14 Jan 2009, 17:07

CES 2009 Winners and Losers

From those that stole the show to those that didn't show at all

WINNERS

Microsoft
People just couldn’t help saying nice things about Windows 7, and we even heard people saying ‘wow’ once or twice – including our Apple-loving cameraman.

A few people – most notably Microsoft commentator Paul Thurrot have criticised the new interface for being too tidy to be simple, but it’s difficult not to be impressed by its current state – still maybe a year away. The company's stand was also huge, and there were some lovely nibbles for those of us that went backstage. All good then.

Living room airspace
Tiny TVs and wireless HD streaming make wall-mounting a great fat HD set a much more attractive option. After a couple of years of TVs getting thinner and promises of wire-free pictures, actual products with actual tangible benefits finally arrived this year. Flush to the wall: good. Wires: bad.

Tom Hanks
Having spent much of his adulthood avoiding Tom Hanks movies, iGIZMO Editor Ross Burridge was disturbed to find himself chuckling away at Hanks' rumbunctious behaviour during Sony head-honcho Sir Howard Stringer’s keynote speech.

Mocking the brand, Sir Howard and his ‘cheap marketing script’ mercilessly, it was one of the show’s most tangibly entertaining moments. A repeat showing of The Polar Express could, however, undo the hard work in an instant.

CES
The Consumer Electronics Association’s Gary Shapiro wheeled himself out to declare that the consumer electronics industry is going to save the world, though the crowd was only briefly convinced.

During purposeful strides across the stage, Shapiro detailed how the industry was due to marginally shrink during the coming year, but by consuming its own flesh, pull the economy out of hot water.

The message: people still want stuff (with provisos – see below). Hyperbole, maybe, but despite a quieter (by 20,000 fewer attendees), slightly less fabulous show than last year, the show came out looking only mildly sheepish.

Consumers
Turns out that people actually want good products that don’t cause them to beat their heads open in frustration, don’t need a mortgage to afford, and that don’t spontaneously cause dolphins and kittens to drop dead.

It’s taken, again according to Mr Shapiro, the squeeze on the economy to reign in the madness of increasingly expensive, power hungry and complex gadgets. The next year should see more electronics that are sensitive to both wallets and wallabies. Thank heavens to Betsy for Bernard Madoff.

Apple
More on Apple further down, but DRM-free iTunes, at starting-to-be-sensible bit rates, can only be a good thing, as long as it’s not used as an excuse to ramp up the price. At a stroke, Apple's decision to cast aside DRM has rendered thousands of blogs, ranting articles and Amnesty International immediately obsolete. Well, maybe not that last one.

LOSERS

Philips
Despite having a great year, producing what we hailed as the best TV ever, the Dutch electro-miesters were noticeably missing. The company manufacturing many of next year’s Philips’ TVs – Funai was there, but its stand was a piffling 10,000sq feet – a fraction of last year’s Philips stand. Given that they won the Best of CES Award last year, it’s either Philips or CES itself that’s changed.

Microsoft
Now we come to think about it, Steve Ballmer’s initial outing as Microsoft keynote speaker (a spot normally occupied by the now retired-to-concentrate-on-charity-work Bill Gates), was horribly disappointing. Okay, Windows 7 is looking quite good... but where was the Zune phone? Where was the new version of The World’s Worst Mobile Phone Operating System™ (Windows Mobile), and where were the new Xbox features to compete with the PlayStation and Wii’s increasing appeal? Yes, there was the cute Kodu, but seriously... Bill would have bought us flying cars and a much more interesting jumper.

Apple
Even for a company that courts controversy, the pall of Apple’s Macworld performance still hung heavy over CES. It's somewhat harsh that Phil Schiller's announcment of nothing more materially substantive than a new MacBook completely obscured the significance of the company making iTunes DRM-free.

But that doesn't change the fact that this time two years ago, every single product and technology announcement at CES was overshadowed by the arrival of the iPhone, and this year Macworld – and Apple – were largely forgotten once CES opened its doors.

Planet Earth
Green was in at this year’s CES. After having flirted with ecological concerns over the past few years (last year’s show was apparently ‘carbon neutral’), more environmentally sound electronics were a key theme. Greenpeace was on hand to point a finger at mobile phone manufacturers in particular for their use of hazardous chemical and throwaway philosophies, and a lot of talk came from the big companies themselves. So much so, that some seemed to be within a single step of announcing that their products actually went out and planted trees.

But sadly, these efforts still need to go beyond feel-good soundbites designed to shift products. Though progress is being made, the practices of mass-market technology companies as a global collective still fall too far short of being truly sustainable for us to indulge in any self-congratulating just yet.