CES 2011: Gadget makers step up turf war with Apple

An Internet-connected laundry machine and dryer on display at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

KAI RYSSDAL: The big story at the big Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week isn't what new gadget might be the hottest thing going. It's who's not going to show up. Apple CEO Steve Jobs is expected to give the CES a pass when it officially starts tomorrow. But his company -- and how everybody else wants to sell what Apple made popular --- are all the rage. We've reached Marketplace's Steve Henn from the trade show floor, deep inside The Venetian Hotel in Vegas, to talk things over with us. Hey Steve.

STEVE HENN: Hey.

RYSSDAL: So listen, through the magic of radio, it of course sounds like you're right next door. But do I have it right, that we had to get you on a pay phone to do this because the wireless systems at the Consumer Electronics Show are completely overwhelmed?

HENN: Yeah, that's right. I actually overhead a technician saying, 'You know we called SANS IT and they say it's The Venetian's problem and we called The Venetian IT department and they say it's SANS problem.'

RYSSDAL: It's nice to know the IT guys are the same all the world over, right?

HENN: Yeah, that's right.

RYSSDAL: So what is the big thing that's at the Consumer Electronics Show once you guys eventually get into the technology part of this thing?

HENN: Well, you know this is the year of the tablet. Everyone wants to create a tablet that will grab a piece of the business that Apple created with the iPad. So there is something like 80-100 new tablets being unveiled here. And the general trend seems to be that people want to build something that's slick, but cheaper than the iPad and then grab a piece of the business. Most of the analysts that I've talked to about that, though, think that's not going to work, that the iPad will probably remain the dominant tablet next year. If you can buy a $99 tablet, but it's a piece of junk, it's really not that cool.

RYSSDAL: What about stuff like 3-D that was hot last year, all those things from years gone by?

HENN: Well, 3-D is making a comeback, you know there's a sequel. But I think one of the most trends right now is that lots of devices that you don't typically think of as computers or cell phones are getting connected to the web. So LG, which makes flat-screen TVs and cell phones, but a dog-and-pony show today where they talked a lot about how they wanted to connect your fridge to the web, and your washer and dryer to the web. And we've been imagining them since we were all watching "The Jetsons." So pretty soon we're going to be walking through a world where the cell phone in our pocket is talking to things all around us, and I think that is pretty interesting.

RYSSDAL: Yeah, but Steve, you're right there where everybody believes in all of this stuff. What are the odds of any of this stuff getting to the consumer any time soon?

HENN: Well I think the fridge that sends you a text when you're running low on milk probably isn't coming this year, but I do think that within the next year or two, devices that you never thought would be talking to your cell phone are going to start. We're already seeing that in things like automobiles, and obviously things like TVs are wired for the Internet now. So I do think this is coming, but maybe I just drank the Kool-Aid.

RYSSDAL: Marketplace's Steve Henn from the Consumer Electronics Show from Las Vegas, Nev. Steve, thanks a lot.

HENN: Sure thing.

About the author

Steve Henn was Marketplace’s technology and innovation reporter for the entire portfolio of Marketplace programs until December 2011.

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