50 years of CES: Consumer Electronics Show, 5-8 January, Las Vegas

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This year is the 50th year of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) – the Consumer Technology Association’s tech event in Las Vegas. From 5-8th January, more than 3,800 companies will exhibit their latest innovations to around 165,000 attendees from all over the world. That includes some of IBM’s IoT blog team (you didn’t think we’d miss this, did you?) We’ll be scouting for the latest IoT innovations and posting what we find from the event. In the meantime, here’s a quick introduction to the history of CES.

The history of CES: where it all began

The first CES opened its doors 50 years ago in the summer of 1967, New York City. On show were technological innovations considered eye-poppingly wondrous at the time: transistor radios, stereos, and black and white TVs, to name just a few.

We’ve come a long way since then, but it’s also true that some of the technology on show at CES over the years has shaped the future of the Internet of Things. Here’s a quick look at how far we’ve come in the last 50 years:

The 1960s: stereos, radio and the man on the moon

The first CES showcased the work of companies whose names are still familiar, including Panasonic, Motorola and Packard Bell. It was the era of the first home entertainment systems, bringing affordable black and white TV-sets – and a window to the world – to many households. Just one month after CES 1969, public interest in science and technology rocketed when Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon.

The 1970s: TVs, turntables and the VCR

The 70s was the decade of the VCR: an invention that made its first appearance at CES 1970, and dramatically changed the way we consume video content. For the first time, it became possible to record a television programme straight from the TV to watch at a more convenient time. This capability paved the way for today’s on-demand content providers.

The 1980s: Car stereos, cordless phones and digital watches

While we may choose to forget the fluorescent spandex and big hair, there’s no denying that the 80s was an extraordinary decade for innovation. The availability of VCR tech, gaming devices and early portable computers meant a real boom in home entertainment that we’re reaping the benefits of today. Dungeons and Dragons, for example, made its debut at CES in the 80s and is still a big favourite to this day.

Portability was on the rise too; cordless phones offered freedom to talk from anywhere in the house, and car stereos meant you could take your music on your commute.

The 1990s: The Internet comes to stay

The mid to late 90s saw widespread adoption of the Internet, as commercial networks and enterprises embraced the idea that they could link together and share information. Affordable, user-friendly PCs meant that the information superhighway was available to many more besides the super rich, and slowly the convenience of online communication began to change our lives. Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) made a popular entrance too – like slightly clunkier versions of a school calculator, these palm-held devices worked like a digital address book / diary, electronically storing contacts and appointments.

Information at your fingertips: the beginnings of the connected world

In the history of CES certain trends have become apparent: the desire for freedom, for easy access to information and for connection – whether that’s between businesses, people and even objects. We have seen cordless phones gradually give way to battery-powered mobile phones, with the ability to send text messages to other devices as well as to make calls.

Now our mobile phones have moved beyond communication alone. Our devices became multi-faceted – capable of many different tasks, controlled via a simple, single interface. From our phones we can check the weather, set an alarm, schedule appointments, make calls, instantly share photos and video footage and track our location.

What’s next for the IoT?

The beauty of the Internet of Things is that a single device doesn’t need to handle all these tasks alone – it can share data with other devices too, so that we have a plethora of options at our fingertips. Smartphones are already talking to our fridges, ovens, home entertainment systems, TVs and computers. So what’s next? Perhaps this year’s CES will show us.

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