CES 2011: Where tablet PCs and 3D TVs ruled

Cringely has the scoop on the copycat tablets, outsize booths, and nausea-inducing 3D that made headlines in Vegas

My pockets are stuffed full of business cards from people I do not remember meeting, my head is thumping like a flamenco dancer, there's margarita salt on my laptop, and I can't seem to locate my pants. That can mean only one thing: I just returned from my annual pilgrimage to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Fortunately, I scribbled down a few notes, which I can now just barely read. Here are some of the highlights, as best as I can recall.

[ Before you find out what ruled at CES, check out Cringely's 12 tech predictions for 2011. | For a humorous take on the tech industry's shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter. ]

* Approximately 3,247 new tablet PCs were on display at this year's CES, most of them carbon copies of each other. Several vendors began their spiels with "Like a traditional tablet, our models ...," and went on to talk about how they work just like an Apple iPad. Apparently the word "traditional" now means "introduced more than six months ago."

* Also: I am hereby predicting the death of the tablet PC. Just to get mine in ahead of everyone else.

* Just a few years ago companies used CES to demonstrate just how sharp and clear their HDTVs were. Now, of course, it's all 3D all the time. Unless those polarized/shutter shades are surgically attached to your body, it's a bit like walking the floor after drinking three or seven cocktails -- everything is just a little fuzzy.

* Toshiba was showing prototype 3D TVs you could watch without having to don those dorky glasses. Glasses-free 3D is impressive, but after a few minutes, I started to get seasick. The next thing they need to invent: Hurl-free 3D.

* There were a few 2D HDTVs on the show floor displaying blockbuster movies like "Iron Man 2." Big mistake. If you want to sell people on the wonders of high definition, do not show close-ups of Mickey Rourke -- ever. I started to long for the comforting fuzziness of 3D.

* Samsung easily won the award for biggest booth -- an egregiously outsized thing as big as a football field with stadium-quality lights, crammed full of people eagerly checking out the Galaxy phones, tablets, and more. Think maybe they're overcompensating?

* Sharp gets my nod for the coolest item on display: The i3 Wall, an 8-by-10-foot "room" with one side removed, covered wall to wall and ceiling to floor with 60-inch HDTVs, all showing pieces of one enormous moving image -- cityscapes, underwater scenes, the moon. It was kind of like being inside the film "Inception," only it actually made sense.

* A speaker company called Earthquake showed off subwoofers that literally shook the floor and walls around you when they boomed. It was like living in San Francisco, minus the US$5 lattes.

* Cabs were driving around town with ads for the Luxor's Real Bodies exhibit -- in contrast to the bodies of show floor booth babes, which are composed largely of advanced polymers.

* Also on the streets in Vegas: People dressed up like superheroes. (Possibly homeless people trying to get on the "Today Show.") Those other people dressed up in tights and spandex? Superhookers.

* Trying to squeeze the blood from every penny InfoWorld budgeted for my travel expenses (approximately $39.97), I booked a flight -- or rather, a series of painfully cramped two-hour hops -- on Spirit Airlines. And promptly found out why it's named Spirit Air: Its customer service department is staffed entirely by ghosts. My luggage showed up three days after I did, or approximately three hours before I had to check out of my hotel. I did the entire show wrapped in a bed sheet. Nobody seemed to notice. That's Vegas, baby.

Did I mention that Spirit lost my bags again on my way home? E-mail me: cringe@infoworld.com.

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Robert X. Cringely

InfoWorld
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