CES Roundup: Bigger Isn't Better

Things tend to be BIG at the Consumer Electronics Show, the annual gadget-fest held this month in Las Vegas. There were BIG crowds, 140,000 in total. There were BIG promises, such as glasses-free 3D or the somnolescent Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer, insisting "Windows will be everywhere". Finally, there were BIG products, like Mitsubishi''s 155 inch OLED Display. That''s four meters of OLED goodness in your living room. However, many of the more popular innovations focused on LITTLE details, particularly User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI). The winning products in our roundup, compiled with the help of media strategist and UCLA Instructor, Stuart Volkow, excel at UI / UX.   
Smart Appliances: Apps for your kitchen? As noted by Daniel Burrus, author of the new book, FLASH FORESIGHT, “Product Intelligence” will make everyday products more efficient and networked.  LG’s THINQ line of WiFi networked appliances use your Smartphone to self-monitor, diagnose themselves, manage the cooking, washing, and power consumption. Expect to see have apps by next year.
Mobility and Tablets: The fastest growing category in consumer electronics last year was tablets. However, the glory and the profits belong to Apple, with 87% market share and 7.33 million units sold in Q4. Hoping to grab a piece of the action, Motorola scored the biggest buzz with XOOM. This uses Android 3.0 Honeycomb, comes equipped with front and rear cameras and even works with Flash. Other Android tablets include the AZPEN, the Samsung GALAXY and a $199 model from chipmaker Marvell aimed at the educational market. Marvell is among many component manufacturers and OEMs going direct to consumers.  
iPad has also ushered in a ''Touch Revolution''. Several exhibitors brought multi-touch and gestural interfaces to big screens. Hardware manufacturers are nurturing an ecosystem of developers around this new form of Point-of-Sale display and advertising.
COPIA is an entire book ecosystem for Tablets aimed squarely at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google Books and Apple iBook. It is an open “social reading” engine with a large store that is cross-platform. Unlike Amazon''s Kindle, the social commerce layer allows sophisticated real-time and archival shared annotation.  Authors can publish special annotated editions like the value added features on DVDs. You can also rate/friend/follow/group/discuss/share every book.
HDTVs: The ATSC, Digital HD, Flat Screen TV transition happened over the last several years. New frontiers are ultra-thin, elegant design, and incredible picture quality. Backlit LCDs flat screens dominate with new features that provide astounding color, contrast ratios, motion smoothing and resolution. The arms race between LG, Samsung, Vizio, Sony, Panasonic, and Sharp is a win for consumers.
Connected HDTVs: Looking for a trendy buzzword? Try this one: "Smart TV''s". Nearly every mid to high-end HDTV is now ''Internet Ready'' via WiFi or Wire. And if you missed getting a “Connected” TV, a plethora of adaptors are ready to confound you with Internet to TV choices. Fending off IPTV disruptors like APPLE, GOOGLE and VUDU, TV manufacturers want their full-featured TVs in the center of your media universe... User Interface (UI) be dammed!!
Each Smart TV has an “App-Platform”, including the horrific (and intrusive) Yahoo TV Apps.  Your business and media imagination can run wild with ideas for TV Apps. Most of the demo TV''s included Pandora, Netflix, Facebook and YouTube.  Among the many exhibitors, Samsung''s Smart TV platform is the winner for connected TV.  Their “Smart Hub” competes with the likes of Microsoft’s media center but integrates Network Attached Storage (NAS) to the television.
Sony''s proprietary Internet VOD platform has the absurdly Japanglish name QRIOCITY. It works with their connected Blu-Ray Disc (BD) players, TV and the PS3 Live platform. Amazingly, it did not work with Sony''s online video site, Crackle.
Prefer to save a few shekels and retrofit your existing television for Internet Connectivity? In that case, the Sony BD player is your choice. You can onboard WiFi, Hulu, Netflix, Pandora, Cinema Now, DVRs and even 3D at affordable price points. The TV industry will never be the same.
3D HDTV: Despite slow 2010 sales (estimated 5 million devices worldwide), the 3D HDTV''s on display were eye-popping magic. Driven by dramatically better quality, expect 3D HDTV viewing to become mainstream... soon. In the interim, the debate between passive and active-shutter glasses rages. Curent Glassless 3D “Holodeck” and Glassless 3D prototypes provided a low-resolution viewing experience. However, compared to last year the experience has rapidly improved.
HD Projectors: Liquid Crystal on Silicone (LCoS) is competing with TI DLP (Digital Light Processor). Cinema quality projectors at $100K are the rule for Theatrical 3D. However under $5,000 very high quality consumer models compete with almost any TV experience in a darkened room.
Automotive: Ford has positioned itself as the most “connected” car. Next-gen telematics use voice-activated SYNC from Microsoft. The glass cockpits and HUDs shown by Audi and parts supplier Visteon take in-care connectivity and computer control to a new level.
Audio: GRACENOTE is of special interest for its incredible digital music ecosystem. Acquired by Sony in 2008 for $250 million, the company has focused on building a database that “fixes” the track-artist-album titles in your iTunes collection. Their new products focus on simplified recommendation engines and playlist creation.
Games: Games, ''gamification'', mobile games, games in TVs, social games, console games, tablet games... This year it was Games Everywhere.
Reality games? The RV Quadcopter, complete with onboard camera, got out in the mall with full Smartphone remote. Even I was able to operate this in a few minutes.
Home Theater, Audio, IP Radio: In addition to Dolby 7.1, these systems showcase the rapid evolution of Internet radios, powered by server-side systems like Reciva, Pandora, Groove Shark, NPR and others.
Cameras: Cameras from Casio, Kodak, Cannon and others have become fashion accessories, and 3D Consumer/Prosumer still and video cameras are coming this year. On display was a full 3D Digital Cinema set-up to satisfy any ZGeek.
Digital Health & Fitness: Digital health, home monitoring and digital fitness is coming of age with wireless sensors for home BP, Heart, Body Mass Index, Blood Ox, etc. Smart Medication Reminder/Dispensers promote compliance and track symptoms. The list goes on.
Also, a myo-controlled exoskeleton for paraplegics was demonstrated as a near future practical prosthetic.
Smart Power: Smart Grid technology and power management devices promise to make every home power efficient. In addition, solar and fuel cell devices showed new ways to recharge anywhere.
Cool Stuff: Take a moment to watch the video on www.tiwi.com. It’s a Teen Tracker for the car, complete with Geo-Fencing and instant updates, warnings, alerts etc.
The Sling Box got micro thin, and smart cards got much smarter and programmable. The UNO is an electric, gyro transforming Unicycle/motorcycle vehicle.
The Mixed Reality promise is delivered in the HUD Goggles.
A variety of Bots were spread around including a robotic snake-like biomeme that out maneuvers snakes with some incredible moves. Be wary, ophidophiles!!
Discerning a trend at this year''s CES was easy- bigger is not always better... but a superior User Experience is a good start. This is the lesson of Steve Jobs and the larger lesson of CES 2011.