The Consumer Electronics Show happened this week in Las Vegas. There was a time when this was an international event, as everyone wanted to see the latest electronic gadgets that were about to hit the market. The pace of change was so quick, every year featured cool new ideas and concepts that promised to alter how we experience our entertainments. There was also the futuristic factor, as companies would preview what cool new technology they were about to bring from the lab to your home.
That’s no longer the case as the consumer electronics business seems to have run out of road, as far as cool new ideas. This is apparent in the troubles Apple is suddenly facing. It makes a cool looking toy, but there’s nothing unique about an iPhone. It does what all the phones do now. The gap between it and the low end brands is not enough to warrant a premium. This is an issue turning up all across the consumer electronics space. There’s just no new technology to make any of it “must have” or any brand unique.
The big new idea this year is 8K TV, which is just becoming a reality. TV makers have made 4K the default now. Everyone hopes these super high resolution TV’s will spark a revolution in both accessory items and the content itself. So far, 4K has not made much of an impact on consumers. It turns out that better resolution does not improve the quality of the content. That was true of HD, but at least those sets looked cool and they were much easier to move around the living room. They also made 80-inch screens possible.
That’s the tell with this stuff. If a new technology has an impact on the consumer, it can first sell at a premium. That was the case with HD television. Middle-class white guys in the suburbs built man caves around their big screen. That did not happen with 4K television as people just ignored it until the price dropped to normal levels. That means the same will happen with 8K. The resolution and sound of the television has reached the point where it is more than good enough for the majority of people.
Manufacturers have known this for a while, which is why they invested heavily in virtual reality. Virtual reality or some other immersive technology is the assumed to be the next step, but people don’t seem to like the idea. VR headsets have been out for a while and they have been a big flop with the public. Part of it is you look like an idiot wearing the things and no one wants to look ridiculous. The experience so far is less virtual reality and more altered reality, like being on hallucinogens.
There’s also the fact that virtual reality will probably not work anything like the electronics makers imagine. Human perception is something we know little about and what we think we know we have all wrong. Much of our reality is probably generated by our brains from stimuli that we get through our senses. We’re not living in the matrix, but we are living in a stripped down version of reality. Out brains consumer just what is necessary to build a reality from information stored in our brains that we accumulated in life.
Otherwise, the “new” stuff coming from electronics makers is increasingly ridiculous implementations of things like voice activation. A voice activated parasol was probably fun to design, but it is entirely useless. In fact, voice activated stuff will most likely fail miserably for two reasons. One is the idiocy of it. Just think of how annoying it is to talk to a robot on the phone when dealing with the bank or pharmacist. No matter how good the technology gets, you will always know you are talking to a thing and that feels dumb.
The other factor is privacy. You have to be close to retarded to invite these devices into your home, given what we already know about the tech firms. If the mobile carriers are willing to sell your location data in real-time to anyone who wants to buy it, including criminals, then they will sell your private conversations in real time too. Just as prisoners figure out how to make their cells a private space, the future means the home becomes a technology free area, so people can have an escape from the panopticon.
The end of the road for consumer electronics will no doubt have an impact on video content creation. Something that has gone unnoticed is how the technological revolution transferred billions every year from consumers to the entertainment business, without much change in the content. If anything, the result was more bad content and much more propaganda. The selling of the poz is so over the top now, it is intolerable. That suggests the content makers are ripe for “disruption” as the cool kids say.
A hint of it is in the audio space. It took a while, but the mp3 altered music and spoken word formats. People still listen to talk radio, for example, but the switch to podcasts and live streams is happening quickly. Like evening news shows, terrestrial radio is the thing that appeals to older people. It has no future. In all probability, we are on the cusp of a similar revolution in video content. It will have different contours, but the end result will be a radical change in the economics of entertainment.
Of course the petering out of the consumer electronics revolution will have economic consequences. The PC revolution ran its course, just as we are seeing with home entertainment and mobile phones. At the end, we quickly saw a consolidation and commoditization of the market. No one thinks much about the big name computer makers and in time no one will care who makes their television or smart phone. These household names will either move onto other things or go out of business.