Another CES passes, another dream sold?

  • Amid the slew of announcements and demos, advanced TVs and super smartphones stood out
  • While fascinating, CES is more about branding and marketing to show what companies can do

NEWS ANALYSIS THE curtains may have drawn on the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and while there was a myriad of gadgets, devices, and technology demonstrations throughout the week, pundits are still divided as to what was the main theme of this humongous trade show.

Held last week mainly at the Las Vegas Convention Center and in several partnering hotels, CES was said to have played host to an estimated 150,000 people over the week and was home to about 3,000 exhibition booths which occupied about 2 million sq ft of space, according to one report from Yahoo! News.

Much of the limelight was on the usual suspects of consumer technology showcases including televisions, mobile devices, PCs and laptops, cameras and an array of add-on accessories for various gadgets, as well as all kinds of various frivolous paraphernalia such as “smart potties” and vibrating forks.
 
But if I had to pick what caught my eye during the last week, I’d have to say it would be televisions and smartphones. Among the biggest shouts-outs were the 4K TV, otherwise known as Ultra High-Definition (UHD) TV, and several new 'super smartphones' or 'phablets' as they call them.
 
In a nutshell, Ultra HD TVs pack four times more resolution (3840 × 2160 or 8.3 megapixels) than today’s highest HDTVs (1,920 x 1,080 or 2 megapixels). 4K refers to the horizontal resolution, which is in the order of 4,000 pixels.
 
Japanese household name Sony had a demo of its UHD TV, as did Panasonic, LG, Samsung and Toshiba. But while these fantastically high definition TVs stole the limelight this year, don’t forget that just only a year ago, some of these same vendors were shouting about 3D-TV, which never quite caught on in 2012.
 
Another CES passes, another dream sold?Many pundits agreed that the UHD TV screens were brilliant in detail. Some vendors even demonstrated organic light emitting diode (OLED) TVs, which made them an even greater sight to behold.
 
But topmost on my mind as I read these reports were some questions such as, would any of these gadgets get to this part of the world this year? If they do, at what price will they sell? (The prices quoted for some of these TVs at CES were in the region of US$25,000). And even if one could afford such a gadget, will there be actual content that supports such high definition video?
 
Personally, I believe that mainstream UHD adoption is at least two years away. So while the hype has been sold at CES, I guess it would do well to temper our expectations and wait out the year to see if these devices will materialize in Asia and what price-point they come in at.
 
Phablets to the fore?
 
Which then leads me to ponder about more practical announcements about what would more likely hit the region we live in – mobile devices.
 
Huawei wowed everyone with the introduction of what it claims to be the world’s largest smartphone, the Ascend Mate (pic, below), sporting a 6.1-inch screen.
 
Not to be left out was rival Chinese handset maker ZTE, which introduced what it claims to be the thinnest handset in the form of its Grand S, a 5-inch screen device sporting a 1,080p resolution.
 
The introduction of these two devices sets the tone for the rest of the year, as large screen 'super' smartphones – dubbed phablets, a splicing of the term phone and tablets – begin to dominate the world.

Citing analyst Neil Mawston of Strategy Analytics, Reuters reported that the research firm expects 2013 to be the Year of the Phablet.
 
The wire agency also notes that according to a Barclays report, the market for phablets will quadruple in value to US$135 billion in three years, and shipments of gadgets that are 5-inches or bigger in screen size will surge by nearly nine-fold to 228 million units during the same period.
 
When these phablets first came out, I too had my doubts as to whether they were just a passing fad or were here to stay. But in recent times, I’m more inclined to say that there are good reasons for owning a phablet, and that they are expected to be successful going forward.
 
Another CES passes, another dream sold?There is a confluence of factors making the phablet popular. The first has to do with the advancements made in processor and screen technologies.
 
Simply put, gone are the days when handsets were sluggish and screens less than vivid. Today, thanks to quad-core processors and OLED (organic light emitting diode) displays, the bigger the screen size the better the presentation.
 
Secondly, the maturity of the Android operating system and its app ecosystem has also benefited phablets in that consumers can exploit the power of these hardware platforms with matching software capabilities.
 
Led primarily by Samsung’s Note and Note 2 range of phablets, these devices are now used by both consumers and professionals, and both men and women too.
 
Thirdly, as argued by Strategy Analysis’ Mawston, older phablets such as the 5-inch Dell Streak was launched at a time when the 3-inch smartphones were standard and the leap to a 5-inch Streak was a jump too far for consumers. “[Samsung’s] Galaxy Note, was launched when 4-inch smartphones had become commonplace, and the leap to 5-inch was no longer such a chasm.”
 
Coupled with these reasons is the simple fact that consumers today demand more out of their mobile devices and phablets may be the best compromise for a device that can both function as a phone and laptop replacement.
 
Conclusion 
 
I did also stop to ponder as to what another installment of CES means to we consumers. Will all these sexy gadgets and gizmos make our lives any different?
 
I would venture to say not directly and would wholeheartedly agree with Trevor Clarke, lead analyst for Asia Pacific at Tech Research Asia, who notes that CES always highlights some of the great innovations in the ICT industry and this year was no different.
 
Clarke tells Digital News Asia (DNA), “Who doesn't get excited by the possibilities? But the real question is how many of these innovations will make it into our daily lives. I doubt your average consumer would really remember what was shown at CES just two years ago.”
 
Clarke, who spoke to DNA over email, says in many ways, CES is actually less about the products being shown and more about companies branding themselves and winning over the tech evangelists who hold a lot of word-of-mouth influence over both consumers and enterprise employees. “That's why the keynote speeches are so important and the show becomes just as critical as the substance of the technology.”
 
So here’s to the next CES in 2014, where vendors will have another year to figure out the next big thing to sell us consumers.

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