By adaptive - January 11th, 2016

There were drones and phones and wearables, oh my. But CES lacked the raw innovation and flair for the dramatic of the past few years. Nonetheless, we went, we played, we had a good time. Andrew Tolve reports.

In this week’s Digest: CES, Audi, GM, Lyft, Uber, Chevy, Detroit Auto Show, Samsung, LG, Panasonic, Netatmo, Sleep Number, Marathon Laundry, Kodak, Polaroid, Sony, Technics, Ehang, Segway, Intel, Xiaomi, FitBit, Carl Zeiss, Oculus, Google, Lenovo and Race Against Slime 2.

In the news

Since when has CES become a car show? Last year Audi dominated headlines at the annual consumer electronics bonanza with a self-driving car that had treked from Silicon Valley to Las Vegas without a single human intervention. This year, GM delivered the biggest news of the show with a $500 million investment in ridesharing company Lyft. The two plan to pursue autonomous vehicles together, with the ultimate goal of riders being able to summon self-driving transportation to their locations with a simple tap of an app. Sound familiar Uber? The race is definitely on between these two ridesharing juggernauts. In the short term GM will give Lyft drivers access to OnStar and will create special rental hubs outfitted with GM cars for Lyft drivers.

In the money

You heard it: $500 million from GM to Lyft.

Also: $30,000. That was the price point that Chevy was able to hit with its new Chevy Bolt EV, which has a range of greater than 200 miles on a single charge. Carmakers around the globe have been trying to break that threshold (less than $30k, more than 200 miles) for years. Chevy just pulled it off, and it made it official at CES — rather than at next week’s Detroit Auto Show in its own backyard.

In other news

Of course there were gadgets in Vegas, as well, and gizmos and droids galore. The biggest trend this year was the smarthome, which transformed from a vague talking point in the Internet of Things conversation into a tangible array of products on display. Giant staged homes rose around the exhibition hall for conference goers to amble through as they played with smart fridges, smart appliances, smart beds, you name it.

Let’s start with the fridges. Samsung debuted a fridge with a pair of touchscreens on the doors. Tap them and up pop apps just like on a smartphone. Want to view recipes? There they are, right on your fridge. Want to order groceries? Done. Want to see what food you have in your fridge while shopping at the grocery store? In-fridge cameras beam a real-time image to your smartphone so you don’t buy an extra pint of milk.

LG had a Wi-Fi-enabled fridge with a foot sensor that opens the door and a black touchscreen for a door. Tap on it twice and the screen illuminates to show the groceries chilling inside.

Smarter showed off mats with sensors and cameras that can be mounted into any fridge — even the old one that chortles and huffs in the corner of your kitchen right now. $130 to $150 estimated retail.

Elsewhere in the smarthome, Panasonic showed off a built-in smart food pantry, smart speakers embedded in rugs/carpets and a home monitoring system that works in sync with a smartphone.

French company Netatmo unveiled Presence, an outdoor camera that can distinguish between a pet, a car, and a person. Based on the user’s preferences, it can throw a floodlight on anyone of these and send mobile alerts to a phone or in-house system.

Sleep Number debuted a smart bed, the “it bed”, with biometric sensors built into the mattresses. The result: a bed that tracks your body hundreds of times per second, from heart rate to breathing to movement, then sends it all to your smartphone for your enlightenment (or exhaustion). Retail around $1000.

Marathon Laundry had a smart washer/dryer on display — and here the slash is well-earned. The washer is the dryer, and the dryer the washer, all in one single drum. The appliance offers a battery of connected features to boot. Saved user profiles to remember washing preferences, energy tracking, alarms sent to smartphones when a load is done.

On and on the smarthome tech went.

Another big theme at CES this year: Back to the future. Cameras that aren’t digital. Music players that won’t play it.

Kodak made waves with its revival of the Super 8, a film camera half a century old. There’s really nothing new here, either, other than a company betting that new generations will be drawn to old stuff — especially at a time when fancy devices do everything for us at the expense of getting our hands dirty. Kodak says the device will retail for around $400 and that it has built a whole Super 8 Revival roadmap that includes a range of cameras, film development services, post production tools and more.

Then there was the Polaroid Snap camera, which eschews anything digital in favor of a simple printing mechanism that pops out prints of a picture in real time on Zink paper — in color, black and white or sepia. Retail is $100. The Snap+ connects to a smartphone to let you see what your picture looks like before printing.

On the music front, Sony debuted the PS-HX500 turntable for all those classic vinyl records collecting dust in your closet. The turntable will convert LPs from analog to digital WAV files if listeners would like, but it makes no effort to play the latest streaming tunes from Apple Music or Spotify.

Same story with Technics, the parent company of the SL-1200 turntable that pretty much every DJ on the planet has cut his or her teeth on. At CES, Technics showed off two new grand class turntables in celebration of the SL-1200’s 50th anniversary: the SL-1200G and a limited edition SL-1200GAE. Pricing yet to be released.

There were some cool new drones on display, none cooler than an autonomous helicopter drone from Chinese manufacturer Ehang. It seats one, speeds along at 60+ miles per hour and climbs to an altitude of 11,480 feet, which is a third of the way up Everest. The drone is still in prototype form; no word on when it will go to retail or for how much.

Segway showed off its Advanced Personal Robot, a mashup of futuristic hoverboard and old world butler. The hoverboard functions just like the segways you’ve seen whisking beneath mall cops. The butler hides out of view while you’re riding it, then pops out on command to hold your groceries, grab your laundry, walk your dog … Segway, Intel and Xiaomi are partnering on the initiative.

Wearables were all the rage last year at CES; this year, they felt like old hat. Sure, there were smartwatches on display from all the usual suspects, with new entries like the Blaze from activity tracker FitBit. The Blaze doesn’t support third-party apps and relies on smartphone-pairing for GPS.

Also, German eyeglass maker Carl Zeiss had a pair of smart lenses on hand; the goal is to show that a Google-Glass-esque concept can actually be integrated into a normal, even trendy pair of regular glasses. Zeiss’s break through is to beam a tiny heads-up display onto a curved lens, much the way a heads-up display projects onto a windshield in a car. The lens is still in prototype.

On the virtual reality front, Oculus was there with a giant box booth devoted to Rift, and Samsung was there with a megapolis devoted to its Gear VR, but there was little innovation to speak of save for a pair of 360-degree gaming gloves that pair with Gear VR from the Samsung folks.

Smartphones also fell a little flat. The biggest news came from Google and Lenovo, which announced that the first smartphone from Project Tango will hit stores this summer globally. Project Tango uses a combination of 3D motion tracking and depth sensing to give a phone the ability to know where it is and how it moves through space. Lenovo says its phone will retail for less than $500 and could feature the likes of precise navigation without GPS, windows into virtual 3D worlds and games that know where they are in the room and what’s around them.

Finally, remember the Race Against Slime 2 holiday drive we documented just before Christmas? The campaign ended up raising $250,000 for charity, all thanks to people downloading the app at a peak rate of 35,000 downloads an hour and killing slugs on their smartphones. Shows what the power of so-called Stupid Games can be when channeled for good. Let’s all try to do a little more of that in the new year.

Happy 2016!

The Mobile Digest is a biweekly lowdown on the world of mobile, combining Open Mobile Media analysis with information from industry press releases.

Andrew Tolve is a regular contributor to Open Mobile Media. 

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