CES: still a safe bet?
Las Vegas. Land of poker and blackjack. The desert city where ranks of slot machines greet you in the airport. But what if we're all betting on the wrong thing?
Viva Las Vegas...and CES?
Think about it. What's going up in tech right now? Software! Apps. The cloud. iOS, Android 4.0. Siri. Maybe Windows 8. But here at CES, people are queuing like madmen (and it's not even open yet) for press conferences about hardware.
Samsung and LG with their giant TV screens. Intel, pushing manufacturers like Lenovo and HP to get ultrabooks, those new super-slim, super-light laptops, on the shelves. Not to mention everyone from Toshiba to Acer keen to convince us that this time their tablet won't suck. (We all know what happened after last year's tablet-ara-ma. Only Amazon released anything in 2011 remotely able to challenge the iPad.)
One of LG's gorgeous OLED screens
CES is - though not exclusively - a place for gadgets. The stuff you touch and play with. Stands about concepts, clouds and whatnot aren't half as much fun. And it has to be careful not to get left behind, because the tech landscape is shifting.
These days, new products are developed and launched in a matter of months, at almost any time of the year, and plugged online. This CES will be Microsoft's last. The software giant prefers instead to announce its new releases according to its own schedule, and not shell out millions of dollars on a stall at a trade fair. Dell is paring back its presence, as is Motorola, T-Mobile and others.
CES in its purest form presents one face of the technology prism. The 55" OLED TVs, adaptable laptops and mad, indulgent gismos. The things that take time and investment to make. And that's why it's still important - as a bellweather. In Vegas, we get to see what the big names are betting on before we decide whether to wager. They often get it wrong, just as Google did the first time it ventured into TV (there are higher hopes this time around).
But for raw excitement and the crispest, freshest ideas out there, the start-ups have it. CES hasn't traditionally been known as the place where new firms get their big break, but organisers are trying to change that. You could do worse than to skip that three hour Samsung queue and head instead to the "Eureka Park TechZone," an area dedicated to 94 start-ups. It's there you'll find the rank outsiders who might just win you that surprise jackpot.