CES 2013 Wrap-Up: The Worst Best Show Ever

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While I’ve only been writing about mobile technology for a year, I’ve followed the space closely for over a decade. During all that time, the absolute high point of my geek-year has been CES.

The international Consumer Electronics Show has a history that stretches all the way back to 1967, but the first one I remember being conscious of was the 2002 show in Las Vegas. It was this CES that, for me, first cemented the concept of “trade show” as “awesome event where cool new gadgets get trotted out.”

Of course there are other mobile-tech trade shows, some of them much larger and more mobile-focused than CES. But until I came to work for Pocketnow, shows like IFA and MWC stayed on the fringes of my awareness. As an American interested in American wireless carriers and devices, CES was the show to follow for much of my techno-adolescence. And follow it I did: at the time I discovered CES, PhoneScoop was the only mobile-focused outlet I knew of. Pocketnow was actually around back then, too, but my dumbphone focus meant I didn’t know about it. For what it’s worth, we were talking about the SmartPhone 2002 back then, while PhoneScoop was covering a host of epic feature-phone developments:

A slew of new phones are set to be unveiled later today at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Notable highlights include the Nokia 6340, Nokia’s first GSM/TDMA dual-technology phone. Motorola is expected to unveil the 120x, their first 3G phone. Also, Sprint PCS will annouce new Java-enabled 3G phones made by Hitachi. Finally, Samsung expected to introduce several new models.

Thanks to blurbs like this, and a fascination with the newest and greatest in technology, I’ve wanted to go to CES forever. This year, the dream finally came true, as I was part of the team that covered the show from start almost to finish.

But from a hardware perspective, it was a crushing disappointment.

Somebody call it.

Note the “hardware” qualifier there: in terms of camaraderie, enjoyable hard work, and sheer fun, CES was a brilliant time. I was able to spend more time with the folks on our own team, working alongside Jaime Rivera in the flesh for the first time ever, a distinct pleasure. I was able to see old friends from other sites and meet new ones – including meeting the guys behind PhoneScoop, the site that introduced me to CES over a decade before. And I got hands-on time with a legion of awesome technology over the course of our 30+ videos covering the show. It was an incredible, intense experience.

But from the standpoint of new mobile hardware, the boxes that flip and flash and buzz and beep, CES 2013 was one of the quietest shows I can remember. An AT&T developer keynote that had seen the announcement of no fewer than six devices in 2012 held no such gems this year. The LG announcement, happening concurrently, focused on connected-lifestyle home accessories like washing machines. The much-anticipated Samsung announcement, whose line started forming three hours before the event even began, turned out to be a platform for announcing a 4K TV and a refrigerator that tweets.

These tweets were separated by mere hours.

That’s not to say that no new high-end mobile hardware broke daylight. We were able to spend a good amount of time with the Xperia Z and ZL from Sony, a company that really knows how to put on a launch event. And the lack of huge releases from the other big players allowed us to focus on devices that we might not have covered otherwise: handsets like the Ascend Mate and D2 from Huawei, the Grand S from ZTE, and software like Mobile Ubuntu running on a Galaxy Nexus. We also covered a ton of accessory news, from portable fuel-cell chargers to a guided tour of the Qi wireless charging standard.

Considering the sheer volume of hardware and software unveiled at CES, it might seem a bit of an overreaction to call the show a disappointment. Indeed, despite our best efforts, we couldn’t even get close to covering everything there. But when big names like LG and Samsung are showing months-old devices like the Optimus G and ATIV SmartPC, and other big names like HTC and Nokia barely have a presence at the show at all, it’s a letdown.

That’s led many to speculate that come-one-come-all shows like CES are losing their relevance in a time when big corporations are following Apple’s example and scheduling their own single-purpose shows for product unveilings. Last year showed that behavior in abundance, with Nokia, Motorola, HTC, and Samsung putting on many private shows focused solely on specific flagships or platforms. In these smaller, one-off events, companies can better tailor the atmosphere to tell their own story, rather than competing with the buzz and bombast of a trade floor with hundreds of other exhibitors.

While the trend toward the smaller, proprietary unveiling format will likely continue, that doesn’t mean that shows like CES no longer have any value or relevance to the mobile world. As a stepping-stone to a larger stage, CES serves an important function for lower-profile brands like OpenMobile and SoundFlow. And for a glimpse into the larger landscape of mobile technology via a look at network architecture, connected homes, and yes, tweeting refrigerators, CES is a great show.

But for an outfit like Pocketnow, whose primary focus remains the connected gadgets we use and love (or love to hate), there’s no way around it: CES 2013 was a bit of a letdown. We had a great time bringing you as much coverage as possible from the land of the latest-and-greatest, but only time will tell how rosy the future looks for this venerable trade show.

In the meantime, it’s time to put the CES hashtag into cold storage for a bit as mobile-technology companies continue to set the stage for 2013. We’re very much looking forward to the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next month, where we’re expecting much more news of the knock-your-socks-off variety. Stay tuned for that, as we’ll be covering it exhaustively. In the meantime, for a solid roundup of what we found the most -and least- memorable from Las Vegas, tune in to this week’s episode of the Pocketnow Weekly Podcast, and stay tuned for much more in the weeks ahead!

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CES show floor photo via iDownloadBlog

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About The Author
Michael Fisher
Michael Fisher has followed the world of mobile technology for over ten years as hobbyist, retailer, and reviewer. A lengthy stint as a Sprint Nextel employee and a long-time devotion to webOS have cemented his love for the underdog platforms of the world. In addition to serving as Pocketnow's Reviews Editor, Michael is a stage, screen, and voice actor, as well as co-founder of a profitable YouTube-based business. He lives in Boston, MA.Read more about Michael Fisher!