Got gadgets? 2013 is officially underway, and in the world of tech, that means it's time for the Consumer Electronics Show -- the largest, loudest, and lustiest tech show of the year.
Each January, geeks from around the world descend upon Vegas to seek out the hottest new tech toys and trends of the months ahead. The electronics ecosystem has changed a lot since CES began, though, and while the show still offers its share of shiny gadgets and sweeping promises, much of its luster has started to fade.
Before you let CES fever sweep you away, here are some important caveats to keep in mind:
1. If a company shows off a new product but doesn't provide pricing or availability info, there's a good chance we'll never see the product debut.
Whether the gadget is scrapped altogether or completely repurposed (paging Asus's MeMo 370T...), it's getting hard to keep count of all the high-profile products that have drawn "oohs" and "ahhs" at CES and then failed to ever make it to market. A good rule of thumb: If the pertinent details are missing from a manufacturer's pitch, it's probably best to take the entire presentation with a grain of salt for now.
2. If a company shows off a new product but doesn't let anyone touch it, there's almost certainly a reason.
Guess what? Heavily controlled comparisons always make the targeted product look good. But you can only put so much stock into those sorts of carefully prepared marketing messages -- especially when a company won't let reporters actually touch the product or conduct noncontrolled comparisons of their own.
3. The more a tech company touts its product as being "revolutionary," the less likely said product is to possess any revolutionary qualities.
Seriously -- you should see the list of pitches for "revolutionary" new products that have landed in my inbox over the past several days. You have to interpret this stuff the same way you read real-world social interactions: If you're at a cocktail party, you know the guy who can't stop talking about how smart and successful he is won't be the smartest or most successful person in the room. Similarly, when a product truly is revolutionary, its creator shouldn't have to keep painfully trying to convince you of its "revolutionary" status.
4. If an Android device is launched at CES, it probably isn't an Android device that's going to be terribly significant in the grand scheme of things.
At this point, the big Android players hold standalone events for pretty much every product that has a chance of taking off (by my count, Samsung held approximately 40,000 different launch events last year alone). We'll see a smattering of new devices from CES this week, for sure -- but it'd be surprising if any of them ended up being the products we'll still be talking about a month from now.
(Sorry, Pantech and Huawei.)
5. The most interesting gadgets shown off at CES are usually the ones with the least real-world appeal.
A "smart fork"? An Android-powered oven? The stuff that's the most fun to ogle on the CES floor is also the stuff that -- let's face it -- no one is actually gonna buy, let alone use, outside of an electronics convention.
6. Companies are going to use CES to discuss what makes them look good -- and avoid discussing what makes them look bad.
Case in point: LG's CES press conference this morning. The company talked plenty about its "groundbreaking" and expanding partnership with Google but failed to address the giant white elephant in the room: the increasingly embarrassing state of Nexus 4 manufacturing and availability. It's a harsh reminder that in reality, these CES sessions are little more than polished advertisements.
7. CES isn't just about us. It's about business.
This might be the biggest one of all: The purpose of CES isn't simply to wow us regular folks with shiny new gadgets; it's to give manufacturers, distributors, and investors the opportunity to catch each others' eyes and get deals cooking behind closed doors. When you keep that in mind, some of the week's silliness makes a lot more sense.
All said and told, CES may be a bit of a circus -- but that doesn't mean it isn't entertaining to watch. And with any luck, a few standout stars will manage to emerge from the week's all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of electronic excess.
As for Android? We may not see the "next big thing" over these next several days, but fear not: The year has barely begun. Mobile World Congress is right around the corner, followed by Google I/O in May and probably a handful of manufacturer-specific events in between.
So keep your eyes open and your ears attached: When it comes to Android in 2013, we're just getting started.