I spent the end of last week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. That show keeps getting bigger and bigger. I heard one estimate that there were 160,000 people in town for the event but I wouldn't be surprised if it was bigger than that. Then again, it may have just seemed more crowded because the rain (and at one point, unbelievably, snow) drove everyone inside, further congesting the hall floors.
One interesting thing that I have noticed about CES is that it is increasingly about the people, not just the technology. There are a bunch of people I know who use CES as an opportunity to catch up with folks they haven't seen the rest of the year. I am certainly one such person. There are friends I see at CES who I scarcely have the opportunity to catch up with otherwise. As a result, the crowds keep growing. I was hanging out with a group of Venture Capitalists from August and Gabriel Venture Partners on Wednesday of last week and of the 10 people in the room, 9 of us were on our way to CES later in the week. We might as well charter giant cargo planes and move all of Sand Hill Road to Las Vegas for the convention. We must have bumped into a dozen or so other VCs while wandering the halls of the convention and the Belagio.
To a certain extent I don't actually think there is that much new to be learned from wandering the halls of CES. You certainly have the opportunity to see some amazing TVs (like Samsung's 102 inch plasma -- sell your house and you can buy this TV, but then where will you put it?) and speakers (although high end audio had been banished to another location this year, so it was not nearly as well trafficked as past years I'm sure) and the likes. But the truth is, there aren't that many big announcements coming out of CES. Essentially everything you see at CES you have read about before on Gizmodo or Engadget. The truth is, the only real excitement around technology announcements these days comes out of MacWorld, not CES. Which is why Steve Jobs doesn't participate in CES, despite running the most innovative consumer electronics company of today. He is able to drive people to his very own show and get all the buzz for himself, for Apple and for those companies supporting Apple. You've got to hand it to Jobs -- he is an amazing marketer (maybe it will even translate into a little bit of market share this time around -- he certainly owns the MP3 player market and I am sure the Shuffle will only further strengthen that position).
One thing that is nice about wandering the halls of CES is that you can get a pretty clear picture of the broad sweeping trends in consumer electronics. You can see that televisions are moving from plasma to LCD, that cameras and camcorders are rapidly merging into the same device, and that all consumer electronic devices will soon be wireless enabled in some fashion or other. At last year's CES I observed a trend that I didn't give its due. I noted that bluetooth was pervasive but I concluded that, "Wireless is the present and the future. But I do not believe that bluetooth is here to stay." Boy was I wrong.
Bluetooth has really taken hold and is being used in impressive ways. There were again innumerable companies making Bluetooth-enabled devices (there were a thousand Bluetooth headsets but my favorite was the Bluetooth-enabled laser projection keyboard that actually worked surprisingly well) and Bluetooth integration kits (Parrot had some pretty slick car integration kits for Bluetooth-enabled devices). But it was the deeper Bluetooth integrations that really blew me away. The Palm booth featured a new Audi A6, with built in Bluetooth integration for the Treo 650. Sit down in the A6 with your Treo in your pocket and it automatically downloads your presets and maintains communications with the 650 via Bluetooth. The Treo functionality is then integrated into the entire car UI -- phone presets can be toggled on the steering wheel while being displayed on the dash, the stereo mutes when the phone rings, etc. The integration did precisely what you would want it to and it was all made possible by the much maligned Bluetooth. Very impressive.
So mea culpa. I was wrong. Bluetooth has found its place in the wireless world and is providing great value to the devices that utilize it. I imagine it will play an important role in the ongoing wireless revolution (or, at least, evolution) that I've been witnessing at CES over the last couple of years. Check back here in a year for the Bluetooth status report. Perhaps by then WiFi will have gotten cheap enough and power-efficient enough to become the de facto standard. In the mean time, I'm a convert. I'm a Bluetooth believer. And I'm going out this weekend to buy an Audi A6 -- the ultimate Bluetooth peripheral for my Treo 650.