CES 2012: Or, please stop announcing smartphones and tablets

Summary:With the yearly flood of half-baked gadgets, the Consumer Electronics Show has become harder to get excited about. Where does the trade show go from here?

If there is one thing that this year's CES has taught me so far, it's that tablet and smartphone fatigue doesn't take all that long to set in.

I'm not denying the appeal of the devices, of course. Both are at the pinnacle of what's cool and rapidly developing. Consumers can't get enough of them, and market forces dictate that, when there is demand, the market must provide the supply.

But do we really need so many?

Lenovo, Toshiba, Samsung, and Viewsonic have all annoucned new tablets, and there have been maybe a half dozen others from smaller companies. I don't even know where to start counting the number of smart phones that have been announced, but I'm sure the number tops twenty by this point. Even for someone who writes about this stuff on a daily basis, it's hard to keep up.

But there is, perhaps, a ray of hope: According to Motorola CEO Sanjay Jha, his company plans to slow down its smartphone release cycle. “A lot of products that are roughly the same doesn’t drive the market to a new place,” Motorola CEO Sanjay Jha told reporters on Tuesday.

Of course, Motorola itself didn't seem to agree when it announced both the Droid Razr Maxx and Droid 4 this week -- but Jha's point remains cogent nonetheless. As technically impressive as many of the latest devices are, very few of them do anything particularly new or exciting.

I'm tempted to extend this frustration to even Ultrabooks, which have flooded the market and become increasingly difficult to tell apart. If 2011 was the year of the tablet, and 2012 is the year of the Ultrabook, then it is fair to say that we are going to be dealing with dozens of nearly-identical and doomed products in the coming months.

And it all starts with CES. The event has become a bastion for the iterative and half-baked, an eden not of innovation, but of countless me-too products that have little chance of taking off. It's a flood of mediocracy, and we're all drowning in it.

But it's not all bad. Aside from the latest phones and tablets, CES does offer quite few new and interesting things -- and many of them tend to come from smaller players.

3D printing, in particular, is gaining some momentum with The Replicator, MakerBot's newest 3D printer. 3D printing is a fledging field in the consumer space, which is part of the reason why the Replciator is so damn interesting. At nearly $2000, it's not cheap, but it's a device that represents where an entire industry could go.

Same goes for things like the Wemo, Belkin's home automation system. Coupled with devices like Belkin's Home Control Switch and Motion sensor module, Wemo can allow users control various parts of their homes using just a Wi-Fi connection. Samsung, too, is taking on the smart home concept with its SmartHome WiFi Washer and Dryer, which allows users to control it via their smartphones.

Personal sensors are also seeing increased support. The Basis, a wristwatch, is dedicated to tracking its owner's health stats, and monitors things like heart rate, temperature, sleeping patterns. It's not a new concept, but it's refreshing to see a product that is pushing forward rather than filling out an already-crowded market.

These are the types of products I'd like CES to feature more prominently because they represent more than themselves: they are ideas, hints of an exciting future where the big technology isn't another Android phone, but something else entirely. If CES wants to remain relevant, is has to become exciting again.

Topics: Laptops, Hardware, Mobility, Smartphones, Tablets

About

Ricardo Bilton writes for ZDNet's The ToyBox.

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