CES officially kicks off Thursday after two media days. So far, Amazon's Alexa has been the darling of the convention. What surprises does Thursday hold? We'll update this post all day.

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LAS VEGAS — After two full days of press conferences, CES officially gets under way on Thursday. About 165,000 attendees will mill about in 2.5 million square feet of cacophonous exhibit that holds 3,800 presenting companies.

Clusters of activity include auto-focused exhibits featuring self-driving cars concepts, as well as the show’s traditional wheelhouse: giant televisions and thumping speaker systems.

So far, Amazon.com’s Alexa has been a star of the show, appearing as a partner with devices made by Samsung, Lenovo and Whirlpool, among others. The voice-activated digital assistant is widely seen as the strongest entrant in the bid to tie together management of all the “smart home,” the range of electronics and appliances getting plugged into the internet. And, as Alexa becomes one of the first operating systems of the home, it’s drawing comparisons to the early days of Microsoft’s Windows.

Catch up on Wednesday’s events here, and follow along below for updates on today’s news.


Update, 3:42 p.m.

T-Mobile moves to one plan only, but it’s far from limited

T-Mobile’s latest “Un-carrier” event at CES started off much the way you might expect – with a comedy skit that poked fun at everything from Mariah Carey to Verizon.

And then there was another skit that poked fun at Verizon and AT&T. And another. And so on.

Eventually, the company got around to announcing its latest deals meant to get customers to switch from their current carriers and to keep existing customers happy. T-Mobile added 8.2 million customers during 2016, the Bellevue company said, including 2.1 million in its fourth quarter.

T-Mobile is moving entirely to a one-plan product for phone customers, known as T-Mobile One. The plan, which was announced last year, offers unlimited data and costs $160 a month for a family of four.

“The mobile internet shouldn’t be sold by bits and bytes,” CEO John Legere said, referring to the company’s belief that people should be able to access as much data as needed from their phones.

Some have criticized T-Mobile’s unlimited plan, saying it is not really unlimited because it includes standard definition, rather than high definition, video streaming.

The company throttles data access for customers who use a lot of data during moments of network congestion, and T-Mobile paid a $48 million settlement to the Federal Communications Commission over what the regulator says was deceptive marketing in failing to disclose that.

Asked about criticisms from some corners, T-Mobile’s Chief Technology Officer Neville Ray said T-Mobile had been more generous in its data plan policies than its competitors.

“We have the most free and generous data offering,” he said. T-Mobile said it hopes its move to unlimited will force other carriers to follow suit.

But for those that don’t really need unlimited data, T-Mobile has a “kickback” system in place. Customers who use less than 2 GB of data can enable a kickback in their account and receive $10 back for each phone line that does not hit the limit.

T-Mobile’s campaigns to get customers to switch to its service have been largely successful, launching the company to the No. 3 carrier spot in the U.S. and inching it ever closer to Verizon and AT&T.

The company announced it will pay $150 to customers for each line they switch over, up to 12 lines. The Bellevue carrier also debuted a system to tell customers exactly how much they will pay each month —  taxes included, and no fees.

But it’s not just marketing noise, T-Mobile executives insist.

“Four years ago, we did not have the LTE network, we didn’t carry the iPhone, we were absent several pieces,” Ray said.

“As we look out, we see as many things to fix today as when we started,” Andrew Sherrard, the company’s chief marketing officer, added.

-Matt Day and Rachel Lerman


Update, 9:43 a.m.

Alexa gets behind the wheel of Ford cars

Shopping from the steering wheel will become possible this year as Ford Motor begins taking Amazon.com’s Alexa digital assistant along for the ride.

The second largest U.S. automaker said it will begin offering “Alexa in the car” this summer on vehicles equipped with its Sync 3 infotainment system. An automotive version of Amazon’s popular voice-activated Echo assistant, Alexa in the car will let drivers order items on Amazon, listen to audio books, play music, check news, search for restaurants and get directions. The driver just has to push a button on the steering wheel and say, “Alexa,” followed by a command such as “find an Italian restaurant.”

