The "back to reality" CES and MacWorld

2009 is the year of reality. It’s the year when hype goes away (except for hype about Twitter). When many of us get back to the basics: health, happiness, fitness, family.

We might still believe that the one who dies with the most toys wins, but only a few of us can afford that this year. In previous years I would have already bought several new gadgets. I want a new Apple monitor. A Canon 5D MK II camera. A new Kindle. A new netbook. And on and on.

I have bought none of them, and am hardly alone. This is the year to get back to reality where we buy things when we have the cash and, even then, only after we’ve saved up enough to protect our families against layoffs and all that.

Fear is a powerful motivator and one that we’re all becoming accustomed to living with this year.

Back to reality.

That said, when the MacWorld and Consumer Electronics Shows start in next week you’ll see a new style of gadgets to take on our new “reality.”

In previous years we’d go to gawk at the acres and acres of huge big screens. This year we’re more practical. Plus the geeks who read this probably already have a big HD screen and you’re not about to buy a new one.

So, what will get Engadget, CrunchGear, and Macrumors, and GearLive hot and bothered this year?

Simple, low-cost gadgets that make you much more productive. I’ve already had a preview of several and we’ll have video up later next week about them.

Among them are:

1. Netbooks. Lenovo loaned me a netbook to take to CES, but there are a ton of them coming. Why are they a big deal this year? Well, if your kid needs a computer for school and you’re laid off are you going to buy a $1,500 Macbook or a $300 netbook? I know which one will win that fight in my home.
2. Simpler photo viewing. Your grandparents probably just got an HD screen. But how do you get your photos of your baby onto that screen in a way that grandma can handle? You’ll see several answers this year.
3. Networked “non-geeky” home storage. Nearly every house in the modern world now has a broadband line coming in, along with a router which usually is a wifi access point. Several companies will bring out unique, and easy for everyone to use, storage devices that’ll let you do lots of cool things, especially for photographers. Apple and HP both are rumored to be working on new home media servers and I’m hearing about other ones in the offing, too.
4. GPS is now mature. Thanks to our friends at Broadcom assisted GPS is now 1/8th the size of your thumbnail. What does that mean? Easy: GPS now will be built into everything. I’ll try to meet up with Ford’s CEO to discuss just that and what it means for the car industry. We’ve already seen how Nokia will use maps in cell phones and continue to add location to every datatype that the Nokia N97 will bring out (high res photos, videos, voice, text).
5. Music everywhere. I’m playing with a Sonos right now that they loaned me to prepare for CES. If I could afford it my favorite music could follow me everywhere in my house and, even, when I’m away from the house on my iPhone. So far making that happen was pretty geeky. Now it’s to the point where non-geeky users can do it. Nokia, too, is already delivering cell phones that have all-you-can-eat music subscription plans that are extremely popular in Europe and elsewhere. Will Apple follow? I think they will be forced to eventually.
6. Windows 7. This will be a bigger deal than people are expecting. When I travel I rarely see Macs. This “clean up” of Windows Vista is already getting praises from beta testers (something that rarely happened with Vista) and we haven’t even seen everything that Ray Ozzie’s teams are up to yet.
6B. The year of touch. Everywhere you look you’ll see UI’s that you control by touching them. Microsoft has been working with its OEMs to make the touch capabilities in Windows 7 pretty damn cool. Look for HP, Dell, and Lenovo to bring out new touch computers.
7. HD for everyone. When I bought my HD screen it cost $4,000. Today you can get a better one for $800 and if you are willing to go smaller or to a new brand from a discount chain you can get them for far less. This means that HD is going to be adopted by a whole range of people and they are going to want a gaming console (Xbox is winning) and a way to get their photos and videos up on that screen (several devices are coming out at CES). Apple is rumored to be bringing out a new MacMini, which I still think is the best accessory for hooking onto an HD screen (albeit a bit geeky). Also, I can’t find a FlipCam HD in stock in Silicon Valley, but Jeremy Toeman raves about his (he should know what’s a hot gadget, he has helped launch three “best of CES” companies in the past, including last year’s Bug Labs launch — he already admitted on Twitter that he’s helping Boxee with its CES debut — that’s gotten hot in the past year with 150,000 users).

Places to watch for news? CntrStg has a friendfeed room, I’ll be hanging out at their suite in the Wynn in the evenings. I just opened a CES room where I’m shoving RSS feeds and Twitter search feeds into. CNET did an CES preview. For MacWorld news I can think of no place better than MacSurfer, which does the best job at tracking industry news about Apple.

Another cool place to track videos and tweets about CES is the Consumer Electronics Insider.

What am I missing? I’ll be on Leo Laporte’s “This Week in Tech” show on Sunday afternoon to talk more about what’s coming this week and I’ll read the best predictions on air.

Are bloggers & social networks killing the big shows?

I’ve noticed a trend lately (actually I noticed it back when I worked at Microsoft and my bosses kept refusing to buy booths at conferences, saying they didn’t return the ROI, but that trend has grown and grown big time). Big companies are throwing their own parties to get news out inside of going to big trade shows. Last night I was at Facebook’s party, where they told everyone they had just passed 140 million users. That deserves a blog post of its own, but we’re here to discuss the trade show crunch.

Earlier in the year we attended a day-long event where Electronic Arts introduced a bunch of bloggers to Dead Space, here’s our video with the producer of that.

I’ve watched as Apple invites a few hundred bloggers and journalists into a conference room at its headquarters in Cupertino and gets the news out to the world without having to go to an expensive venue.

What changed?

Blogging and online video.

Big companies are looking at the millions of dollars they spend for booths (not to mention bringing employees to) and are realizing that it’s just not getting the return on investment that they should get.

My sponsor, Seagate, told me they are reducing their spend this year at CES. AMD and Delphi are doing the same thing and I’m hearing about many other companies who will either stop going, or reduce the size of their booths, either this year, if they could, or in 2010 (contracts make it tough to shrink booths as fast as companies might want).

The news is all over the place about Apple’s decision to stop going to MacWorld. It’s being discussed on FriendFeed big time. This post’s thesis got 40+ comments in about an hour.

To me this makes total sense. Why? 44,000 people go to MacWorld. Hell, a lot more people watch Engadget report from that much cheaper conference room.

And Apple has the personal touch already thanks to their stores. They don’t need to meet with consumers anymore in expensive trade show booths that, simply, aren’t a very good experience anyway.

So, what should we expect over the next year? A lot of bad news for big trade shows.

What’s killing them? The Internet. You can launch a product live now from a living room. Thanks to Stickam, Ustream, Qik, Kyte, YouTube, Flixwagon, Viddler, Vimeo, SmugMug, etc and blogs.

Just give the people on Facebook something to pass along and talk about and your product is out there, big time.

I wonder, will 2009’s CES be the last one I attend? I remember when I thought that about Comdex, which everyone thought was too big to die.

I think it’ll be a miracle to see CES make it to 2011. Why? Blame it on the bloggers.

That all said, I’m participating in a bunch of events at CES and I’m tracking them all (and ones at Macworld) on my calendar. Hope to see you there. It might be our last time!