CES, the electronic MTV Video Music Awards

The real product at CES is not products you'll buy, but headlines.

Image via Flickr/LGEPR

Good afternoon. It is 5 degrees Fahrenheit in Buffalo, NY as I write this on a Tuesday afternoon, but it feels like -18 Fahrenheit if you are exposed to the 26-miles-per-hour wind. I was due to be in Las Vegas, Nev. for the Consumer Electronics Show, but worse weather in Chicago made air travel impossible.

It is 57 degrees Fahrenheit right now in Las Vegas, Nev. as I write this. It feels like 57 Fahrenheit degrees with the relative lack of wind there. Just so you understand my frame of mind as I look westward, across invisible Wi-Fi, at what is happening at CES 2014.

"Happening" is not the word to use when describing CES. CES is where things you might purchase are promised, promoted, hyped, discussed, listed, featured at parties, and traded as gossip over expense account drinks. Most of the goods are not for sale at the show. There are products already released, minor iterations of products, and products due out in some quarter of this or next year.

"Products" is the word to use when describing CES. You see copy and tweets and notions of how a company is "changing the game" or "setting a benchmark" or "innovating in a new space," but what they are really doing is offering products for people to buy, just like Walgreens or farmer's markets or dog toy makers. When you see a headline or company announcement come out of CES, try mentally adding "By Giving You Something Else You Can Buy" to the end of it. Like how "In Bed" fits on the end of most fortunes, and "In my pants" on corporate slogans.

In any case, I have been watching the 4K curved-screen televisions, the wearable technology, and the home automation (or "Internet of Things") products make their way into Twitter. I have been pretending to cover them on Twitter. More than anything, I have been thinking about the products that I saw at CES in 2013, and which of them have made their way into the lives of friends and family. Other than a few nerdy friends sporting Pebble watches, not many of them did more than fill the shelves at Best Buy and the warehouse of Amazon.

But that does not seem to be a focus for CES.

Monday evening, robot fight coordinator Michael Bay rage-quit his appearance at a Samsung keynote because the teleprompter malfunctioned. AT&T hosted a party at CES Monday night at which Macklemore performed and the T-Mobile CEO was kicked out. Yahoo's Marissa Mayer hosted a keynote address at which many things were mentioned: an invite-only Android home screen replacement, Aviate, a news digest headed by a college-aged guy, a tech magazine that's written in "English, human," overseen by David Pogue, and how great Tumblr can be, and a tiny bit about photo service Flickr, and engaged advertising, and quite a few other things that did not have much to do with consumer electronics.

For those who truly need to see and test out entire lines of products made by companies that produce retail products with SKUs on them, mostly for the purpose of selling them with markup, CES is an invaluable trade show. For everyone else, it seems to have become akin to the MTV Music Video Awards. It's not where the stuff really happens, it's where headlines get generated.

The iPhone and iPad, the entire Android ecosystem, the Kindle, Netflix's newest deals, the Chrome browser—these things were not announced at CES, or anywhere near them. That does not seem like a mistake of timing.

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