CES and MacWorld: Hits and Misses

CES is a wonderful place for someone like me, who loves gadgets.  Miles of expensive toys and electronics that do amazing things I probably don?t need (but often want) to do.  It?s good that most of these things won?t be on store shelves immediately, so that the lust in my heart can die down before it does serious damage to my wallet.  But with all of the excitement about CES, I was secretly looking forward to Apple?s announcements at MacWorld; I have to admit, I was deeply disappointed. 

MacWorld:  Disappointing, but More to Come

The iMac and Titanium notebook designs were, in my eyes, dated.  Granted, in many ways they are still very clean designs and stand out against their competitors, but the current iMac isn?t as innovative as the last one (and others did similar things last decade) and the Titanium hasn?t changed that much since it was released a long time ago.  While I was very sure, given the timing of Intel?s new part, that Apple was going to release their first Intel-based products, knowing Apple, I also believed they would use this opportunity to refresh these designs.  Unfortunately, they didn?t; I can?t help but feel disappointed.

However, I don?t expect to remain disappointed for long.  Apple is largely a second half company and I believe these first two systems are more ?test of concept? than final designs for the new platform.  Initial volumes for any new processor are low; it will take a while for Intel to ramp to enough volume to meet the needs of all its customers (unlike IBM, Apple doesn?t have a high priority with Intel, based on their relatively modest volumes).

In addition, the core third party applications are still not ported over to the new platform and, when running in emulation, are probably underperforming their native counterparts on the old hardware.  That, coupled with what will likely be a number of bugs and problems with both software and hardware in the initial systems, would suggest it?s best to keep the initial runs small and to treat the first product release as more of a Beta test. 

The initial products from other vendors using this new Intel part are running very hot on AC power; this suggests that designs not specifically targeted at safely dumping this heat will be relatively unreliable.  Large desktops, particularly BTX systems, shouldn?t be a problem, but laptops could have some nasty issues and it typically is best to let someone else have those experiences.

For buyers, this would suggest waiting until after mid-year to purchase the new platform (which, if you recall, was the date that Steve Jobs originally set).  This should result in not only a better experience but hardware from Apple that may go farther in setting the pace in hardware design than ever before. 

One thought:  These things could become collectors? items, as the initial runs could be relatively small for an Apple product.  However, MacWorld was no match for CES this round; next round, I?m not so sure. 

CES:  The Mother of All Consumer Electronics Shows

Unless you?ve been there, you have no concept of how big this thing is.  Over 150 thousand people take over Las Vegas for nearly a week.  It happens at the same time the adult entertainment awards are held, which adds to a certain unique excitement.  In one instance, two unnaturally very well-endowed women were seen coming out of a hotel wearing nothing but wide mesh fishnet.  When another woman asked if they were in the industry, upon hearing them reply, ?Yes,? I knew they didn?t mean my industry.

Microsoft, Sony, Intel, Yahoo and Google, Oh, My!

One clear thing that came though all three keynotes at CES was that the future was all about content or meeting your favorite actor.  In fact, I?m convinced that many of these execs thought it was more about the latter than the former, given the number of actors who appeared on stage, clearly unaware as to why they were there.  I?m sure some folks got some nice brownie points, but I?m not sure anything meaningful was accomplished.

In Microsoft?s defense, it was MTV who picked Justin Timberlake; you would think someone like Bill Gates would get a vote and would know enough to vote ?Hell, no.?  The obvious comparisons between Apple, who got it with U2, and Microsoft, who didn?t with Timberlake, were popular with the press corps.  That being said, Vista looked really good; while Gates did his typical forward-looking piece, many didn?t realize that most of what he showcased was not years off but would work with their new OS?something that may give Steve Jobs some valid concerns this time.

Sony obviously felt they had been unfairly blamed for the Sony BMG rootkit attack on its own customers.  I don?t agree with that, and think it clearly shows very poor judgment by corporate executives.  That being said, they showcased what could be a breakthrough product in their eBook, the first that could be as popular as an iPod.  They also talked about making things easier to use, but this is Sony; i.e., it?s like Sun?s CEO talking about working with Microsoft.  I?m not going to hold my breath, but if Sony could execute, they are one of the few companies that could give Apple a run for its money.

For Intel, there was a lot of Viiv; however, on the show floor few seemed to understand what Viiv was; one of the hardware OEMs joked that the only thing you could demonstrate was that a Viiv platform would continue to stream music after someone hit the Off switch.  I spent some time talking to a number of OEMs and virtually all I met with indicated they were going to increase their AMD commitments, which suggests a tough year ahead for Intel.  Good thing they are making nice with Apple. 

