The event gets underway Thursday in Las Vegas and runs through Sunday. Ahead of the show, Marketplace’s David Brancaccio spoke with Alex Heath, editor at The Verge and author of the tech newsletter Command Line, about what we can expect to see from CES 2023.
The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
David Brancaccio: I mean, these things were traditionally huge, then there was COVID. Do you think huge again, in terms of attendees?
Alex Heath: The attendance this year is definitely a lot less than it was pre-COVID. During COVID, CES was all virtual, [but] they still had a lot of people logging in. This year, they are not expecting anywhere close to what they were from pre-pandemic levels. That said, they’re still expecting, based on what I’ve seen, here in Vegas, roughly 100,000 people, which is, you know, nothing to shy at.
Brancaccio: Did you miss it during the pandemic years or is this a chore?
Heath: You know, as a tech reporter, we have this love-hate relationship with CES. It’s a grind. You know, you often get sick after you leave because Vegas is Vegas. But, you know, it’s fun to see all this new stuff. And even though a lot of it never ships, actually, a lot of it’s just conceptual in nature, it’s fun to see kind of the cutting edge.
Brancaccio: Some goofy stuff. I saw there’s going to be an $11,000 Alexa-equipped toilet seat. I don’t know what that’s going to do for anybody, but if people are so inclined. Like the Jetsons’ toilet seat or something?
Heath: Yeah, there’s also a Samsung smart oven for streamers that has a camera inside it. So you can video yourself going in and out of your oven and livestream it online. So yeah, there’s no shortage of weird gadgets this year.
“Everyone’s coming for Tesla’s lunch”
Brancaccio: Wow, far out! Electric vehicles, they’ve been big in recent years at the show, and I think we’ll see more this week.
Heath: Yes, that’s right. There’s a lot of partnerships happening with kind of the tech companies that make the innards of these electric vehicles, since they are essentially computers on wheels. Companies like Nvidia. You’ve got companies like BMW giving keynote speeches this year. It does feel like it’s become a bit of a tech auto show versus everything else. And you know, the backdrop of all that is that Tesla is having a really rough time, their stock’s down quite a bit. Went from not shipping as many vehicles as they had predicted last calendar year. So everyone’s coming for Tesla’s lunch and trying to compete with them. And so yeah, there’s a ton of auto stuff this year.
Brancaccio: Yeah, that includes Volkswagen, which is launching the ID.7 it looks like, which is a sedan that looks like it would try to compete with Tesla’s core vehicle.
Heath: That’s right. There’s several vehicles being announced and some concept vehicles, which are more just to show kind of where the tech is headed. You know, everyone’s in this kind of interesting waiting period to see how soon will we actually have fully autonomous driving. And when that happens, how do we redesign the cars and, you know, potentially take away things like the steering wheel? Those are the kinds of conversations being had.
Brancaccio: And I’m thinking given everything with FTX and bitcoin’s precipitous decline, you think less crypto at this show, or am I wrong?
Heath: Definitely less crypto. Crypto was one of those things that was really hyped during the pandemic. And obviously, as you mentioned, with the collapse of FTX and Sam Bankman-Fried now facing trial, that balloon has been popped quite a bit. There is still a bit of crypto programming, you know. Coinbase is sending people, for example, but that’s one of those hype cycles that now, you know, I think going into 2023, we’re entering a bit of a “trough of disillusionment,” as people in tech would say. And I think that also extends to another area which has more of a presence at CES, but it is definitely more muted, which is the metaverse. And I think that’s actually also a bit of a thing that was overhyped and is now coming back down to Earth.
Brancaccio: Yeah, whatever it is, this metaverse, it seems to be like, not just next-gen, but three-iterations-later gen of immersive digital experience, I guess. But we’re not quite sure what it is at this point.
Heath: Well, yeah, what it is is not great. So, you know, the latest Meta Quest Pro headset didn’t get good reviews, including by our site. And the software is really just not there yet. You could see it with things like Roblox, which kids love to play in — kind of these 3D worlds where you hang out as avatars. Fortnite’s another example, but those are on 2D screens and those haven’t really taken the leap to 3D and to fully immersive experiences and headsets. You know, we’re just not quite there as a mainstream thing.
Brancaccio: What was with the headsets that you tested? Just sort of herky-jerky and annoying, or what?
Heath: It’s the software. I mean, the hardware for these headsets is actually, you know … I remember when the Quest, Meta/Facebook hadn’t bought it yet, it was a crowdfunded thing being worked on by just a few people, and it was superclunky and it had cables and you had to work it … connect it to a PC. And these days, these headsets are actually pretty impressive from a hardware perspective. You know, they can be used on their own, you don’t need to plug them into things. That said, we’re still kind of waiting for that killer app, that killer game, that really introduces these headsets to the mainstream. I do think something like a Roblox or Fortnite could be what does it. But, you know, at CES this year, you’ve got some startups that are trying to compete in this area with the giants, which are Meta and Apple’s rumored to have its own headset coming out later this year, and that’s definitely one of the tougher things to do, is to try to compete on hardware with these massive, massive companies. But there are some startups doing it.
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