National News

You Asked About CES 2018 (and Robot Strippers). We Answered.

Posted January 10, 2018 9:22 p.m. EST

LAS VEGAS — At the International CES show this week in Las Vegas, which is one of the year’s biggest technology trade shows, we asked readers to set the agenda by asking questions about the tech that most interested them.

Here’s an edited selection of the more than 150 questions that were asked, and our answers.

Why does Apple, the most valuable company in the world, boycott CES?

— Peter Fischetti, Panama City Beach, Florida

Apple doesn’t exhibit at trade shows in general. In 2008, Steve Jobs announced that Apple was pulling out of Macworld Expo, the Apple-centric trade show, where he had previously announced a number of important Apple products, including the original iPhone in 2007. Apple’s reasoning was that the company had retail stores all over the world that could showcase Apple products. In addition, the company had the clout and budget to host keynotes — or marketing events to unveil products — independent of a giant trade show, where companies are competing for media attention. Many companies, like Amazon, Samsung Electronics and Google, have followed suit and introduced products at their own events.

Here’s what’s interesting: Over my last decade attending CES, Apple cast a long shadow over the conference despite not having an official presence. Many companies were making things that worked with the iPhone or iPad, like cases, speakers or apps. But this year, Apple doesn’t seem very relevant here.

The show now revolves around Amazon and Google and their battle for domination over voice assistants. There are a good number of companies here showing smart home products that work with Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant but that skip out on Apple’s HomeKit because of its stricter privacy requirements and extra certification fees. So the show seems to have moved on from one giant to two others.

What does it say about the state of tech companies and organizations that there are no female keynote speakers at CES, yet there are female robot strippers being showcased at the event?

— Bianca, Texas

Yes, the pole-dancing strippers were a real thing at a strip club this week. While they weren’t officially affiliated with CES, they were an effective gimmick to lure CES attendees into the club. Still, your point is valid: CES has a diversity problem. The majority of featured keynote speakers are men.

In some ways, that mirrors the tech industry. The overwhelming majority of tech executives in Silicon Valley are white men. Tech companies have acknowledged their diversity issues, but over the years there has been little progress.

What “left-field” finds did you stumble upon?

— Paul Gervais, Boston

I saw some pretty goofy gadgets, like a piece of rolling luggage with an electric scooter built into it. Can you imagine riding your luggage through the crowd at the airport?

I also saw a robot sherpa — it was basically a big trunk for carrying heavy objects — that follows you around as you walk. It had sensors to avoid colliding with you.

How long will it take for new large smart appliances like refrigerators and washing machines to begin to pop up in the average American home or apartment?

— Hunter, Baltimore

It will probably be a very long time. Many of these smart appliances have premium price tags. A smart refrigerator with Alexa controls, for example, costs upward of $4,000. It’s unclear why you would pay that much for a refrigerator when you can just put a cheap Echo Dot ($50) on your counter.

It’s also important to note that smart appliances have been around for many years. There are high-end ranges priced upward of $5,000 that include buttons you can press to tell the oven what you are cooking so it can set the temperature and time accordingly. At the end of the day, these features are a novelty: If you’re going to spend that much on a range, you’re probably a pretty good cook and know what temperature and timing to use to cook a roast or casserole.

Smart home appliances need to be cheaper and have more useful applications before they reach the mainstream. Until then, they are an impractical luxury.

Are mobile phones trending toward more user-friendly or less user-friendly this year?

— Ross Beane, New York City

Less friendly.

If you look at the sheer number of features that Apple and Google keep adding to iOS and Android year after year, mobile operating systems are becoming increasingly complex. (As an iOS user, I find the Mail app’s user interface confusing, and I find it perplexing that Apple hid the useful Airdrop feature in a menu that is difficult to find.)

In addition, now that Apple has nixed the physical home button on the iPhone X, the way we use phones is poised to change significantly in the coming year. In both Android and iOS, we are increasingly relying on touch gestures that are not as intuitive as pressing a physical button.

I just purchased a 4K, OLED HDR TV. Anything at CES suggest it will be obsolete anytime soon?

— Michael, Elmhurst, Illinois

Nope, you’re in good shape. At CES, LG demonstrated a so-called 8K TV, which has quadruple the resolution of 4K TV. But rest assured that your 4K OLED HDR TV, which is the best type of television you can buy right now, won’t be obsolete for years.

That’s because content makers are taking their sweet time to transition from 1080p resolution to 4K, meaning there isn’t much 4K video to watch right now, but more will be coming over time. In addition, streaming devices like the Apple TV just recently added support for 4K video. In other words, we’re only at the beginning of the adoption curve with these TVs, so sit back and enjoy your fancy set.

I’ve been attending CES for five years and feel really underwhelmed by the products showcased at the event this year. Has CES gotten too big? Does it need to be more selective?

— PG, New York City

That is definitely the sentiment among journalists and exhibitors I’ve chatted with this week. I think this year is an incremental phase in consumer technology.

A couple of years ago, virtual reality was the hot new tech at CES, with brand-new products like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive headsets that worked very well. And Alexa was just starting to become popular, along with smart home accessories. This year, we’re seeing those technologies mature with improved features that make them more capable. That isn’t very exciting, but at the end of the day, consumers will be getting better products in the coming year.

How has the Spectre/Meltdown vulnerabilities been addressed at CES, if they have been?

— Jeffrey, Ozone Park, Queens, New York

Brian Krzanich, Intel’s chief executive, gave a keynote speech at CES. Unsurprisingly, he downplayed the repercussions of Spectre and Meltdown, two security flaws that affect nearly all microprocessors in computers and smartphones, by saying the company has not heard any reports about people whose data was stolen as a result of Spectre or Meltdown. (How would anyone even know if they were victims in the first place?)

His statement was disappointing because downplaying the problem could make consumers complacent. Meltdown can be fixed with software updates for your operating system, browser and other important apps. But Spectre is an issue that can’t be completely fixed with a software patch; tech companies can only mitigate the vulnerability with software updates. The bottom line is you have to be diligent about keeping your software up-to-date. And you should also run an ad blocker to prevent malicious code from infecting you through ad networks when you’re browsing the web.