Tech Hits and Misses: Looking Back at CES 2013

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It’s time for the 2014 edition of the Consumer Electronics Show, commonly known as CES. For a few days every January, the technology world converges on Vegas to see what’s going to be hot in the coming year. As I write this, I’m packing my bags to attend the show – and I’ll share my insights about CES 2014 with you on these pages next week.

But how relevant is CES, really? How likely are you to buy something that debuts at the show? I thought I’d take a look back at last year’s show for an answer.

4K Televisions. There were a handful of big themes at the show last year. All the TV vendors were showing off 4K sets, for example. 4K, also known as Ultra HD, packs significantly more pixels onto the screen than traditional HD, and a 4K set showing off high quality 4K content is admittedly a stunning sight. But at the show last year, Ultra HD sets were simply unaffordable, clocking in around $25,000. Today, they’re dramatically cheaper. You can get 4K TVs for under $5000, which, while expensive, is about what HD cost 10 years ago. On the downside, even if you buy a 4K set, there’s little-to-no content available to watch on it, so you’ll have to be satisfied with upscaled HD programming. Verdict: Still not worth it. But all that could chnage by 2015.

Smartwatches. Last year, smartwatches ran through the halls of CES like water, if that metaphor makes any sense. We saw a slew of pioneering wrist-mounted gadgets, including Pebble, Basis, and I’m Watch, just to name a few. (And I do mean just a few. There were many.) And the huge splash at CES just fueled more watches as the year went on – Apple is rumored to be working on one, and Samsung and Sony unveiled their contenders as well. Unfortunately, there’s a lot more smoke than fire here. Pebble did finally ship to mixed but generally positive reviews. The Basis has proven to be a superb – if pricey – fitness monitor, and I’m Watch exists, but bad reviews and an insane price point means few people outside of gadget geeks have even heard of it. Overall, though, smartwatches didn’t take off in 2013. Maybe 2014 will be their year.

Tablets. I’d also be remiss not to mention tablets. Most pundits will tell you that we’re living in a post-PC world now, and strong tablet sales seem to support that assessment. CES saw a wide array tablet launches, from Lenovo’s clever convertible Yoga to Microsoft’s pricey Windows 8-powered Surface Pro to fun alternatives like the Archos GamePad. A year later, Microsoft has written off nearly a billion dollars in unsold Surfaces and just a small handful of tablets remain king – notably the iPad, Nexus, and Kindle families. Tablets are hot, but as you might expect, most of the stuff that got thrown at the wall at CES didn’t stick.

While we’re on the subject of CES hits and misses, I thought I’d take a look at 5 specific products we looked at this time last year. Where are they now?

StickNFind. How handy would it be to use your phone like a tracking device and follow a radar-like display to your keys, remote control, wallet, or any other easily misplaced item? That was the premise behind StickNFind. It looked promising at the show, but when I finally got my hands on the actual shipping product, it was disappointing – the tracker gizmos had trouble staying connected to my iPhone and accuracy was dicey anyway. This particular product was a miss, but I ended up discussing a similar product, TrackR, on the eHow Tech podcast recently. And Rick and I ended up debating the viability of this whole class of product on a recent Geek Vs Geek. The verdict? Regrettably, a really cool idea but not ready for prime time.

Liquipel. Liquipel, on the other hand, hit it out of the park. It was amazing to submerge a Liquipel-treated iPhone under water, dry it off, and keep using it like nothing had happened. You can treat your own phone or tablet today for under $100.

iSmartAlarm. We all want to protect our home from burglars, but most alarm systems have a monthly monitoring fee that can add up to $300 or more per year. iSmartAlarm promised at CES last year to turn that model on its head – you install the system yourself and monitor it yourself via your smartphone. The system shipped halfway through 2013, and I tested it hands on for a few months. Verdict? iSmartAlarm is a simple, affordable, and reliable way to secure your home.

Combat Creatures. Combat Creatures wowed the crowds last year. The Attacknid robots were remote controlled, spiderbots with interchangeable Nerf-like  weapon systems. They were fun to control and you could fight other robots for sport. They remain every bit as awesome as they appeared at CES. Recently, NikoleZ and I played with them and featured them on the eHow Tech podcast. Bottom line? If you have kids, or just never grew up yourself, they are essential gadgetry.

Haier Vision Control TV. Haier showed off a slew of fantastical devices at CES last year. At the top of the list: Vision Control TV, which you use just by darting your eyes around. It sounds crazy, and the demo we got at the show illustrated exactly how ambitious their product was. Where is it now? Still in the “speculative” file. Meanwhile, Microsoft’s Xbox One has shipped with the Kinect controller, that offers gesture control that (mostly) works great.

 

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