While each year millions of people visit the city in the hope that their evenings spent on blackjack tables or slot machines means they will exit McCarran Airport much better off than when they arrived.
And in the first week of January this year there were some more high rollers in town, and this time the stakes were really high. The Consumer Electronics show (CES) has often been the midwife to important key technological innovations. The digital camera debuted here, and the show also also witnessed the rise of the MP3 player, smartphone and tablet.
This year saw several technologies continue to emerge, and each one represents something of a gamble on the part of the manufacturers and entrepreneurs behind them, largely because the jury is still very much out on how the future of consumer electronics is going to shape up.
All of which made this a very difficult CES for anyone involved in publishing or digital content creation.
“We’re in an in-between phase, where categories like drones, virtual reality, and wearables are growing and advancing, but still have a long way to go,” wrote Rachel Metz from MIT Tech Review. And she clearly has a point.
All three of those product areas have much to offer journalists and content companies, yet at the moment real use cases are hampered by the way in which the hardware is taking time to evolve.
Virtual Reality is quite clearly at a crossroads. One one hand there are a lot of pricey virtual reality headsets which look futuristic, deliver great quality video footage, and perhaps more importantly VR games, but sadly come at a price. And then there’s the more Heath Robinson style VR of the Google Cardboard and others, which are cheap and cheerful and work in a basic but effective way. The NYT has already experimented with the format and many others publishers this year are likely to follow its lead.
At the show though the big story was the Oculus Rift’s $600 price tag – which was way in excess of what many pundits had predicted. The Facebook-owned VR system may initially focus on the gaming community, but there are options for publishers to deliver content for the systems as smaller publishers like the Des Moines Register have already discovered. Yet if the hardware isn’t cheap enough to become mass market – the more DIY models will seem more attractive to publishers keen to experiment with VR footage in the short term.
CES also saw the launch of a slew of Oculus rivals, the most talked about was from the Taiwanese smartphone maker HTC. Its HTC Vive, which is coming in the spring, is similar to Rift but adds another camera which enables the owner to also view what is happening the real world too.
Unlike the VR models, which are a platform for publishers to display content, the drones on show at CES may largely be used as tool for journalists for creating a new type of intimate fly on the all style video content. Publishers, especially those in the business of news generation, have been keeping an eye on drones for some time. But as the hardware has progressed so have the legal limitations of their use. Nevertheless, there were several impressive new models unveiled at the show.
The leading consumer drone maker DJI unveiled the Phantom 3 4K model at the show, which adds Wi-Fi live video connectivity to its previous models. Meanwhile French firm Parrot unveiled their Disco fixed-wing drone – which looks more like an aeroplane than the usual quadcopter design – which has just one motor to power. The Disco offers over 45 minutes flight time on a single battery.
One to watch is the Kickstarter-funded Belgian outfit Fleye. Billed as the “World’s safest drone” it features a fully-enclosed rotor design which is about the same size and weight as a football. It is certainly durable enough to be used in difficult situations.
The unit has some downsides, though, such as not being able to move very fast, and limited battery life.
In many ways 2015 was the year of the wearable with Apple finally delivering its watch and President Obama touting a Fitbit. A key theme at CES 2016 though was wearables that aren’t based around the wrist. So there was a smattering of smart rings like neyya which offers the user notifications of incoming calls on smartphones, as well as the option to control phones devices by a tap. There was also smart shoes, like the Digitsole, whose USP is that it more accurately tracks distances walked and calories burned than other wearables.
The smartwatch arena seems to be going one of two ways with brands either focusing on durability for sports enthusiasts, or style for the fashionista. Casio went for the former with its debut smartwatch, the WSD-F10 which runs on the Android Wear platform and features a pressure sensor, compass and accelerometer, enabling users to check altitude, air pressure, tide graphs and activity. Fitbit also unveiled its debut smartwatch the Blaze, which boasts lots of features but didn’t over excite either the tech pundits or the world’s investors.
More stylish watches were unveiled by Samsung, a gold version of its Gear S2, Fossil,which is planning a big push on smartwatches this year, and Huawei, whose Jewel and Elegant watches target female buyers.
Smartwatches are sure to prove popular in 2016, especially if Apple, as predicted, unveil a second version of its watch. However for publishers there still the very real problem of what they can offer users on the device beyond basic notifications.
Overall then CES 2016 was a fascinating show, but one that asked as many questions as it answered.
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