Digesting CES 2013, part 1: Audio
I flew from Nashville to Las Vegas on January 7, 2013, on the way to attend my first International Consumer Electronics Show. I left four days later after having walked an estimated 30+ miles through the Pepcom Digital Experience and CES, having seen the near future of technology.
Throughout the miles I walked, one thing became very clear. A lot of companies have the exact same product and think they’re the only one, and some companies shouldn’t have shown up as their product actually does more harm than good.
The definition between mobile life and life starts to become blurry. Communication and presentation are merging, and a lot of stuff looks cool but begs the question of why it was invented in the first place.
Beats by Dre is releasing a new series of portable rechargeable speakers that use NFC to pair your phone with the speaker. I tapped my HTC EVO 4G LTE to the speaker, heard a noise, and was greeted by my phone asking me if I wanted to pair with the speaker I’d just touched.
Not that pairing a phone with a Bluetooth speaker was hard before, but now it’s just wickedly simple. Touch your device to pair. As I recall, the speakers sounded okay, though being in a room with thousands of other people sort of put a damper on really being able to determine the quality of the product.
HMDX, Braven, TDK, and several other companies had wireless Bluetooth offerings … so many companies that at one point I was seriously considering a roundup of the deluge of the phrase “innovative portable rechargeable Blutooth speaker.”
What really amazed me though is that there were multiple companies called Cube, Kube, or some variant of “cube” scattered throughout the event, all selling the same daisy-chain pop-up speaker and one square one that looked similar. When the companies were not named after a cube, they still had a product that looked the same.
The ability to define a left and right speaker seemed to be a selling point of a lot of the places, a return to boomboxes seemed to be on the table for many, and offering cell-phone recharging off of the speakers in a pinch was a standard, if hidden, offering across the various companies.
Unless I’m mistaken, all of the wireless Bluetooth speaker offerings missed the opportunity to slap an electrical prong on the back with a pass-through charger so you can listen to your music and charge at the same time from what everyone probably has access to: a wall outlet.
It’s always seemed silly that you’d need a USB converter to charge your portable speaker, and a charger for your phone if you wanted to charge both. Speakers like the TDK above have the space; make use of it.
The HMDX Roam was an offering that sits in a wall outlet and charges, but I’m pretty sure the pass-through charge was not there. Neither was an AM/FM/XM tuner for most, which seems like something you might want if you want to bring the tunes and something happens, like it always does, and your phone becomes incapable of playing music.
There were multiple companies at CES attempting to demo how great the sound was on their bar speakers. Deep full rich bass, haunting treble, and a full sound coming out of something less than an inch thick. Unfortunately the ones I saw were competing with the ambient sound of CES, so they exist but I don’t know where the bar is set in bar speakers.
There were few innovations this year that I found in earbud and earphone technology; however, cable technology leading to those earbuds has somewhat advanced. One company demoed a pair that uses zipper technology to get the cable however you wanted it. It was the first I’d seen of it, and it was evidently new to them, but zipper buds have been around since 2010 evidently. It added bulk, but looked cool. Several other companies used flat cables in an effort to prevent tangles.
Noise cancelling headphones still seem to sound like you’re in a pressure chamber and be missing out on much in the way of innovation, at least from what I experienced this year.
A couple of companies introduced cases that make the iPhone sound better and provide a kickstand, one of them even made it to the best of CES as most innovative. Another company in the startup section had an exquisitely crafted conch shell that functioned as a natural amplfication iPhone speaker.
There was no clear stand-out in audio that I ran across this year. There were a ton of “hey, that’s neat, but they missed three features that would have made it perfect.” I was generally impressed with all the attempts but still wondered why we seem to not have a must-have device front and center screaming “this is it.”
It is, however, entirely possible that I managed to walk by “it.”