Fuzzy future: A swing through CES confirms humankind’s gravest danger

Welcome to CES, a virtual world of wifi-syncing, smartphone-hogging tech tchotchkes.
Photo: L.E. Baskow
Jason Scavone

CES, the overstuffed pop-up Best Buy where nothing is for sale, half the stuff works and customer service reps are preternaturally patient in the face of even the dumbest questions, just wrapped up. It’s a conference so sprawling and daunting, attendees will sit through 20 minutes of marketing jargon-infused presentations just because they get chairs.

A few years ago, smart TVs were the hot ticket at CES. Every big-time electronics manufacturer pushed sets with built-in Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, etc. At the time, it seemed entirely pointless. Time has proven the concept … only mostly pointless. With the rise of Chromecasts, Fire TV Sticks or connectivity through a Playstation or Xbox, smart TVs are kind of useful for anyone who has very specific and limited streaming needs and hates the idea of an extra dongle. And basically no one else.

This year’s CES felt much the same. There were plenty of hesitant and probing steps toward the Internet of Things, some improvements to self-driving cars, virtual reality headsets everywhere and a whole bunch of smart crap that wants you to spend your time fighting with shoddy apps and questionable brand ecosystems.

Like the Alpine ICE. The car-audio behemoth was pushing its Bluetooth-enabled cooler with built-in speaker, perfect for tailgaiters who would rather drop $1,500 on an all-in-one solution than 30 bucks on a plastic Coleman and $120 on a halfway decent Bose or UE Boom.

At least you’re getting Alpine audio out of the deal on that one. The $99 Next Bottle finally delivers on the promise of putting a speaker on your water bottle, for all those people who love drinking water, don’t own headphones and want to annoy everyone at their gym. At last, the problem of never being able to stay hydrated and pump tasty Ratt jams at the same time has been solved.

That’s not to say there wasn’t anything cool at CES. Samsung was showing off a 96-inch 8K television. It was so big and so crisp I wanted to live inside it. When the Samsung rep asked if I had any questions I wondered why he was so fuzzy looking. 8K televisions are a ways off, likely coming to market about 26 minutes after you buy a 4K set.

Panasonic had a mob of people bypassing most of its traditional tech to check out its kitchen of the future, with a freestyle induction cooktop that lives under a faux-marble counter for seamless cooking. I still can’t decide if that was cooler than the glass-panel refrigerator door that turned into an interactive screen once you touch it, but as someone who’s suffered through limited counter space for far too long, all I know is I want it.

It seemed better positioned to take up space in your home than the smart fridges Samsung and LG were pushing. Samsung’s entry has been on the market for a bit, but it’s still basically a regular fridge with an oversized iPad jammed in it. The hot selling point was that it can take pictures of what’s inside. “What if you’re on your way home and you don’t know if you need milk,” the rep asked. “I’ll text my girlfriend.” “What if she’s not home?” “What if we have milk? Then I spent $6,000 on a fridge for nothing.”

Smart beds were in play, with one from Emfit promising you can “Gain a competitive advantage.” For your real serious sleep league, I guess. Under Armour was touting smart sneakers that promised to reveal your “readiness to run.” (Never. The answer is never. Unless there’s a rhino loose on Fremont Street.)

Smart vinyl at least toed the line between actual physical object and unnecessary digital experience. French outfit Yes It Is is pairing with record labels to embed near-field communication chips in records through the Revive app. Touch your phone to the platter and a page pops up with artist info and a digital version of the music, so you can embrace the warmth and audiophile experience of vinyl in theory, while the album sits on your shelf and you listen to tinny output on your phone.

The most vital innovation for Las Vegans at CES might have come from Eureka Park, the floor dedicated to nothing but pie-in-the-sky start-ups. Kino-Mo’s hologram projectors wowed and/or terrified crowds with nine simultaneously projected yelling Mark Cuban heads. The one we’re all waiting for is Proof, a wearable that checks your blood alcohol content. That’s right, the tech world is giving us Fitbit for Drunks. Now that it has made its CES debut, the project is going to seek crowdfunding. From everyone but DUI lawyers, probably.

And hey, if all these Bluetooth popping, wifi-syncing, smartphone-hogging tchotchkes are getting you nervous, there’s always Spartan underwear, the world’s first boxer briefs that promise to mitigate any damage from wifi waves zapping your junk, using a silver-cotton blend to keep your plums off the Geiger counter. The future’s gravest danger? Crotch radiation.

Tags: Tech, CES 2017
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