CES 2015: webOS, tablets and funky tv’s

The 2015 International CES is over.  Among the products and product lines shown off were curved Televisions, 4K TV, ‘quantum dot’ TV, TV dongles, tablets, smartphones and accessories, self driving cars and more computers-of all shapes and sizes. Oh, and smart watches and fitness bands. Lots of them.

So, where do we start?  Well, lets start with one of my favorite operating systems. This OS is now in televisions, phones and … soon, smart watches.  Yep, webOS is making a splash with LG spearheading the way.  They purchased the OS from HP in 2013 and began adapting it for use in smart televisions.  The first effort, while it sold five million televisions, was less than stallear. webOS 2.0, however, is said to be fast and easier to code for than the previous release.  It has also been shrunk down to watch size.  LG has, seemingly, teamed with Audi to produce a watch that can open the car doors, place calls and a plethora of things.  LG denies it and Audi was just trying to show off the car.  The Verge reports seeing an ‘about’ screen that shows the webOS version.  For a dead OS, it sure is making a splash.  The interesting thing is that, at the current rate, LG will have more webOS devices in the wild than Palm/HP Palm ever could.

Intel showed off its Compute Stick, an HDMI dongle for your Television that is a complete Windows computer on a stick.  Selling for $149, the Compute Stick features an Atom processor, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of storage and features a micro-SD slot for future expansion. So, it is a rather spartan PC, but, it is very portable and Wifi enabled,so you could just throw it in a bag, your pocket, whatever and take it with you instead of a laptop. The drawbacks, of course, are that you do need a keyboard and mouse AND an HDMI enabled display. But, if you don’t mind these limitations, the Stick might just be your travelling companion.  A cheaper, $89 version running Linux will also be available.  Though, the Linux version sports half the RAM and only 8GB of storage.

I’m no Sony fan, but, I would definitely purchase their newest 65 inch set. This thing is 4.9 mm thick. The 4K set is thinner than most current smartphones.  It is edge to edge awesomness.

In a big nod to Microsoft’s Surface tablets, a group of former Google engineers introduced the Remix. To be offered up next month via a Kickstarter campaign, the device has many of the same features of Surface, looks like the Surface and its software, another Android fork, even resembles Windows 8 applications and its mail client is a rip off of Windows 8 mail.  Still, It says much about Surface that these gentlemen would decide to ‘me too’ the tablet.

Speaking of tablets, there were plenty to choose from. From a six inch Windows tablet all the way up to a 65 inch, 4k enabled tablet from FUHU.  Perhaps the most interesting ones, however, are the under $150 Windows tablets which are going to be available in the next month or so.  There were no new Kindles, but there were a bunch of Android tablets as well. No one tablet really stood out (well, maybe that 65 incher) but they were all well represented.  Have a look on CNet’s News.Com for more.

For a complete wrap up of the events at CES, the Verge has a good summary.

Atari: the company with nine lives (five are used, four to go…)

atariboxPoor Atari.  They announced that they are going bankrupt. Again.  The US arm of Atari filed for bankruptcy and intends to sell of its most prized possessions: it’s intellectual property from the 1970’s and 80’s as well as the name and logo.  That means we will very likely see yet another company claim the Atari name and sell remakes of games like Battlezone, Pong and Asteroids.

This will be the sixth incarnation of the storied name. Yep, sixth. Let’s take a look at the history of this company.

Atari, with Nolan Bushnell at the helm, began in 1972. Initially, the company sold a game called ‘Computer Space’, but it was complicated and, aside from being a cool prop in several movies, never gained any traction. The company’s next venture, Pong, was a huge hit. The company went on to develop home versions and, after settling a lawsuit with Magnavox over the home video game, had some success in that market. They developed the VCS but lacked resources to marked the new console. In steps Warner Brothers and sale number 1.

Warner held on to the company until 1984, when the market crashed.  Enter Jack Tramiel, founder of Commodore.  Sale number 2 happens. (The arcade division was sold to Midway Games.)

Tramiel had some success with Atari by marketing decent home computers. In 1986, he decided to market and support a new console, the 7800, which was actually ready to go to market in 1984, when he bought the company. Not wanting to sink the company in a market that was now dead, Tramiel shelved the console. By 1986, Nintendo and Sega were seeing a renewed interest in home gaming, so he introduced the now obsolete console. He also brought out a smaller and cheaper version of the renamed VCS (the 2600.)  Atari languished for the next few years and was reverse merged with the much smaller JTS company, a maker of mass storage for computers.  Sale number 3.

Not long after that sale, Hasbro Interactive purchased the name and assets of Atari.  Sale number 4.

Hasbro Interactive was then sold to Infogrames in 2000. Infogrames renames itself Atari, SA in 2001. The US division, GT Interactive, becomes Atari, Inc.

During the intervening years between JTS’s sale and Hasbro’s sale, nostalgia swept in and, suddenly, old Atari games were hot again. Other dead consoles also saw renewed interest and Atari’s biggest competitor in the 80’s, Intellivision, was probably more popular that it was new as a result of this nostalgia.  Indeed, I had to go off and buy every old game collection I could find. Atari VCS games, Intellivision games and others in both software collections for Windows and actual hardware like those plug and play units. 

What’s interesting, however, is the curse that seems to follow the Atari brand. Every company that has utilized the name has either gone out of business or was sold. Hasbro, perhaps, was most successful and that attracted the eye of the French company, Infogrames.  Even they, though, could not escape the curse and the US division is about to die.

What a shame.

Atari could be a great company.  They have a great heritage, but seem to be cursed.

I know we will see yet another incarnation and the beloved games will stick around. Maybe forever. Who knows.