Google and Yahoo were all about content; Google used Robin Williams to great effect.  In fact, of all of the companies Google made the best use of their celebrity.  However, while their talk was all about interoperability, their service only works with their own client.  It just goes to show that often vendors can talk the talk, but when it comes to walking the walk, they typically choose to sit down.

Interestingly, the services that were announced during these keynotes, whether music or movies, all made a point of pointing out they wouldn?t work on Apple products.  Apple appears to be the new target of the rest of the Consumer Electronics market, including a number of the media companies.

Looking for ?Pimped? Cars

At CES, the wildest stuff is in the automotive section.  If you have ever seen the MTV show Pimp My Ride, compared to the stuff at CES, it might as well be renamed Prepping Grandma?s Car for Church.

There are 4WD trucks raised up to massive levels with Plasma and LCD screens mounted in the wheel wells.  There are SUVs with so much gear and mods that they have less room than a small sports car for people and luggage (in fact, in some there isn?t any room for the engine anymore). 

These are all to showcase automotive audio and video gear and the paint jobs, mods, and sounds cross well into amazing.  There were several booths that were showcasing sub-woofers that appeared to be larger and heavier than a typical 4-cylinder engine and probably should be classified as deadly weapons. 

The best system that was reasonably affordable was a new one that will be out later this year from Pioneer; it had a built-in hard drive for entertainment and GPS maps (both updated by CDs or DVDs) and a touch screen and voice command, and could automatically navigate around traffic jams using XM radio traffic reports. 

Cool Products that Stood Out 

The Cone of Silence:  Back when I was a kid, there was a spoof on James Bond called Get Smart.  In that program, there was a device that was supposed to ensure security and instead broadcast what you said widely, while making impossible to hear the person who was speaking to you.  For some strange reason, it reminds me of a number of actual security products.  However, the Sonare Technologies Babble (http://www.sonaretechnologies.com/) actually seems to work by erecting a sound barrier around you.  This just seems incredibly cool, particularly if you work in a cubicle.

The Infill In-Car PC (http://www.infill.co.kr/eng/main/index.asp):  This is for those who want to be the first on their block to run full Windows XP in their car.  In two forms (single and double DIN), it comes with software to do your navigation, listen to your tunes (including radio), watch your movies, and do your email.  It even has a really cool-looking interface.  

Next Generation Remote and User Interface:  The Hillcrest Labs Loop (http://www.hillcrestlabs.com/) was arguably one of the most innovative things at the show.  It has to be seen to be fully understood, but it looked like something that came from the next decade in home entertainment?an amazing device that reminded me of one of the Phaser derivatives in one of the newer Star Trek programs.  It was really wild and kind of what I?m expecting from Apple or Cisco in a few months.

Celestron SkyScout (http://www.celestron.com/skyscout/hp_land.php):  Another product that just breathes innovation.  It?s a telescope combined with a GPS system and some impressive software and technology, which tells you what you are looking at when you point the thing at the sky.  If you are into looking at celestial bodies (it didn?t work with the adult movie stars), this thing is just amazing.

eMagin Head Mounted Display (http://www.3dvisor.com/):  Years ago, I borrowed a $25K Sony head-mounted display designed for Medical Telepresence and was the star of a LAN Party.  The eMagin has a $500 version for video iPods and a $900 version for gamers.  If you ever get tired of lugging that display to LAN parties or just want to look like the biggest geek in the room, this is for you.

Dell XPS 600 Renegade (http://www.dell.com/):  Okay, now this is a pimped PC:  It has four graphics cores with twin dual core NVIDIA cards.  It also has the new Intel Dual Core chip, which is benchmarking (for once) close to where the new AMD Dual Core FX60 plays.  This thing is not for the faint of heart or for slim pocketbooks, but with a flaming paint job it was arguably the hottest (pun intended) PC at the show.

DualCore (http://www.dualcor.com/):  Most Innovative PC on the Planet:  When we talk about dual cores, we typically think of one processor with two of them, but how about two different processors in a hand-held computer that could morph between a PocketPC and an ultra-portable laptop?  This is the closest thing I?ve seen to the iPod of laptops; it has a wide screen display, an impressive set of features, and a very clean industrial design.  This has a very high drool factor associated with it, and it even has cell phone capability.  Talk about your ?smart phone??this one could probably drive your car.

This was just the tip of the iceberg; Apple will have to do a lot to match the wow factor of some of these products.  However, Apple does have Steve Jobs, who often can make even mediocre things seem spectacular.  One thing is for certain:  We are in for an incredibly interesting year. 

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.