Tech Columnist Iain Thomson claims that this year’s CES has been about par for the course – dull keynotes, some interesting gadgets and a hell of a lot of dross
Pics It’s that time of year again, when over 100,000 people cram into the Las Vegas Convention Center to show off the latest in consumer electronics gizmos, make deals, and exchange interesting viruses to get the inevitable conference cough.
THIS YEAR’S CES HAS BEEN ABOUT PAR FOR THE COURSE
We’ve taken a look at some of these to save you traveling to the fetid hell that is Las Vegas.
AirBar: One of the most consistent complaints Apple fans have had about the new MacBooks (besides the poor spec, high price, and lack of upgradability) is that they have no touchscreens.
Now, however, Apple and PC owners can add touchscreen capabilities with AirBar, a nifty little device that sits under a laptop screen and scans upwards for finger gestures. It’s a cheap and cheerful way of adding a function many people want.
THERE IS A HITCH-IT USES USB 2.0
There is a hitch – it uses USB 2.0, so Apple fans will still have to get a converter to USB Type-C for the latest MacBook line. But it’s a cunning invention that is unobtrusive and very useful.
Samsung Chromebook Plus: With Chromebooks gaining ground slowly but steadily, Samsung has unveiled a couple of new models, but it’s the Plus that really caught our eye.
It’s got a lot of power under the hood, a 12.3-inch touchscreen HD display, supports stylus use, and is double-jointed so that it can pass as a tablet. It can also run Android apps within the Chrome OS, albeit sometimes with limited functionality. But if you’re a Chromebook fan it’s well worth a look.
HUAWEI WAS THE FIRST SMARTPHONE MANUFACTURER TO BUILD ALEXA
Huawei was the first smartphone manufacturer to build Alexa into a smartphone with its Mate 9, but it won’t be the last. The technology will be going up against Siri on iOS and Google’s Assistant, and its success is by no means certain.
But enough people seem to like Alexa and more competition in this sphere is always welcome. Alexa on mobile may be another Fire-like failure, but Amazon’s making a serious play and may pull off popularity.
Willow breast pump: At first sight this was heading for the bad category – tech bros telling women how to manage their feeding – but after having talked to some mothers, it looks like rather a good idea.
Conventional breast pumps are clumsy and cumbersome devices. The Willow is quiet, can be worn while doing other things, and expresses a baby’s nutrition without inconveniencing the mother.
THE FIRM WILL MAKE A LOT OF MONEY FROM THE CONSUMABLES
The firm will make a lot of money from the consumables (plastic milk bags and sterile tubes), but the idea is a good one and should prove valuable.
Autonomous cars: Various motor manufacturers have been showing off their autonomous vehicles and the results have been very mixed.
Faraday unveiled its electric supercar, and we’re a tad cynical about the whole thing. It’s likely to have the lifespan of a snowflake in a blast furnace.
Other manufacturers will probably have longer lifespans, but it’s still very early days for the self-driving car. Certain functions have been added but we’re a long way from never having to drive the commute, and that’s assuming legal and liability issues can be worked out.
Acer Predator 21X: OK, we all know gamers pay over the odds for a good gaming laptop, but Acer is asking $9,000 for the 21X and that’s more than a touch too much.
Yes it has a curved screen, and plenty of grunt under the hood. But bring one of these to a gaming convention and everyone’s going to be wondering who has more money than sense – and it won’t be hard to spot the suspects.
Yes, gamers spend money. But come on Acer, don’t take the piss.
Artificial intelligence: It seems as though everyone has a product claiming to have AI built in – but that’s not how it works.
It’s possible to get an intelligent system if you have the processing power and data-handling capabilities, but too many people at CES seem to think that putting a low level of predictive software in something makes it the equivalent of HAL.
We’ve seen people claiming to have AI smartwatches, for goodness sake. If the IT industry wants to avoid AI becoming nothing more than a buzzword, it needs to pull itself together and stop over-egging the pudding.
VR/AR: We had hoped to see some real advances on the virtual and augmented reality front, but there was precious little to be seen.
Lenovo had a lowish-cost headset (pictured), but it’s very much a me-too device along the lines of Oculus or HTC. There was little added in here to really excite users.
There were plenty of startups showing off prototype VR/AR devices but it’s unlikely that many of them will see the light of day in a commercial setting. It seems we’ll have to wait a little longer for a bold, new, virtual future.