Welcome to CES: Utility now trumps gadgets

CES 2010: Utility trumps gadgets On the first day of CES, I took a preliminary walk around the show floor as the booths were getting set up. I threw out my jaw yawning (no joke). It’s not that there wasn’t pretty neat stuff – it’s that the show as a whole was broken this year.

The killer feature across many big brand consumer electronics this year, from car to TV to toaster, is utility. “What can this device do for me?” As devices become connected, they increasingly compete on licenses, partnerships, and “the could” – not on the physical hardware. This was the elephant in the room this year. Netflix or Yahoo! widgets will sit on nearly every device, and yet neither company has their own presence at the show. Google revolutionized the mobile industry, and while Android makes a very strong presence, the big G isn’t around (even now that they have become a mobile retailer).

The models have changed, and it feels like being in Oz with the Wizard nowhere to be found. Now, this feeling may disappear tomorrow when the show has applied the spit and polish that’s still being constructed, but I doubt it. I’m expecting a few days of marveling at 3D, OLED, and multi-touch, but ultimately being more interested in the keynote reveals and announcements of software or partnerships than anything on the show floor.

Next year I’d love to see a stronger presence (or any presence) by the open platforms powering 2010’s generation of electronic devices. I’ve seen one or two reps around the show floor from these companies, but that’s like having the “man behind the curtain” without the pomp and circumstance that defines the Wizard. I realize the financial imperatives behind the show aren’t conducive to the 3rd partied companies, but the larger companies at CES should take a lead from CTIA and turn over some of their own booth space and branding to highlight the vendors enriching their products. Otherwise, the show is only highlighting half of the consumer electronic world today, and in truth, it’s the less interesting half.