CES Shows Strong Signs of Health in 2010
By Mark Vaughn
Like much of the rest of the economy last year, the consumer electronics industry had a tough time in 2009. Who wants to buy an iPod when you just lost your job? As a result, the industry finished the last 12 months with its first loss in 20 years. Consumer Electronics Association president Steve Shapiro said the economy and his industry in particular were “just now edging away from the cliff.”
Nonetheless, you still had to elbow your way through the Las Vegas Convention Center like an army ant to get anywhere. If there was a dip in the industry it sure wasn't apparent on the floor of the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which runs through Sunday. There were more than 110,000 attendees this year and more than 2,200 exhibitors. If this is a down economy, we'll take it.
One of the strongest segments of the electronics industry this year was automotive. It seemed everybody had an app to get your iPhone to run something, anything, in your car.
But the star of the show from our point of view had to be Ford's unveiling of the new MyTouch version of Sync. While details were revealed in Detroit a few days before CES opened (and covered on autoweek.com), the carmaker was still a big hit here. The Taurus was the official car of the show, and Shapiro even drove onto the stage in a Taurus when he introduced Ford CEO Alan Mulally, who delivered a keynote address at CES for the second year in a row.
Mulally and various Ford executives touted the many Sync improvements to be found in MyTouch. Even without the new version, which debuts later this year, Sync's current setup drove much of Ford's strong sales.
“Thirty-two percent of customers surveyed indicated Sync was critical to their purchase,” Mulally said. “Eighty one percent of the heavy users are satisfied with Sync; 77 percent would recommend it to a friend.”
So technology not only sells, but it might have helped keep Ford out of bankruptcy and off the government dole.
Ford was quick to give credit to Microsoft for the platform on which Sync runs. The day before Mulally spoke, Kia revealed its own version of Microsoft Auto's platform. Called UVO, which stands for “your voice.” UVO will debut on the Sorento later this year, with Kia's own unique use of Microsoft software.
Just to round things out, Microsoft had a Fiat 500 on its stand. Fiat uses yet another version of the Microsoft program in its cars, which we will see here soon.
But if the Microsoft infotainment systems were the stars of the show from an automotive perspective, there were just as many smaller electronic debuts aimed at the automobile.
In the Safe Driver Tech Zone of the convention center's north hall, we came across four different devices that would read your text messages to you and allow you to dictate text replies without taking your eyes off the road or your hands off the wheel. DriveSafe.ly, Dial2Do, iLane and Got2b Wireless all had slightly different takes on that theme. Drive Safely Corp. wants to simply eliminate texting while driving by requiring phone makers to install its text-proof software algorithm on all cell phones. And we found a $30 product called safeDRIVE, which tells you your blood-alcohol limit with a single blow.
If your car ever gets stolen, Escort now offers a GPS-based vehicle-recovery system called entourageCIS that will even call the cops; it starts at $349. If you just can't find your car you'll want the Auto-Finder, a directional antenna that will help locate your ride from up to a half-mile away. It's $99 and can be put on your dog's collar, too, to locate him.
There were just as many innovations at CES for inside the car. Remember satellite radio, the Next Big Thing of only a few years ago? It's still around, with 19 million subscribers. Sirius and XM finally merged in 2008 and Sirius even offers three channels of satellite television. It could easily be surpassed by FLO TV, which captures live broadcast digital television just like you get at home--but on a FLO TV personal Television, on your phone or in your car's rear-seat entertainment system for a monthly fee. But before you drop everything and buy a FLO, consider that Visteon has a system called ATSC Mobile DTV that will pull those same broadcast signals into your car for no fee at all. No word on when the Visteon TV is coming to showrooms--we'll have to wait for a carmaker to buy it from Visteon.
But ultimately our favorite booth among all of those digital orbital satellite guys was CB Distributing of Albany, Ore. CB is still selling citizens' band radios as if Gerald Ford was still in the White House and Smokey and the Bandit was still up for an Oscar.
“There's still a steady market for them,” said sales manager Keith Eschliman.
Apart from one model Eschliman showed us that offered Bluetooth for hands-free compliance, the rest of the selection looked like it was ready for a great big convoy--which we are going to join tomorrow and head back home. Until then, 10-4 from Las Vegas, good buddies.
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