CES is still an exciting event for tech lovers. Image via cesweb.org

CES is still an exciting event for tech lovers. Image via cesweb.org

Skeptical about CES? You’re not alone. Here’s how a CES advocate describes it: “a toothless, abscessed shark that can’t stop moving as it seeps its own blood into the water.” Ouch.

Toothless as it may be, a shark is still a shark, and if you’re in the tank, it’s difficult to ignore. So without further colourful imagery, here’s our list of products and trends that dominated CES 2013.

PCs, like tablets, are touchy subjects

Microsoft launched its Windows 8 operating system in October, which led to a wave of PC releases in the fall. That meant there was a serious dearth of new PCs on display at the Las Vegas Convention Center, especially compared to last year’s high water mark.

Apple never makes an appearance at CES, but Microsoft didn’t show up either this year – though both brands were highly visible.

Windows 8 was on prominent display everywhere, from Samsung devices outfitted with the new OS, to Panasonic’s 20-inch 4K Windows tablet. As for Apple, vendors hawked accessories galore, meaning Apple products still appeared on the tradeshow floor.

Third-party Apple accessories were hawked at the iLounge Pavillion. Image via cesweb.org

Third-party Apple accessories were hawked at the iLounge Pavillion. Image via cesweb.org

In 2012 we mentioned the so-called “gorilla arm syndrome,” the notion that laptops won’t ever get touchscreens because keeping your arm stretched horizontally to interact with a vertical screen is tiring.

The Intel booth was full of touchscreens, including on laptops, as pictured here. Image by David Berkowitz via Flickr.

The Intel booth was full of touchscreens, including on laptops, as pictured here. Image by David Berkowitz via Flickr.

Well, you might want to tack strength training onto your list of New Year’s resolutions because CES 2013 saw the introduction of an assortment of touch-enabled PCs, from the traditional clamshell laptop, to the convertible, detachable and straight-up tablet.

Thank Windows 8’s interface, which has been optimized for touchscreens and pressure from the largest computer chip manufacturing company in the world. Intel VP Kirk Skaugen proclaimed during a keynote that touchscreen navigation will be mandatory for any fourth generation Ultrabook device.

As far as tablets go, there were plenty on offer, with the emphasis on value. And without Apple’s iPad or Microsoft’s Surface on official display, there was plenty of room for lesser-known brands to strut their stuff.

Bend your phone like Beckham

What was true of PCs at CES 2013 was also true of smartphones. As Time’s Jared Newman put it, “The improvements in the latest, most premium phones aren’t really that big of a deal.”

The most significant changes were in the hardware. Most top-of-the-line phones on display boasted screens with 1080 pixels and quad-core processors. This might make tech geeks happy, but the changes aren’t significant enough for the rest of us to really notice, according to Newman.

And while Samsung raised eyebrows with its “Youm” OLED display (one word: bendable!), Sony’s Xperia Z phone garnered the most kudos for being waterproof. Swimmers, parents with toddlers and anybody who lives in a climate where rain happens rejoice!

Chinese brand Huawei revealed Ascend Mate, measuring 6.1 inches diagonally. It’s a huge phone or a tiny tablet. The screen works even if you’re wearing gloves.

Huawei is competing with the big fish. While the phone isn’t being released in American markets yet, its business model (build value phones for cheaper) makes it a brand to watch as the global demand for smartphones rises.

The face-melting TV has arrived

For the ultra HDTV lovers out there, 4K and OLED continued their domination at CES. What is a 4K TV? It’s a TV with a screen that has four times more pixels than current HDTVs. Right now, there’s barely any content broadcasted in 4K, and the benefit of improved resolution only becomes readily apparent with larger screens.

The breakthrough with OLED (organic light-emitting diodes) is that the tiny “lightbulbs” that create the images on your screen don’t need a backlight. This changes everything.

Samsung's OLED TV with curved display. Image by Samsung Tomorrow via Flickr.

Samsung’s OLED TV with curved display. Image by Samsung Tomorrow via Flickr.

OLED TVs are lighter and thinner, far more energy efficient and their displays can be designed to bend (see: Samsung’s bendy smartphone). Finally, no backlight means infinite contrast ratio.

So which technology is right for you? As PCWorld recently put it, “If you want to thoughtfully examine the intricacies of a high-resolution image or read a book on your TV screen, you want a 4K TV. If you want your face pleasantly melted off by a majestic festival of light, OLED is the way to go.”

CES meets Kickstarter

Perhaps the most buzzed about gadget at CES was the Pebble, a wearable computer/watch that displays text messages, has an e-paper type display and looks like it belongs on the wrist of a fixie-riding hipster.

Pebble’s backstory also speaks to the change that many observers have noted in recent years at CES : the return of the small vendor. Pebble was invented by Canadian Eric Migicovsky and funded via Kickstarter. As large companies drop out of CES smaller entrepreneurs are taking their place in the showrooms.

As for cameras, if you love to point and shoot then you’ve probably already heard of the Lytro revolution. The light field camera made another appearance this year. And in case you’re curious about the traditional digital cameras, here’s a helpful roundup from Gizmodo. The consensus is that cameras looked cooler in the 1980s. 2013 technology is much better, though.

Bottom line

Apple never comes to CES. Microsoft bailed. So which brand was there to fill the void? Many are pointing to Samsung. Meanwhile, OLED and 4K remain in the spotlight and it looks like we’ll be getting touchy-feely with our PCs in the very near future.

Sure, it’s the trade show everyone loves to hate. But with over 150,000 people in attendance, CES hasn’t jumped the shark quite yet.