CES: big, brash and a little bit boring

CES 2013
CES: lots of firms showing slightly newer versions of things

With the gloriously demented exception of Qualcomm's keynote - Big Bird! Ballmer! Rolls-Royces! Lots of things that don't make any sense whatsoever! - and Techradar's own branded messenger bags, it's been a pretty dull CES in Vegas this year.

We've seen stupidly large TVs, some of which are a few inches bigger than the stupidly large TVs we saw last year. We've seen forks that vibrate if you eat too quickly. We've seen chargers that can charge five iPads simultaneously. And we've seen Bluetooth health monitors that can tell you whether or not you're dead yet.

I'm not suggesting any of these are bad products, but they're just products. Where's the stuff to make your heart sing?

The short answer is: somewhere else.

CES isn't the place to see the next big thing in tech, and it hasn't been for years. As Public Enemy's Flavor Flav - a man who's currently in Vegas, possibly shopping for a new clock - put it: don't believe the hype.

Trading places

CES is first and foremost a trade show, a networking opportunity, a place for retail buyers to meet manufacturers and decide what lines they're going to stock. The rise of online tech news changed that, however, and in recent years firms have seen it more as an enormous marketing platform, a way to get lots of online headlines.

Unfortunately the more firms see CES that way, the more firms try to make a big splash - even when, as in Qualcomm's case, they don't really have enough news to justify an entire keynote. That creates a vicious circle: firm A shouts, so firm B shouts louder, so firm C shouts louder still... before long everyone's bellowing through loudhailers and borrowing Muse's PA system, assuming of course they haven't already pre-announced their announcements to get pre-CES coverage.

The problem is that despite all the noise, genuine game-changers don't come along all that often, and they certainly don't come along on cue every January. Almost everything coming out of CES is a slightly better version of something that already exists, whether that's a humungous plasma, a slightly bigger OLED or a camera with a few more megapixels.

These days, the real game changers are given their own events. Apple doesn't do trade shows any more, and with the exception of CEO cameos even Microsoft's abandoned CES. The firms that do attend CES aren't bringing their big guns: Samsung may have brought along yet another internet fridge, but it's keeping the Galaxy S4 for Mobile World Congress.

CES will endure - the opportunities for schmoozing and expense-account boozing will see to that - but it's important to see it for what it is. Yes, CES shows us the future - but it's the future of your local Curry's, about six months from now.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.