LAS VEGAS — The $19,000 high-end floating bathtub from Japanese manufacturer Toto was cool, but a cutting edge tech gadget? Not really.
The mammoth technology convention formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show was stacked with home and bath products this year. While a new Kohler toilet is Bluetooth-enabled and lets you flush by asking Alexa to do just that, it was hard to lump these appliance upgrades in with some of the technological leaps that really made a mark in our lives.
After all, this is the show that gave us VCRs, Blu-Ray and DVD players, the Ring video doorbell and all those giant TVs.
You could still wander the convention halls and find plenty of the tried and true: amazing big-screen TVs that look more awesome than even movie theaters, and software.
The one story that over shadowed everything else was the rivalry between Amazon and Google to get their connected speaker technology into as many products as possible, from speakers, stoves, refrigerators and even a shower to respond to your wishes.
Yes, the category has been around for a few years, but like it or not, based on what we saw on the show floor, virtually every new tech product you'll be buying in the coming months and years is going to respond to your voice.
We like the rush to bring voice to products, although the idea of springing $1,200 to ask Alexa to turn on the shower just isn't in our vocabulary. (Asking the stove to heat up, if it doesn't add hundreds of dollars to the cost, seems plausible.)
Beyond the emphasis on appliances, we could have used fewer old products at a show that should be celebrating the new.
When the Consumer Technology Association, the organizer of the show, hands the Nissan car company an Innovation Award on the eve of the show for the electric Leaf car, you know CES is in real trouble. The Leaf was first introduced in 2011.
What we wanted to see at CES 2018? Brand-new gadgets that made us say wow. There were robots, but they were still little more than the brains of Alexa and and the equivalent of an iPad for smiles. We saw old products with function (new Sony bluetooth earbuds that actually do what they're supposed to, stay in your ear). But few CES 2018 entrants pushed the envelope.
We love DJI's new Osmo Mobile 2, a gimbal steadicam for your smartphone, to bring cinematic quality to your hand-held videos, but it's a two-year old product. That said, DJI lowering the price from $300 to $129 caught our attention.
And two laptops aren't new, but come with a twist. Razer's Project Linda is a concept computer that takes an Android smartphone, slips it into a laptop, and suddenly has a giant screen. And Samsung's Notebook 9 Pen isn't a new concept, but fun — it brings pen computing to those who think the Note 8 phone is too small, in 2-pound body.
Women keynote addresses
CES tried to make up for the fact that it didn't have any female speakers giving keynote addresses by emphasizing the women and people who were speaking — even if they didn't have the stage to themselves. It ginned up posters spread all around CES showcasing women and people of color who had been invited to speak on panels, but as one speaker included on the poster — Axios' Ina Fried noted, "I am moderating a small breakout session on Thursday afternoon on the future of robotics. I'm hoping it will be a good discussion on an important topic, but I am hardly a featured speaker." Next year it can do way better.
The city of Las Vegas
It's a known fact that every January, some 180,000 folks will descend upon the fair city, and overwhelm it for several days at CES time. So when the second CES day gets a mid-day blackout of nearly 2 hours, and the most popular booths (LG, Sony and Samsung) go dark, there's plenty of blame to go around. The city cited the rainfall the day before for causing the problem. News alert: it's been raining in these parts for years. And it will probably rain again. And again.
The number three phone manufacturer (after Samsung and Apple) came to CES hoping to gets its brand known here, where most folks have never heard of the company.
With a cool new $800 phone that rivals the iPhone X in looks and features, Huawei had hoped to announce an alliance with AT&T to prove its mettle. But at the last minute, the deal was scuttled, the latest Chinese company to have its plans thwarted by a U.S. administration that's taken a tougher line on Chinese investment in the U.S.
Most of the talk at CES was about new uses for the Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa in voice computing. Apple got in Siri to a few as well, via the Apple HomeKit software. And then there's poor Bixby.
The Samsung voice-assistant, which had a rocky debut in 2017, hasn't been given up on by the South Korean giant, which seemed to spend a good 50% of its press session this week touting Bixby.
Unfortunately, no one outside the Bixby universe cares. Even many Galaxy phones come with the Google Assistant and Bixby. Bixby got left out of the conversation.
Follow USA TODAY's Jefferson Graham on Twitter, @jeffersongraham