Consumer Electronics Show 2015 – What is Hip

The annual gathering of the tech cognoscenti occurred last week in Las Vegas. I will gather here some general observations, and in future installments I will dive more deeply into several intriguing product categories.

The 2015 Consumer Electronics Show finished as the largest show in history with more than 2.2 million net square feet of exhibit space featuring more than 3,600 exhibitors. I rubbed shoulders with 170,000 other attendees to bring you these updates.

As always at CES, there were a few eyebrow-raising product launces. One was a window washing robot which managed to stay adhered to the glass while scrubbing the glass. Winbot 8 is the vertical version of the robot vacuum floor cleaner we saw a couple years ago.

A Winbot on either side of a window

A Winbot on either side of a window.

If you bought two clips, presumably you could hang your tablet and your mobile phone off your laptop.

If you bought two clips, presumably you could hang your tablet and your mobile phone off your laptop.

For the perennially multi-tasking punter, a Mountie clip allows a variety of devices to be physically joined. Get one of those and one of the new TVs and you can have a multi-screen command center that would make Rupert Murdoch envious.

After stumbling in the 3D world, television manufacturers are now hoping that increasing the data input will spur sales. Known as Ultra High Definition, it is another chicken and the egg example of whether the content providers will produce content for replay on these TVs (think about the transitions from black and white to color, from standard definition to high definition, etc). But the results at the booths are stunning. Almost as inevitable as the chicken and the egg content and technology scenario were the myriad punters taking pictures of the UHD screens, as if the result would be reproducible on their smartphone. Those might be the same fellows who buy new speakers for their stereo system, call up their buddy and ask over the phone if the buddy likes the sound of the new speakers.

Doesn't this TV sound great?

Doesn’t this TV sound great?

As with the successful launch of DVD (which witnessed an efficient, all-encompassing tent in which hardware and content interests met to hammer out a uniform standard), TV manufacturers such as Samsung, LG and Panasonic announced last week that they have partnered with content providers such as Netflix, Walt Disney Studios, Warner Bros and Twentieth Century Fox to set standards for high-quality UHD content.

If there is one thing that is certain in the rear view mirror of technology, it is that the brightest, shiniest technologies become mere roadkill if they don’t deliver compelling content.

Making an ever larger footprint on the show floor were drone manufacturers, ranging from a very tiny handheld model to larger models capable of carrying a surprisingly heavy payload. On the regulatory front, the FAA remains silent on the sidelines meaning that manufacturers are happily getting more drones into more hands, thereby growing a constituency that will push back against any subsequent FAA restrictions. In the coming weeks I will test drive, er…. test fly a couple units and report back.

Automakers have been seeking the Holy Grail of a consistently easy user interface. It remains to be seen whether the swipe functionality embedded in our mobile devices replaces the knobs, dials and switches that have worked well for over a century in the car.

After walking around the endless convention center, a perennial stop is to check out the Cadillac of massage chairs. The latest version requires you to take off your wristwatch (or fitness band), as your forearms and wrists get nicely massaged. This chair massages practically every part of your body. Almost everything.

I felt like Homer Simpson - "mmmmmm, ultimate massage lounge chair."

I felt like Homer Simpson – “mmmmmm, ultimate massage lounge chair.”

With the launch of the iPhone 6 many accessory suppliers redesigned their wares for the new format. As part of my ongoing transfer from PC and Android to the world Steve Jobs envisioned I will be checking out several mobile accessories that promise safety, extended functionality and increased coolness.

Mobile phone users in the rest of the world do it opposite to the way US consumers are accustomed. Elsewhere, folks buy their phone and then choose their carrier. In the US, consumers generally choose the carrier and figure out what phone to purchase at a price that is somewhat subsidized by the carrier and amortized over the term of the service agreement. This American model is slowly breaking down as Asian manufacturers are introducing “unlocked” phones at decent prices. To buy an iPhone 6 off the shelf without a subscription costs up to $850, whereas there is a nascent availability of unlocked smartphones for under $200. These unlocked phones do not tie the consumer to any subscription plan; rather consumers can shop around for the exact deal that makes the most sense. In future installments I will be looking more closely at the functionality of these smartphones.

If history is any indicator (and in the technology world history is a great blueprint), unlocked phones will be getting cheaper and better as time goes on. This is probably why Apple is happy that their sales of apps continue to grow; inevitably Apple will be getting downward pressure on their hardware prices.

For lovers of old school vinyl records I happily noticed an increasing number of turntables on offer. Indeed Audio-Technica is pursuing a top shelf strategy for its turntables and cartridges. Back in the day Audio-Technica was the go-to brand for my cartridges and replacement styli. More to come on this development in future columns; my daughter gave me the new Alt-J album on vinyl and I haven’t taken the shrinkwrap off an album in far too long. Can’t wait.



Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.