CES ended on the 10th, and it has taken me a week or so to collect my thoughts about it. This year there were no outstanding, breakthrough products, but the Consumer Electronics industry seems prosperous, and subtle improvements to existing products are trickling down to consumers.
The Automotive electronics business has been reinvented. Years past the North Hall was full of custom cars, blasting whoomp, whoomp bass, being leaned on by skimpily clad bikini models. This year, the largest displays were from the car companies themselves, with not a bikini in sight. Stock sound systems are now so good in most vehicles that upgrades are often not necessary. Plus the car companies are now using the "radio" as the main control device for the vehicle. On some cars if you take out the radio the air bags might not work. The onboard electronics are now more sophisticated than most third party vendors technical ability to improve. Mercedes, Audi, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Kia and others dominated the pavilion.
There were easily 500 companies displaying mostly iPhone accessories. It is difficult to understand how so many companies can all find distribution into the retail channel.
Another interesting part of the show is that there are dozens of booths that are not displaying consumer electronics, but are selling products to CES visitors. They have a captive audience of upper middle class to wealthy customers. One booth was displaying massage chairs. The model I sat in was on sale for $8,900.00, regularly $15,000. There are booths offering foot massagers, electronic back pain relief systems, mattresses and even on-the-spot laser teeth whitening.
The major brands are getting a far larger slice of the pie than they used to. They have done this by dropping the pricing of their entrance level units to a point where the third party brands can hardly compete. Plus the retailers are now pushing their own house brands, rather than using products from the lower end manufacturers. For the consumer, this is probably a good trend. The major brands still have a reputation to uphold, so unlike some of the third party vendors, they won't sell junk.
There is also a flattening of the market, as many major Chinese factories, who have long made products for the majors, are now showing at CES with their own brands. For North America, their main target is to reach the major CE retailers and offer to manufacture their house brands. But CES has become a world marketplace. There are visitors from almost every country in the world. For these brands, appearing at CES gives them legitimacy, and lets them meet major players from around the globe.
It appears that 4000K TVs are starting to hit the mainstream but, of course, the industry can't settle on a standard. I am not sure that 4000K is going to be the marketing success that they hope. It isn't an "I've got to have that." kind of product. The difference between regular TV and HD is striking. The difference between HD and 4K is "nice". If they were both the same price, I'd pick 4K. But would I pay much of a premium for it? No.
Curved screen TVs were being shown by most majors. Here again, while a technological achievement, for most users, it is a solution for no known problem. Yes, the image for those sitting at a sharp angle to the screen is a little better, but has that been a problem for anyone? Most screens have very good viewing angles, and how often do you have so many people in your living room that viewing angle is an issue?
As a web developer, I was interested to see how many companies were showing who were running online only businesses. They are bypassing the normal distribution networks and going direct to consumer or direct to the dealer, with no outside sales force. Modern eCommerce websites, with aggressive online advertising and great SEO are enabling companies to scale quickly.
Just as an aside, if you are planning to visit Las Vegas during a convention, don't overlook the smaller, off the strip hotels. I stayed at the strangely named Eastside Cannery, about four miles from the strip. My room was magnificent. Huge, with floor to ceiling windows on two walls, giving me a spectacular view of the mountains from one side, and the strip on the other. This is probably the second best room I've ever had in Vegas, next to the Bellagio, and I will definitely go back. An advantage over the strip hotels is that you don't have to wait in long lines for taxis or other transportation. The valets had me in my car within minutes. Yes, you need to rent a car, but if you book ahead there are amazing deals on cars too. With my car and the hotel, my cost per night was a third of the better strip hotels. Another note if you are travelling to Las Vegas. Always tip the check-in clerk $20.00, and ask them if they can make sure you get a nice room. It will be the best $20.00 you'll spend in Vegas. That's why I ended up in a corner room on the 12th floor, even though I had a prepaid budget room. On other occasions, at other Vegas hotels, I've had the clerk give me a huge room upgrade, and $50.00 worth of useable coupons too. Do it. They don't get tipped often and can do you more good than anyone else in the hotel.