CES blog: But do we really want them?

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Walking the cavernous halls of the Las Vegas Convention Centre on Thursday afternoon in search of the innovation promised in the last entry, I had cause to recall the first law of entrepreneurialism according to the great Homer Simpson, as told to his brother Herb, who was trying to borrow money to launch a new product.

The gist of the advice was, don’t waste cash inventing something new, “just add a clock to an existing product”.

Nowhere was this approach to consumer electronics in evidence more than in the automotive sector where enterprising automotive entertainment companies have found a quite extraordinary array of places to put television screens.

Going on a trip this weekend? Can’t bear to be away from Friends for 48 hours? No problem. Just put a 17 inch screen – with dozens of audio speakers – in the trunk!

Got a four by four truck on 60 inch tyres and can’t see up into the vehicle to watch the game? That’s no bar to audio visual heaven, just stick tiny screens into the bottom of the open doors.

There’s clearly no shortage of money in the accounts of automotive nuts.

It was much the same throughout the rest of the Convention Centre, where the much-hyped media/telecommunications/technology was much in evidence.

On the Intel stand the digital living room; outside the hall Microsoft technology embedded in a petrol pump; at Korean electronic group LG, a quite fabulous new portable media player developed in conjunction with Verizon.

Nothing new exactly, just lots of existing platforms and services skilfully and beautifully blended into lots of existing devices, with improvements such as High Definition making it all look and sound better than could ever have been imagined.

The underlying technology is, of course, brutally complicated and fantastically expensive to develop – well beyond the pockets of the Simpson dynasty.

And some of it is absolutely, jaw-droppingly fabulous. And, yes, innovative, but not particularly revolutionary.

What it all confirms, as Bill Gates pointed out on Wednesday evening, is that this is truly the digital decade, and with broadband wireless and fixed networks, and ever-improving technological performance we are on the verge of being able to consume our media everywhere and always.

The only question that remains to be resolved, is whether we all want it.

But if the automotive exhibition is any guide, if you build it, they will come.

ben.hunt@ft.com

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