The Digital Skeptic: What's Dumb at CES 2013

LAS VEGAS ( TheStreet) -- If what's going down up here at this year's International Consumer Electronics Show is any indication, foolishness won't be taking a holiday in 2013.

Maybe it's the dry desert air, the go-nowhere economy or, for the first time I can recall, the fact that Apple ( AAPL) is not sucking the oxygen out of this event with a looming product announcement, but confusion definitely reigns here in the high Mojave.

Sure, the Toshibas, HPs ( HPQ) and Dells ( DELL) of the world are working the room hard making the case for Windows 8 PCs. And 3-D printing is also working the room: Firms such as Sculpteo, MakerBot, Stratasys and 3D Systems are all showing advancements in spraying thin layers of plastic to make stuff.

And there are, in fact, some great products.

Take my 48-hour demo with Sennheiser's $1,000 IE 800 In-ear headphones. Axel Grell, the audio genius behind these headsets, told me he that spent four years creating a brand-new transducer that solves most earbud issues, then insisted the units be built by hand outside of Hanover, Germany, from the ceramics dental surgeons use. These units set the bar for excellence at CES 2013.

But all of this masks some simply ridiculous blunders.

Apple not showing up
I am going to tell you the secret of CES. Brand giant Apple may not show up to the show, but that does not mean they ignore it. Steve Jobs was always very careful to tease a major product announcement over CES to distract from the event.

Not this year.

Not one of the literally dozens of analysts, product managers, other journalists and buyers I have spoken here weren't startled by how much of a non-factor Apple is at this year's CES.

"Apple will continue to amaze, certainly," Carrie Cowan, a product marketing manager for Toshiba, explained to me while doing an in-depth product demo on the 64th floor of THEhotel at Mandalay Bay. " But I am not getting the level of questions I used to get about how my products compete with theirs."

But Apple is still Apple, and its answer to Windows 8 will almost certainly be one of the big questions in 2013. But it feels significant that Apple missed this moment to beat the iDrum. If the Apple bashers are on to something, Q1 2013 might just turn out to be the high mark before the slide.

It's still the screen, stupid
The CES 2013 show floor is a display slum. Among the dead men wandering around here are 3-D, ultra-high-definition and traditional PC displays. All are either non-starters or mature markets. Reports from bright people such as Craig Stice at IHS iSuppli Market Intelligence nail the vibe: When the counting is done, the numbers will probably show that PC shipments declined in 2012 for the first time in a decade.

But -- and this is a big but -- this does not mean 2013 will suck for screens. Analysts, product manager and designers all say there are important steps ahead in incremental increases in screen size, screens' ability to render to their edges and even the use of the sides of smartphones. That's right: The bevels will show an image. While not as flashy as, say, flexible display, these improvements will amp up the portable devices experience and unlock value in touch-based elections.  

It is not an accident that major display giants, namely Samsung, are flaunting gaudy concept displays such as translucent, flexible and drastically thinner screens.

Pay attention, Apple lovers: I would not be shocked if the yet-to-be released Galaxy S IV, with dramatically improved screen, will be the device of year.

Ignoring the tabletop PC
Speaking of interesting niches in electronics, take the tabletop PC. These are nothing new -- Microsoft ( MSFT) demoed one here back in 2008, if I remember right.

But Table PCs are poised for a breakthrough. Both 3M ( MMM) and Lenovo are showing interesting tabletop units, including an 84-inch collaborative work computer and 27-inch coffee table PC.

"These PCs work as tables. Anybody can touch them," said Sam Dusi, vice president of marketing intelligence and analysis for Lenovo. "They let groups work on the same computer. The apps that support this work. And the costs are not out of line."

To me, ignoring riffs on the PC such as this would be a mistake.
This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.