CES 2016: From Iterative Improvements Come High Praise.

by Kirk Douglas

Every January tech journalists and the tech community at large, rally around the year’s biggest event for consumer electronics. CES, or the Consumer Electronics Show, aptly named for the many tech unveilings [eventually] geared toward consumers, draws massive crowds in the Las Vegas area annually.

Once a stage for America’s Flagship computing brands, in recent years CES has been relegated to smaller tech firms, upstarts and large accessory manufacturers since Apple and Microsoft have withdrawn from headlining the event years ago.

The trade show has since become known primarily as a place many products come to hit the show floor and get some hands-on time with Journalists. If you’ve read any tech blogs over the last week or so, you’ve probably read countless stories about the many “Smart Home” utilities, endless wearables, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality gadgets for show. Not to mention autonomous vehicles, hoverboards, and drones among others.

The consensus among most of my findings has been that robots were in attendance in a big way, home appliances were given ‘smart’ upgrades and journalist universally noted the uptick in wearable tech and the widespread adoption of USB-C by computer and accessory manufacturers. With no particular “breakthrough” front and center this year, all of the aforementioned are products that build on prior-year tech announcements or exists to help capitalize on the recently increased adoption of up-and-coming consumer tech trends.

The question everyone has been asking since the show ended of course, is who were this year’s clear winners? The answer, by the account of others in attendance is that there really wasn’t just one. A number of products made headlines for different reasons. Here’s a few to take note of.

Panasonic (re)released under its Technics brand the widely praised DJ favorite, the ‘SL-1200’. In addition, and also in a bold move toward harnessing the recently revived interest in vinyl, Sony also announced a new turntable of their own, the USB connected ‘HiRes Audio’-capable HX500. Both products made a splash due to the notoriety of both brands but also their re-entry into physical media, previously thought to be dying a slow death at the hand of digital streaming services.

In Virtual Reality, companies including HTC, Sony and Oculus all had product demos on the show floor with most attendees who were lucky enough to try them casting their vote for the veteran Oculus product, the Oculus Rift; citing a market-leading lineup of games, spatial audio and some impressive controls called the Oculus Touch Controllers. There was however, some surprise voiced over the impressive “Vive Pre,” an HTC product that offers spacial mapping that works alongside their VR Experience. The product seemed to garner a fair amount of positive press for its technological achievements albeit, with a very limited library of content to show.

A number of stand-alone (meaning, not connected with wires whatsoever) Bluetooth headphones showed up at the conference as well, with Doppler Labs Active listening earbuds not playing music but instead offering a sort of equalizer for the ambient real-world sounds around you. For music lovers, the Bragi Dash wireless earbuds were top choice for music playback, receiving high praise for portability and audio quality. Both products seemed to garner a fair amount of positive attention for their unique offerings.

LG and Samsung were dually noted for unveiling smart fridges, both of which offering features that include hands free opening and closing of doors and on-screen displays. Samsung in this case received most praise for the unique software features offered in its Tizen based touchscreen while neither company announced pricing or release dates.

Rollable displays, MacBook (2015) PC “clones” and a number of various audio headphones, cameras and drones played a role in this year’s offerings as well with many of them praised for being much improved over years-past unveilings. Scour the web and you’ll easily find first-hand accounts of these products and many more not mentioned here.

CES tends to be an interesting blend of technology for technology sake and technology for mass market and this year the feeling most expressed seemed to be that the latter was taking hold.

Overall, although I didn’t attend CES and would have really liked to, as a spectator’s sport this year seems like we’re seeing a bit of a tech industry who’s products are coming into maturity.

For an event like CES, with countless years under its belt and countless products many have often considered ‘vaporware’ (those which never come to market), it’s hard to dismiss the generally-positive notions reported across the web early 2016.

Let us hope that it’s year’s like this one where we look back and see CES as a major turning point for future product successes.

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