CES 2018-1: Game Time

Written by Joshua Seidemann on January 03, 2018

For about seven years, we (the family) went camping every summer. We went to the same campground, frequently had the same cabin, often went the same week in August, and had a rough annual schedule that included Walmart (the first stop before hitting the campground for canned goods and milk) and Friendly's (for mid-week ice cream). There was a blessing in the relaxing (if not increasing) normalcy, and over time we found ourselves spending more time at the campground as we discovered the simple peacefulness in being there.

In some respects, I have similar thoughts about the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

Not relaxing normalcy, to be sure; my first time in Vegas, I expected to see Lot's wife run past me on the Strip. But, as for CES, certain things are becoming routine - waiting in line at the airport for my conference badge, buying a week-long Monorail pass, packing my bag with peanuts and protein bars for long days at the conference and show floor. And, like the annual camping trip, after several years I learned how to incorporate efficiencies into the process (I am now down to a single backpack for a three-day excursion). But, while some parts do not change, other aspects of the experience evolve.

For example, several years ago, TV manufacturers were touting 3D TVs. Somewhere in my archives, I have a photo of hundreds of people wearing 3D glasses in front of an enormous wall of screens at the Samsung "booth" ("booth," in the way that the White House is a "house"). Over the past few years, however, consumer health care and fitness are taking increasingly more space at the show and on the conference schedule. This reflects two related dynamics: (1) the connected nature of an increasing amount of our daily life activities, and (2) the incorporation of shrinking and more sophisticated sensors in clothing and sports equipment. In similar vein, the role of the automotive industry at the show seems to be increasing. To be sure, there were always vendors displaying add-on equipment, from personal performance modifications to full law enforcement packages. Now, however, it seems that the auto manufacturers themselves are taking more space, parking new vehicles on the show floor and using them to showcase current and coming automotive technology. In fact, factory-installed automotive technology is now in the top five largest revenue hardware categories (I count myself as lucky that my Jeep has a heater).

Attending CES, however, comes with some risk. When I return, I am often bombarded with questions about the interesting things I saw or demoed. I think people want to hear about some amazing new headphones, or home entertainment systems, or some Rube Goldberg contraption that combines navigation with a quick-cook pizza oven. And all I talk about, instead, are connected pill boxes that enable family members to verify long-distance whether Grandma took her medicine this morning. Or, teleconferencing equipment that enables students spread across rural miles to take university-level courses. Or, smart home technology that alerts homeowners to a leaking water heater - the sort of things that take technology, look at our lives, and then say, "How can we plug and play it better?"

So, watch these pages for updates from CES next week.

Because boring just might amaze you.

Josh Seidemann is vice president of policy for NTCA. He can be reached at jseidemann@ntca.org.