Amazon is eager to form alliances with automakers and manufacturers in other industries; at last year’s CES, Ford announced a deal with Amazon involving Alexa. The e-commerce giant is also working with BMW to integrate Alexa into the German carmaker’s luxury cars.

The dashboard has become a hotly contested node on the Internet of Things, as automakers and tech giants tussle to control revenue that will likely flow from more connected and autonomous cars.

“Voice is the future and this is particularly true in cars,” Steve Rabuchin, vice president of Amazon Alexa, said in a statement at CES, formerly the Consumer Electronics Show. “The ability to use your voice to control your smart home, access entertainment, manage to-do lists and more makes for an extraordinary driving experience.”

The first Alexa applications are expected to  show up later this month in Ford’s Focus electric car and its two plug-in hybrids, the Fusion Energi and C-Max Energi. Those cars will be equipped with an “Alexa at home” app that enables drivers from their couch to start their cars, lock and unlock the doors and check driving range and how much charge is left in the battery.

— Bloomberg News


Update, 7:18 a.m.

Tech industry group chief optimistic on Trump administration

The exhibit space at CES is filled with the products of globalization.

Televisions and computers, many produced cheaply on factory floors in East Asia, are on sale for a fraction of the price that caliber of technology would have cost decades ago.

Conglomerates with global brand names detached from their country of origin dominate the show. Samsung. Lenovo. LG. Intel. Their supply chains, from Hanoi to Taipei to California, are designed for a world in which free trade is paramount, and goods and people cross borders with few hurdles.

The United States has elected a potential challenger to the order of things here: Donald Trump, who as candidate criticized unfettered free trade and had some harsh words for China, the largest maker of consumer electronics.

Gary Shapiro, one of the chief lobbyists for the U.S. technology industry, isn’t worried. The president of the Consumer Technology Association, the trade group that puts on CES, said in an interview ahead of the show that he’s upbeat about the prospects for his industry under the new administration.

“The truth is Trump needs tech, and tech needs Trump,” he said. “There’s more of a parallel agenda than you would imagine.”

He said he was heartened by the president-elect’s meeting with top U.S. technology executives last month, and particularly with Trump’s public embrace of innovation, among industry’s favorite buzzwords.

Shapiro acknowledges that his optimistic tone runs contrary to the opinion of many of the rank-and-file within the U.S. technology industry, generally a socially liberal group.

“It’s no secret that tech didn’t go overwhelmingly for Trump,” Shapiro said. “Some of that is social issues. Some of that is Clinton came out with a tech agenda, Trump didn’t.”

Shapiro highlighted a few of his hopes for policies from the new administration.

  • Lower taxes. Technology giants are the largest holders of cash abroad to avoid paying the U.S. corporate tax rate, which is among the highest in the world. Business lobbyists are hoping for a lower tax rate, or a window in which companies could repatriate cash held abroad at a special lower rate.
  • Immigration reform. The technology industry relies on foreign guest workers, many of whom are in the country on H-1B visas. They’ve long lobbied for an increase in the cap on the number of people in that program, and Trump, Shapiro says, seems responsive to a bill that would do just that. The Obama Administration had tied potential tweaks to guest worker visas to a broader overhaul of the U.S. immigration system.
  • Less regulation. Executives at CTA member companies have told the lobbying group their No. 1 issue in Washington is too much government regulation, Shapiro says. He attributes that to the requirements of Obama’s Affordable Care Act, as well as a Labor Department push to cover more workers with provisions like overtime pay and paid benefits. That, Shapiro says, runs counter to the wishes of the leaders of tech startups, which often feature irregular hours and don’t have much cash to work with. Meanwhile, larger companies, from on-demand ride hailing service Uber to Microsoft, have structured their business in part on the use of contract workers rather than full time employees.

As for the chance a Trump-ignited trade war with China would undercut the model that put cheap television sets on the CES floor? Shapiro isn’t worried.

“Obviously that’s not something that we would support,” he said. “Certainly we’re interested in having good trade deals. In terms of proposals to add import fees and things like that? I do think that what Trump is saying, is this is a tool we can use as a last resort, a bit of a penalty if they’re not playing by the rules.”

— Matt Day