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Notes From The CES Road — And The Air

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(credit: istock) Technology Report
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* Well, we’ve come a long way. For a mere $12 you can get relatively pokey (400 kb down, 200 kb up) Internet access in flight. Despite the price and speed, I bit, so I could work on the flight. As I write this I’m 38,003 feet over Palisade, Nebraska, about halfway to Las Vegas and the International Consumer Electronics show. Glassy smooth flight so far. And it’s almost like first class — nobody showed up in the middle seat.

* To steal a line from a favorite standup comic, I always seem to fly the same carrier: Screaming Baby Airlines. But at least today the shrieking brat is up front in first class and all I can hear are muffled noises. Boy, I wouldn’t be happy about that part of the in-flight entertainment if I was paying the big bucks for a big seat.

*So what technology am I most looking forward to? Well, the pencil-thin Organic LED flat screen TV, sure. But mostly, the Michigan entrepreneurs who bite the bullet and spend the big bucks and exhibit at CES to chase their entrepreneurial dreams. I can’t get enough of talking to those people; they have my complete respect and admiration. It all starts tonight, can’t wait!

* So okay, boss, I was supposed to stay in the older South Tower at Bally’s, but they said my room wasn’t going to be ready until 4 p.m. Pacific time (7 p.m. Michigan time!), and I’m supposed to be out covering stuff from 2 to 10 p.m. Pacific (that’s 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Michigan time!)… so I upgraded to a North Tower room for an extra $25 a night. Hope this isn’t too interesting an expense voucher…

* Well, this is ridiculous. Sunday’s opening 2 p.m. “State of the Consumer Electronics Industry” event is in a tiny meeting room in the immense Venetian crammed with probably twice as many people (250? 300?) as it was designed for. Somewhere a fire marshal is winking. And there are so many people on the CES press Wi-Fi that it’s useless. C’mon, Consumer Electronics Association, get it together. (You auto journalists at the North American International Auto Show don’t know how good you have it. The press rooms here are comparatively tiny for about five times as many scribes.)

* The room is so full that a bunch of us are sitting on the floor, leading opening presenter Shawn DuBravac, CEA’s chief economist and director of research, to welcome us all to the initial meeting of “Occupy CES.” Big laugh.

* DuBravac reviewed what CEA has spotted as trends the last couple of years. For 2010 — TV beyond HD, new screen sizes, consumer control of content, tablets and Microsoft Kinect. For 2011 — the rise of apps as king vs. hardware, pocketable and portable devices, tablets,  smartphones, devices loaded with sensors, wireless audio, smart automobiles, and objects made intelligent by electronics, like pill bottles that can monitor medication compliance.

* For 2012, DuBravac said we’ve gone through a much broader transition from analog to digital devices, that is now in its second 10 years, where “we’ll start to leverage all these digital devices … that’s where we’ll see the true innovation, taking advantage of those devices.” Three trends are emerging: a “morphing” of computing away from computers to multiple historically non-core computing devices like smart TVs and smartphones; the “year of the interface,” in which complex interfaces become more simple and intuitive; and “the prevalence of the personal,” in which devices will get more and more personalized, and become less like appliances, with devices customized for the individual by apps. There’s also a big push for flat panel TVs without bezels (the black plastic borders around the screens) and 3D TVs that don’t require goofy glasses.

* Overall, CEA officials expect global 2012 tech device spending of $1.038 trillion, up from $993 billion in 2011 and $922 billion in 2010. The recession trough was $824 billion in 2009, down from $912 billion in 2008.

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