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CES: a hundred devices to rule them all

What this year's CES means for consumers

What struck me most about this year's CES was the sheer variety of products on show. Far from consolidating, personal tech grows ever more diverse. And that's a good thing.

 Beside reacquainting myself with proper tea and chips, writing this piece is the first thing I've attempted since stepping off the plane from Las Vegas, where I attended CES. This IT tradeshow, along with February's Mobile World Congress, has become a key event in the tech calendar.

If you want to take the pulse of the technology world, you need to go to the show. It's why we travel – why else would anyone take a fully paid trip to Las Vegas or Barcelona?

It's a privilege, of course, and one only slightly offset by the tendency of everyone you meet on your return to ask 'what was the best thing you saw?' Reasonable though that query is, we're living in a technology world so diverse that it's impossible to answer.

At CES I saw personal computing products great, bad and indifferent, ranging in size from tiny phones to hulking great smart fridges. I saw displays from 2in to 100in, with all manner of connected technology installed within, and software that can do almost anything. More importantly, I witnessed a subtle shift in the way we evaluate and use technology.

The hunt has long been on for a single device to rule them all. The assumption has been that if one piece of technology was sufficiently good, it could be all things to all people. What's happened instead is that even amazing products such as Apple's iPhone and iPad are merely great for certain tasks. The iPhone's a brilliant portable entertainment and productivity device, but you wouldn't want to use it to type a dissertation. And though it's possible, who would actually use an iPad as a phone?

Throw in the fact that the vast majority of iDevice users have Windows systems, and you'll see what I'm getting at. For a proportion of the tech-savvy population, the ‘one device' that rules is a Windows laptop or PC, with two Apple devices as peripherals.

You could add an Android or BlackBerry phone or tablet, and an Amazon or Sony e-book reader, and still have a feasible multiplatform, multiscreen setup. This happens, in the real world. And this divergence is only set to increase, putting PC technology into every corner of every home.

From connected TVs to smart fridges and cookers, innovation in the microchip, display and software worlds is bringing into the reach of consumers a multitude of products. Rather than coalesce around a single platform, form factor or device, people are choosing to express themselves via a plethora of tech toys, their individuality reflected in combinations, rather than single gadgets.

Cloud computing is allowing consumers to access media from gadgets large and small, and a variety of platforms. And even as they do battle, Google, Apple, Microsoft, BlackBerry, Amazon and the rest know that they need to make their devices able to talk to their rivals', and their services accessible to all.

In the short term this makes keeping up with the neighbours an expensive business. But in the medium- to long-term diversity can only be a good thing for consumers.

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