Virtually new products at CES but not much else

7 January 2016 by Steve Blum
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Virtual reality is ready for a break out into the mass market, but augmented reality is not offering a compelling product to consumers yet. It was hard to find a gee-whiz proposition while wandering through the Las Vegas Convention Center today at CES, or indeed much of anything that was significantly different from last year. Except for the virtual reality headsets and the long lines of (mostly) guys waiting for their turn to try one out.

Occulus seems to be emerging as the gold standard in the market. Compatibility with the platform was widely touted by VR entrants looking to generate some quick credibility, much like companies with new home automation products did with Nest last year.

The Consumer Technology Association – the rebranded host of CES – is predicting that virtual reality will be a $540 million product category this year, with 1.2 million units sold.

I tried Samsung’s Gear VR demo, which involved a $99 headset adaptor that turned one of their top end mobile phones into a VR player. It was fun surfing in Tahiti for a couple of minutes. If you already have a new Galaxy 6, it’s a no brainer add on. It’ll run Occulus games and interactive content, such as a day hanging out with LeBron James, that Samsung is producing. As far as I know, it’s the first time that Samsung has dipped a toe in the content creation world.

Augmented reality, on the other hand, was a non-starter. The prevalent application was previewing home improvements and decorating options. I didn’t see any applications or consumer-friendly products that would appeal to a mass audience.

The highlight of the day was stumbling on a live celebrity interview with Edward Snowden, the fugitive nemesis of the National Security Agency, via a Suitabletech telepresence robot. Peter Diamondus, of X-Prize and Singularity fame, had a friendly and fascinating conversation with him. More on that tomorrow.