The year’s most anticipated consumer technology show, CES, concluded on January 10. We were fully prepared to see a heavy influx of innovative products, as CES is the playground of tech companies. It’s the most revered and coveted show for tech aficionados, where how a company is perceived often comes down to one phrase — "Make it, or break it".
The show is an important one not just for tech fans, but ultimately for the global economy. President of the Consumer Electronics Association, Gary Shapiro, is quoted as saying he expects U.S. technology sales to climb 2.4 percent in 2014, up to $208 billion – a record high.
From high-resolution virtual reality devices to self-driving cars, the flashiest and most advanced toys all compete for attention under the same roof. With the number of exhibitors tipping over 3,500, it's easy to lose track of what really matters most.
We present to you the ups-and-downs of this year’s Consumer Electronic Show, and what they mean for this year in technology.
4 Return of The Mighty Sony
Recent years have not been kind to this Japanese corporate giant. At CES 2014, though, they decided to take measures to revive themselves. Sony portrayed its clear and confident plans to return to their glory days, unveiling a series of products that it proudly showed off to convention-goers. But rather than confining themselves to lofty visuals and promises of things to come in the long-term, they have scheduled these products to hit retail stores in the coming months, which is a big play. It’s one thing to talk about a gadget, but it’s entirely another when people can go buy their own within a few months.
Spear-heading its product revival movement is its latest flagship product, PlayStation Now, an online streaming service for users to stream Playstation videogames across much of Sony’s existing product line, including Bravia TVs, Playstation devices, smartphones, and tablets. The service is entirely cloud-based, and will provide stiff competition for the likes of Steam. It enables users to pay a monthly subscription rate, or to purchase games individually. Sony also hinted it was entering the Paid TV content market, but held back from specific comments while explicitly stating they didn't want to "conflict with existing services"
Perhaps The Verge was best to describe this revolution:
"There’s no denying the courage and ambition exhibited by the company’s biggest bets, but they all appear underpinned by patient long-term planning. It may be premature to say that the Sony of old is back, but the company’s certainly doingmany of the things that made us fall in love with it in the first place."
All-in-all, CES 2014 was a roaring success for Sony and, if they play their cards right, might lead it back to its former stature of glory. This fact was reasserted when their stock jumped six percent immediately after the announcement of their revamped product line.
3 Building a new Yahoo!
Like Sony, internet giant Yahoo! too is experiencing radical reform, although Yahoo has a head start of over a year. CEO Marisa Mayer delivered a compelling speech at the consumer electronics show, conveying the company’s vision of a unified digital entertainment experience across its products. Shares of Yahoo have soared to more than 160 percent since Mayer took over in 2012.
Following a subtle but elegant visual redesign last year, Yahoo is gradually shifting towards a “mobile first” approach to establishing a strong user base. Its infamous acquisition of Summly was a move which didn't make much sense — until now. With CES 2014, came the launch of Yahoo News Digest, a twice-daily mobile news summary. To cater to a more niche audience, Yahoo also unveiled two new online magazines, Yahoo Food and Yahoo Tech.
"Imagine if your phone can deliver the right experience to you at the right time instead of you having to search for it," Mayer said in her keynote address, referring to the ongoing work at Yahoo, possibly hinting towards a contextual personalized news experience related product.
Yahoo is certainly a company to keep your eyes on. Mayer talked about her excitement regarding the acquisition of Aviate. Could this be the beginning of a comprehensive re-imagination of news interspersed with mobile devices? Only time can tell.
2 More Gloom for Toshiba
While most large tech companies came to CES 2014 armed to the teeth with a multitude of cutting edge products, our friends over at Toshiba decided to show up with a Chromebook.
After years of its dormancy, though most people had given up on Toshiba, some were still waiting for a product that would silence the critics. If you belong to the latter group, sadly, you'll have to wait another year.
Reviewers claim that the browser-based laptop, Toshiba's "latest" product, is riddled with problems. It comes with a 13.3-inch display, which puts it right between rival Chromebooks, specifically the 11-inch Acer and Samsung, and 14-inch HP models.
To our surprise, the display resolution remains the same at 1366 x 768, which is a worrying sign, since this would make the product redundant in an environment that has brought better and better displays. Further, we failed to spot any radical changes that would turn tables in Toshibas favor. The Toshiba model is priced at a convenient $279 for WiFi-only, and does indeed have an Intel Haswell processor for power conservation and elongated battery life, but the consensus is that it is no different from the 11 inch HP Chromebook, which comes with goodies like 100 GB Google Drive storage and a 60 day trial at the Google Play Music store.
The Toshiba booth at CES 2014 was a boring place to hang out for those looking for innovation. Aside from Chromebooks, there was literally nothing to look forward to from Toshiba this year.
Don't hold your breath for any significant products or announcements in the next year. Toshiba still has a long way to go before contesting with the likes of Apple, HP, or even Samsung, in the portable computer market.
1 Samsung (And Michael Bay) Fumble
Anyone even remotely following CES 2014 will, no doubt, have heard of Michael Bay’s fumble — owing to a faulty teleprompter — while presenting the latest Samsung curved screen TV. This hiccup came as a fresh supply of ammo to Samsung haters, but if you look beyond it, Samsung didn't entirely disappoint when it came to televisions.
Samsung announced a 105-inch curved 4K UHDTV and a 85-inch bendable 4K UHDTV.The former stole the show, featuring an insane 11 million pixel screen resolution.
The 85-inch bendable 4K UHDTV is a radical concept, too. It can 'transform' (cue Michael Bay entrance) from a flat panel to a curved screen, on tapping a single button.
They introduced a "smart home" vision, where they aimed to integrate their product line into a single module. Their rival home appliance titan, LG, presented a similar ideology in their keynote. Samsung also went on to announce two new tablets — Galaxy NotePro and Galaxy TabPro. Other announcements included a revamped remote control for its TV sets, a range of cameras, and a partnership with BMW to integrate GalaxyGear, Samsungs smart watch in their future vehicles.
While Samsung had many announcements, only a few were particularly interesting. It had a lot of products, but none of them 'stole the show'. CES 2014 held immense potential and promises for Samsung, but sadly, it failed to capitalize. By carrying on with the trend of having a large list of products, with very little to distinguish them from each other and none of them featuring something new, Samsung converted this opportunity into another exercise in monotony.
All in all, lots of missed opportunities for the big players, but there’s plenty of great stuff on the way from smaller companies. Virtual reality products, as well as wearable devices, are gathering steam, moving the tech world into a new direction altogether - hopefully resulting in a better showing by the top dogs at the next CES.