Amid the Hype, Remember the CES Gadget Graveyard
If you’re reading our new site, it means you’re interested in tech — which means I probably don’t have to tell you it’s CES time again.
The annual consumer electronics fest kicks off this weekend in Las Vegas, where around 150,000 vendors, marketers, journalists and various other techies will swarm the Strip and marvel at the cutting-edge technologies that will ultimately pervade our lives this year.
Well, not exactly.
A lot of buzzed-about products end up vaporizing moments after CES. Others suffer launch delays, lose momentum or fail to capture the interest of the public.
Still others are actually meant to be mere concepts, showing show-goers what’s possible — if not exactly practical.
Take, for example, Haier’s transparent washing machine at last year’s CES, which Gizmodo appropriately called the “best vaporware of 2013.” While the idea of being able to actually watch the inner workings of this washer — which looked like a cross between a fish tank, the see-through telephone from my teenage years and the inside of a Virgin America plane — was a little bit exciting, the company made clear it was a concept product, keeping expectations low for an actual shipment this year (or even this decade).
Hisense’s transparent 3-D display also generated a lot of chatter. This was a 50-inch screen created for commercial purposes. Physical objects placed behind the display could still be seen by passersby, but, with the help of polarized glasses, images on the screen would pop out. It was reported at the time of the show that the display might ship by mid-year.
A spokeswoman for Hisense confirmed that the product didn’t make it to market this year. So much for “transparency” in 2013 (insert NSA joke here).
It’s not only high-concept machines that end up falling into the vaporware category. The history of DOA tablets is a long one. Last year Vizio showed off a 10-inch Android tablet prototype, which boasted an Nvidia Tegra 4 chip. Vizio instead shipped an 11.6-inch Windows 8 tab this year, and declined to comment on the future of the 10-inch Android tablet.
Meanwhile, Panasonic’s 20-inch, 4K “Toughpad” tablet, another darling of CES 2013, won’t ship until next month, a year after it was demoed. It costs $6,000.
And who could forget Lady Gaga’s photo-capturing glasses for Polaroid, Skiff’s flexible e-reader and the Saygus Vphone, all unveiled within the past five years — only to vanish like a Snapchat message?
I get it. Things happen. The market changes. Companies re-strategize. Products are re-shaped, re-designed or re-thought entirely.
To be fair, CES in years past has been a launch pad for truly innovative technologies (remember the VHS tape? I do.). Some so-called vaporware items — let’s call them prototypes, to be kind — actually end up being precursors to legitimate tech products, and futuristic technologies end up integrated into existing devices.
Chrome OS laptops were labeled vaporware after CES 2010, but ended up making it to market in the spring of 2011. Mobile DTV gadgets haven’t taken off in a big way, but more and more consumers are certainly watching TV content on their mobile devices. Expensive and inaccessible 3-D TVs filled the show floor a few years ago; now, 3-D is an ancillary feature in many new TV sets.
And, quite a few CES 2013 gadgets I initially wrote off ended up shipping this past year. Snooki’s headphones? You can actually buy them. The iPotty and Hapifork? Gimmicky, for sure, but currently available. Swiveling, brain-wave-reading cat ears? Yes. Really.
But these aren’t exactly transformative products.
Maybe one of these years we’ll see a Google Glass-like device that helps consumers see through the hype, or a wearable that sends a reality-reminding shock when something seems too good to be true. But for now, with CES nearly upon us — as we face the maze of booths, the assault of bright lights, the thousands of beeping gadgets and hype as thick as casino smoke — keep in mind that what happens in Vegas, might just stay there.
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