CES: Now the dust has settled, was it worth it?

Sony OLED Walkman
Sony's NWZ-X1000 OLED Walkman, features a beautifully bright OLED screen with impressive battery-friendly levels of power consumption

The dust has settled after the tech industry's big week – the international CES in Las Vegas. And now that the UK tech press has made its weary way back, it's time to reflect.

The overall feeling from the show organisers seems to be one of official defiance – not only of the economic situation, but also falling attendee numbers; 110,000, down 40,000 from two years ago.

That's to be expected given the current financial turmoil, and there wasn't a single major press conference or keynote that didn't mention the tough times.

Keynote disappointments

Even ignoring the obligatory 'difficult climate' spiel, the main keynotes were disappointing. Steve Ballmer's Microsoft event didn't excite, but at least he actually announced something in the form of the Windows 7 beta (if you didn't know about it already).

Sony's keynote, while full of quips and Tom Hanks, was a masterpiece in how to gloss over the fact you haven't really got anything to show. The bendy OLED was cool, but it was so tiny that it didn't really give us anything to really drool over.

However, if you looked hard for it, there was some excitement to be found out on the show floor. And in terms of product announcements, it was actually better than last year. Palm's Pre caught the enthusiasm of the tech press at a show not famed for mobile announcements – next month's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona is the traditional hotbed for that.

3D and Pre

So, while the Pre probably won't usurp the iPhone, its inclusion of Wi-Fi means it's already stepped over the BlackBerry Storm, in our opinion. The new OS looks exciting and means that, with the launch of the N97, it's Microsoft who is really starting to fall behind in terms of a next-gen smartphone.

HTC is doing its best for Windows Mobile by overlaying TouchFLO 3D, but it doesn't mask Windows Mobile's inadequacies.

CES was the first time we'd got properly hands-on with the N97, but while it looks very good, it's always going to be held back by Series 60, an OS that Nokia itself considers in need of a revamp.

3D caught the imagination and, while we're still not convinced by the idea of it for television viewing (there's something too 'fifties does noughties' about it), the possibilities in terms of gaming are extremely interesting. Nvidia showed off GeForce 3D Vision, while there were also 3D PlayStation 3 demos at the show.

Where were the OLEDs?

Elsewhere, the Blu-ray Disc Association and Samsung decided to move with the times and, instead of denouncing downloads, went with the line that the two could coexist. Samsung's top bods went a stage further and said that if downloads were becoming successful, it would look to provide a Blu-ray box with internal storage.

One thing we didn't see too much of was OLED; surprising because the pre-show hype led us to expect that OLED TVs you could actually buy would have at least some presence at CES 2009. However, Sharp, a supposed OLED advocate, completely harpooned the tech when CEO and Chairman Doug Koshima said "While Sharp has been exploring OLED, we have always maintained that LCD remains the best technology for consumers today and in the future."

Samsung and Sony just had prototypes, even if the former had a cool translucent OLED display. Once again, blame rising development costs. Companies such as Samsung have also invested billions in LED manufacturing plants, too.

Time to banish Macworld

So was it any cop? CES is still the biggest cross-tech show out there with 2,700 exhibitors. And it still provides the biggest glimpse into the next 12 months in tech. Our own feeling was that this show was better than the last due to some decent products being announced rather than another predictable rash of LCD TVs.

Now that Macworld has lost Apple, an even bigger spotlight will be on next year's show to deliver some great announcements.


Now read Hands on: Palm Pre smartphone review

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Dan (Twitter, Google+) is TechRadar's Former Deputy Editor and is now in charge at our sister site T3.com. Covering all things computing, internet and mobile he's a seasoned regular at major tech shows such as CES, IFA and Mobile World Congress. Dan has also been a tech expert for many outlets including BBC Radio 4, 5Live and the World Service, The Sun and ITV News.