Friday, January 9, 2009

CES Thursday

I arrived at the South Hall to pick up my press pass with the usual fear and loathing: I don't gamble and I hate crowds, both of which define Vegas. Fortunately the crowds this year at CES are a lot smaller than last year, and the number of startups willing to gamble their annual marketing budget on a booth has also diminshed. There's still plenty worth seeing, but at least you don't feel quite so much like a salmon swimming upstream when you go to see it. I'm interested to see whether large trade shows like CES can weather the coming economic storm or instead blink out like once-mighty Comdex. My guess is that small local shows are the wave of the future and large shows the new dinosaurs.

My vote for the most fun exhibit is Nvidia's 3D demos of Guitar Hero. People were standing in line to grab a pair of 3D glasses to watch a computer-generated version of Sting rip through some hot licks. OK, so these guys are just chipheads, but they definitely know something about demand creation.

Qualcomm's demo of Android running on their Snapdragon chipset was also noteworthy, if not being quite as snappy. T-Mobile's G1 handset, made by HTC, may be the first to run Android--using Qualcomm's chipset--but Motorola, Samsung and numerous other manufacters have announced pending products based on the Android platform. Expect Android to unleash a wave of new handset applications, drive pricepoints down and cause heartburn for carriers whose 'walled gardens' will be under attack.

Steve Ballmer's opening keynote painted an optimistic future for technology: "No matter what happens with the economy, our digital lives will only get richer." The big opportunities for the tech industry are the convergence of the PC, phone and TV; a more natural interaction with devices that will incorporate speech and hand gestures; and 'the connected experience between devices' ("Was it good for you, too?"). Windows 7 beta will be available shortly and will "deliver the ultimate Windows experience." One can only hope that will be resemble Windows embedded and not Vista.

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