The Futurist: That Most Wonderful Time of the Year or… A First Look at the 2007 CES

In this very special episode of The Futurist, we take a myopic look into the future. Three weeks into the future, that is, to a land called Las Vegas and an event called CES — the annual tech orgy where PR people treat men’s mag product reviewers to lap dances, the smell of choco-fountains permeates the air of every corridor, and there is nary a blogger around without sore cankles from endless meeting-shuffling.

While surprises will inevitably pop up, and my propensity for signing my name on any NDA agreement thrown in my face prevents me from disclosing a few of the things that I do know, there’s still a lot we can surmise about what lies just around the temporal corner.

This week we take a look at a few of the things we can expect to see next month. I’ve thrown in a couple of notable tech items that could pop up, but am mostly focusing on the interesting foibles and show mechanics that are worth keeping an eye on as CES marches on towards in inevitable E3-like self-destructive fate. And, after every one of my predictions inevitably proves wrong, you can throw printouts of this column in my face.

Click the jump to gaze into the crystal ball, and don’t forget to check back here in January for CrunchGear’s around-the-clock coverage of CES…

Guitar Hero for the Wii
Imagine a wireless Guitar Hero controller especially made for the Wii that tracks your movements and causes your little rock God avatar mimic them. That would only be the greatest game ever. And don’t think it hasn’t crossed those crazy Nintendo game wizards’ minds…

PR Squatters
Setting up a CES booth ain’t cheap. Not only does the CEA charge PS3-level prices for floor space, but many of these massive constructions are literally multi-room, multi-floor buildings built to stand for a week before being dismantled into landfill-filler (my favorite last year was iRiver’s—they made a miniature nightclub-type shack, complete with plush couches, a DJ, and, of course, booth babes.) For some companies, the investment may just not seem quite worth it, and getting a journo to schlep across town to your suite at the Caeser’s for a private meeting is a lost cause. That’s why we can expect to see lots of skeezy PR people with their radars on the lookout for journalists with primo name tags (national TV, large circ magazines, and top newspapers can expect the most hounding), as they try to push their wares without paying rent.

Mobile TV
Current shoreside offerings are slim and nowhere near Korea-quality. Obviously, the key will be to get live feeds of stations we want to watch, not cruddy mobi-sodes featuring the supporting cast of The Office (a show I love) or, my favorite, the Hawaiian Tropics Bikini Contest (Sprint sells clips of this softest of softcore porn for a mere $6.99-or-so per month. Thanks, Sprint!) Leading the charge this year will be MediaFlo, but also keep your eye on HTC-teamed Modeo and their Foreseer phone. And it’s pretty much a given that our CDMAers Sprint and Verizon will grab an early lead in this department. Cingular will likely pull a close third, with budget and party-minded T-Mobile bringing up the rear. Look out for all four, as well as the MVNOs, to tout 2007 as the year of the mobile video, and then to repeat that proclamation next year when no one uses it. Also, look out for dark horse Sling Media, whose Sling Mobile app (which premiered at last year’s convention) may very well pour cold water on this industry’s Goliaths before it ever hits critical mass.

Small Companies, Big Booths
The Main Hall is traditionally dominated by a few ginormous “booths” (the word is kind of a misnomer, considering that some of them are warehouse-sized), but expect the new wave of no-namers to try to steal some prestige by setting up shop in decent sized spaces next door to Sony and Samsung. Last year, Korean mini-monolith Coby pulled out some prime Main Hall real estate a stone’s throw Panasonic. Expect Vizio, Sceptre, and loads of other companies that I haven’t heard of to blow their entire year’s marketing budget by trying the same this time. This is their chance to show they can run with the big boys, and nothing says “B-list” like setting up shop in the South Hall (or, God forbid, the Sands), where iPod accessory and Indian microprocessor companies feel at home.

The Parties
Schlepping around the convention centers is only part of a good CES attendee’s job. Just as important are the parties — necessary for journos to fuse those bonds of trust with PR people that lead to NDAs and hugs. If you’re in town, try your best to get on the list for Motorola (last year’s motoPRTY featured the Foo Fighters), Monster Cable (Stevie Wonder), and Kodak (an ethically-questionable gift bag).

The PlayStation 3 Memorial Award
It’s hard to say for sure who the first recipient will be of our annual award for the product that makes the most trade show rounds before ever showing up on a store shelf, but the smart money is on SED TVs (in all fairness, they never claimed to have them available before late 2007). Throw your nominations in “Comments,” as well as any other CES predictions you’ve got up your sleaves.

Seth Porges writes on future technology and its role in personal electronics for his column, The Futurist. It appears every Thursday and an archive of past columns is available here.