on a single charge (especially when it’s more like an hour under normal use).

    What else? 3D HDTVs! Oops, that’s 2009.

    Motion-controlled HDTVs!

    Yeah.

    Why didn’t MS show off Windows 8 running on a nifty tablet? Where were the super-duper Mango-powered Nokia devices for 2012? Even Apple seems aimless at this point.

    See you next year, I suppose.

    • dpaus
    • 8 years ago

    I spent a little over a week in Vegas in November for the IAEM show, and had a remakable similar experience 🙂

    • Vulk
    • 8 years ago

    It was odd. I kept waiting for some product announcement that was more than just meh and it never came… So I guess that I understand how you feel. The Ultrabook market right now is… yeah. And more tablets, got an iPad2 for my birthday from my Macphile Mom, and am surprised how nice it is and how much I use it… But I certainly didn’t see anything I’d run out and buy and then give the iPad over to my wife for.

    Glad to hear that it wasn’t just me I guess.

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