CES 2013: Tech world prepares for Las Vegas launches

By Leo Kelion
Technology reporter

image captionMore than 3,000 firms will sprawl their wares across conference centres and hotels

The devices promise to be slimmer, bigger and faster - but is CES itself still relevant?

An onslaught of new gadgets and software is about to be unleashed at the latest Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

It is a chance for tech makers, big and small, to highlight the innovations and trends they think are about to take off.

Things do not always develop as planned - past promises of smart TV services and 3D screens going mainstream have failed to pan out.

But never mind, say the organisers, there is another round of next-generation technologies such as 4K ultra-high definition televisions and bendy phones ready for a go.

New displays will definitely be one of the year's big themes.

image captionThe crowdfunded Pebble smartwatch will be shown off at the event

But other tips include:

  • a flood of devices and apps focused on making us healthier
  • a push towards the connected home with all our various devices talking to each other
  • self-driving cars and other technologies to make journeys safer for the driver and more entertaining for passengers
  • and wearable computing including augmented reality glasses and smart watches.

"We have over 150,000 people coming," the man responsible for the event, US's Consumer Electronics Association president Gary Shapiro, tells the BBC.

"We have retailers, manufacturers, distributors, the financial community and everyone who matters in the ecosystem. It's all about the innovation industry getting together in one place each year."

Some questioned whether CES's days were numbered after Microsoft announced it was pulling its annual mega-budget presentation and booth last year. It was seen as part of the trend of firms hosting one-off events to suit their own timetables rather than rushing to meet a January deadline.

In addition, sales of many devices - such as digital cameras, camcorders and MP3 players - are tumbling. Smartphones and tablets are cannibalising the market, and firms have typically held back New Year launches of these products until February's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

But for now CES seems to be in rude health - 2013's event is bigger than ever. Microsoft's floor space was snapped up within minutes - much of it, tellingly, by a Chinese company: HiSense.

And CES has embraced mobile, boasting that this year's event will be the biggest app showcase the world has ever seen. Furthermore Sony, LG, Huawei, and ZTE will be among those unveiling new flagship smartphones at the event.

Keep fit

It is not just about the big names. One of this year's first-time attendees is Paul Landau, chief executive of the British firm Fitbug.

His company makes a range of activity tracking devices that transmit details to computer servers detailing how much exercise their owners do, allowing the business to provide feedback such as congratulating them on their efforts, or giving them a nudge to do more.

image captionFitbug's activity trackers will compete with other health tech for attention

The company recently expanded to the US and Mr Landau is now trying to drum up attention for new products to be launched at the show.

"The stall alone is about $25,000 [£15,390] and that's before you've printed a banner or a leaflet or flown over staff and booked hotels," he says.

"But it's probably the show of the year where the tech writers are all there, looking for the emerging trends and the new technologies coming out.

"Not many people have heard of us because we're a small British company who have jumped into a very big pond over in the US. We feel this will be a great showcase to spread the word."

image captionCES traces its history back to 1967 when it was a spin-off from the Chicago Music Show


One floor above Fitbug in the Las Vegas Convention Center's South Hall, a much bigger UK-based tech firm will be showing its wares.

Imagination Technologies' Pure division has a stand to promote its latest internet radio streamers and TV set top boxes.

But its newly knighted boss will be spending most of his time in nearby private meeting rooms where he will focus on his company's core business: licensing its graphics processor chip designs to tablet, smartphone and TV manufacturers such as Samsung, Sony and LG.

"I don't enjoy the location," reveals Sir Hossein Yassaie.

image captionSir Hossein says he has morning-to-evening meetings scheduled throughout CES

"In my view, to go to Las Vegas once to see what it's all about is probably enough. But the reason I appreciate it is that you can go to one location and see a lot of customers, prospects and partners, which saves travelling around the world, which I already do plenty of."

Sir Hossein is a CES veteran. He reckons this will be his 17th year and despite his lack of love for Sin City's attractions he would not entertain the idea of skipping a year.

The commitment underlines the point that while the hi-spec stands and flashy presentations dominate press coverage, much of the real work that goes on at CES takes place out of sight.

"It's chock-a-block," says Sir Hossein.

"We have three to four rooms and we have almost continuous meetings all the way through the show. To be honest, the deals never get concluded at the show - they get concluded by the sales and contract people later - but it moves discussions forward significantly,"

The 'babes' are back

One other fixture returning to CES are the "booth babes".

media captionThe practice of hiring scantily dressed women to help market their products is not looked on favourably by some women in the tech industry

Last year, a BBC video exploring the widespread use of scantily-clad women to promote tech on the show floor stirred controversy, prompting a rash of op-eds and blog posts calling for them to be banned.

It proved a low point for Mr Shapiro, who initially tried to dismiss the issue as being "irrelevant" before promising to address it after his judgement was attacked. So why are the models back?

"We went out to a group called Women In Consumer Electronics, we had a separate team of our female staff put together and we've let our exhibitors know that there are certain expectations that attendees have and that they may be offensive to them," he explains.

"We heard back from both our staff team and the Women In Consumer Electronics that we should not change our rules, that they like the marketplace as it is.

"It is a free market out there. If companies make marketing decisions and part of their calculation is that they want to offend some people - and some people are offended - that's a decision that they make."

Expect much more on this as well as details about the estimated 20,000 product launches to dominate the tech press over the coming days.

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