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Tech Talk

Underwhelm comfortably at CES

1/13/2016

Paradigm-altering technology is almost always unveiled at a major event. “Go big or go home” may be an atrocious cliché, but successful marketing is rarely built around sneaking onto store shelves. Companies generally pull out all the stops to make sure their new software, gadget, computer, game or software garners the attention of every news outlet and early adopter. So if you want your product to stand out in the world of technology, my first piece of advice is to skip the Consumer Electronic Show (CES).tech 1.14

For more than four decades, the CES has been an “important” technology expo held in the first weeks of January. Literally hundreds of thousands of high tech enthusiasts descend on Las Vegas every year to see what’s coming in the technology world. The videocassette recorder (VCR), camcorder, compact disc player and dozens more worldwide adopter technologies made their debut at CES, and attendees were the first people to test out the news gadgets.

Of course in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, CES provided a service that couldn’t really be found anywhere else. Before the Silicon Valley became a household name or social media allowed immediate word of mouth, CES gave even the largest innovators a venue to start generating product buzz. In recent years, CES became a testing grounds for innovations that needed some extra pedaling to cultivate interest.

What in this list of recent CES reveals did you run out to purchase the moment it was announced? 3D Printers? Curved screen TVs? Curved smartphones? 4K Televisions? None of these interesting innovations are necessities, and it seems the heavy hitters hosting booths at CES are perfectly fine with that.

Probably the biggest announcement at this year’s CES is that the Facebook virtual reality acquisition, Oculus VR, will finally start selling its portable goggle system to the public. For four years, the “Oculus Rift” has been promising a revolution in entertainment. Facebook acquired Oculus with the belief that consumers might one day fall head over heels with the immersive world of virtual reality gaming, movie, TV and media viewing.

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So with the prospect of changing the entertainment world, why is Facebook debuting it at a tradeshow where its new product could get lost in the shuffle? Because the Rift is not going to set the world on fire. First off, it’s a clumsy headset that you have to strap to your face to enjoy. Second, there’s very little content available for the VR marketplace. Finally, it starts at $600, and that’s before you integrate a mandatory high-power computer system and XBox One (additions that bring the investment to more than $1,000). If consumers aren’t willing to shell out an extra couple bucks to see a movie in 3D, it’s doubtful they’ll jump at the opportunity to fork over a grand on a gadget they won’t be able to take advantage of for months.

If the Rift is the exhibit A for the second-rate nature of CES, exhibit B through quintuple Z are the thousands of trivial gadgets on display. Looking for a high tech belt, refrigerator, scooter, hair follicle teaser or mobile breathalyzer? If you are, CES is where you can find them. The difference between the Rift and these unknown gadgets is that smaller companies wouldn’t be able to handle a Rift sales bonanza. As much as every company wants to sell millions of units, smaller vendors don’t have the manufacturing infrastructure to satisfy the tech-hungry hoards.

While the shine has long worn off the CES apple, it certainly has its value. The big boys can subdue mountainous expectations, and the little guys get a chance to feel like they’re playing in the major leagues. CV

Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. Follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.

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