[originally posted here on behalf of HuffingtonPost]
The annual Consumer Electronics Show kicks off in Las Vegas today. You can see last year’s recap on why marketers should be relieved based on what we saw.
I’ve been going to CES for a decade. As someone interested primarily in virtual (i.e., software-based) products and the role they can play for brand marketers, clearly I’m a glutton for punishment. After all, CES is a show about hardware, even if its lead brand has historically been the original software company, Microsoft. In fact, CES is not only a hardware show, but because of the copycat nature of consumer electronics, it’s a show about a particular type of hardware from year to year. Sometime between The Netbook Show, The E-reader Show and The TV show, I started losing faith in CES.
Yet I find myself headed back yet again, this time for The Tablet Hybrid show. Like a nerd voyeur, I’ll closely watch tablets breeding with phones in one booth, then breeding with laptops in another. And I have Samsung to thank for it.
You see, a year that proved tremendously successful for Samsung was a bittersweet one for other manufacturers. On the one hand, Samsung has proven that many users do want a device that fits somewhere between a smartphone and a tablet with its huge-for-a-phone (both in size and sales) Galaxy S3. This is on top of its successful Galaxy Note 2 sales. On the other hand, the industry buzzword of “convergence” is finally starting to rear its head. As devices have collided these last few years, manufacturers were pleasantly surprised to see new categories be created instead of just old categories be cannibalized. Just ask Apple. For years, Steve had people leaving Apple stores with iPhone, iPad and MacBook tucked under their arms. However, these new Tablet Hybrids from companies like Samsung fall into a gray area. These mixed breed devices are more clearly competing with their component parts, emerging from the lab as better alternatives to at least one of their parental units. Like some type of nature documentary, this is a case of offspring consuming parent.
I wonder if I’ll be able to sense the nervous anxiety this is creating amongst each of the manufacturers showing off their latest creatures on the carnival — oops, I mean “showroom” — floor.
While I am walking through this reminder of Darwinism, convincing myself yet again that this will be my last CES, I can only assume those people with the huge smiles on their faces are Google employees. You see, it’s Google’s Android Operating System that’s the real winner here. Android is running most of these mutant hybrids, which is incredible given Apple’s domination of the market as recently as 3 years ago. It’s especially intriguing this year, which marks the first show since Microsoft officially bowed out of the partnership with the organizers. That means Google is arguably the most important company in Vegas this CES (although Microsoft will certainly be making noise about Xbox, Surface and it’s shiny new Windows 8 Operating System).
So, it seems a software company will continue to reign supreme at this annual festival of hardware. I wonder what, if any, impact that will have on the show moving forward? After a decade of attendance, I can safely say that software is the lowlight of the event. There’s a sad monotony in playing with clunky interfaces while booth representatives explain why it’s great that whatever I’m tinkering with can’t possibly integrate with anything I already own. I guess working in a booth in which every device is made by your employer has a way of letting you see the bright side of one-stop shopping (with an employee discount).
But for the rest of us still dreaming of the walk-around-from-booth-to-booth-swiping-our-credit-cards-and-laughing-as-we-throw-the-latest-bit-of-not-yet-available-to-the-masses-technology-into-a-big-grab-bag-that-won’t-pose-any-TSA-issues-while-traveling-back-with-us-before-being-installed-instantly-and-without-reference-to-user-manuals-transforming-our-homes-into-scenes-from-sci-fi-movies-where-the-computers-eventually-turn-on-humans-who-for-some-reason-don’t-have-the-good-sense-to-welcome-our-new-electronic-overlords experience, I must say… it’s actually the lack of integration that’s most frustrating. It seems insane all my content and stuff can’t just go anywhere, anytime regardless of the logo on the back of the device. Microsoft never seemed to get it right, perhaps because they never truly embraced the cloud. I can only hope Google fares better.
If they do, I may just give up trying to give up on CES, and book next year’s ticket right from the showroom floor… on my new iPhone 5 of course.