Could CES Be Cool Again?

After a few years of the tech press letting us know how meaningless the Consumer Electronics Show has become, this year we sense of change of tune—maybe because the big gadget trade show has some things to offer?

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After a few years of the tech press letting us know how meaningless the Consumer Electronics Show has become, this year we sense of change of tune—maybe because the big gadget trade show has some things to offer? For all the predictable "I'm over it" posts, a few techies have taken the opposite point of view: CES is cool again. No one is expecting to see any breakthroughs unveiled like the VCR and Xbox which gave the gadget fair its reputation. But as gadget lovers and the people who write about them descend into Vegas this week, some are looking forward to the convention. Even Verge writer Tren Wolbe, who compared CES to a "skeezy uncle," expects to find some "actually cool shit hidden in some under-trafficked corner." We're a little skeptical, considering the biggest thing last year was the not-so-smart Smart TV, which, as Wired's Mat Honan explains, nobody uses because "it sucks." But, we're ready for some enlightenment. Here are some of the paths being suggested to widget nirvana.

It's All About the Small Booths

The biggest companies don't show up anymore, and the ones that do give us silly things like this giant Lenovo coffee table computer. The interesting stuff is elsewhere, explains Gizmodo's Joe Brown. "Big announcements shmig announcements, it's the little guys who bring us the most joy," he writes. For example: "Smaller companies innovate just as much as the larger ones—sometimes more—and CES is a great place for them to show the world the quality of their wares. Five years ago, Parrot was best known for a Bluetooth car stereo; now its enormously popular AR Drones own the skies."

Smart Actually Means Smart 

Last year the term "smart" affixed to a gadget-type generally meant Internet connected. This year, "smart" might mean something more, explains The Wall Street Journal's Don Clark. Now "smart" indicates "context awareness," a terrible piece of jargon that just means gadgets know more about you. Your whereabouts, what you like, and all that creepy goodness. While that already exists because of location based GPS, and stuff like that. Chip makers like Qualcomm are expected to announce new inventions that connect devices to sensors in our houses, bodies, and cars, giving them a "sixth sense," as Clark explains it.

Forget Hardware 

New gadgets might get a lot of the attention because we can see and feel a company trying to make something different. But this year, software is where it's at, according to The New York Times's Brian X. Chen. This year we will continue to see a lot of hardware, including more sad attempts by TV makers to make their product exciting again. But, instead of getting distracted by that stuff look at software related developments, suggests Wired's Mat Honan:

Look at the software support. Look for the products that are marvels of simplicity, whose software not only strips away layers of complexity in our lives, but is built with the future in mind — built to upgrade. Look for the products that can support all sorts of systems. Look for the products that don’t try to beguile you with speeds, or specs, or some sort of fancy new surface material. Look at the software.

Populist Tech Comes to CES

Thanks to Kickstarter, some of littler companies funded by the people will be showcasing their wares. Pebble, the company that started the crowd funded smart watch bubble, will have a booth, for example. Also out of Kickstarter, we have the useful fork that vibrates when you've eaten too much. It might not be game-changing consumer tech, but at least it's interesting?

We'll see if CES really lives up to all this potential, or if this was just a bunch of contrarian talk, once it gets underway tomorrow. Until then, at least we have something to look forward to.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.