Jan. 6, 2013 at 7:33 PM ET
Every year at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, there's a product category so jammed with competitors, they all asphyxiate until one or two brands remain, and the rest quit the business. In the past, spam categories included MP3 players, e-readers, GPS navigators and digital picture frames. This year, the top prize goes to Bluetooth portable speakers.
Like past CES spam, the products tend to make sense. It's not like they're garbage ... they're just doomed.
Bluetooth speakers are cute and sometimes even stylish. You may have heard of the leading contenders, such as Jawbone's Jambox, Jabra's Solemate, and the Pill from Beats by Dre. Many of these sound terrific, and command prices of $150 or more.
You don't need to be ashamed for wanting a Bluetooth speaker dock. They answer a growing need that the traditional iPhone docks can't fill: They provide convenient, universal connections at a time when new iPhones don't connect to old iPhone docks, and new hit products like the iPad and the Samsung Galaxy S III don't make docking sense for reasons of size or port compatibility.
So, you're wondering, if they're so good, why are they doomed?
In part because of their own obviousness, and in part because they've finally matured, these speakers systems are easy for many companies to produce at reasonable quality. (Believe me, the Bluetooth speaker systems of five years ago sounded awful by comparison.) What you get, then, is a lot of companies trying to sell more or less the same exact thing, with few variables to set them apart.
Want proof? Here is a partial list of the companies that will be showing off portable Bluetooth speaker systems at or around CES, in no particular order:
The fact is, there may very well be 100 more brands, or even 1,000, with Bluetooth speakers in their 2013 lineup. Point is, it's definitely gotten messy.
So what happens next?
The e-reader and MP3 player markets went to the companies who could provide the biggest firehose of content to go with it. In the case of digital picture frames, more versatile technologies such as smartphones and tablets replaced the need for a constant, stationery LCD. But before the end, we saw major price dips.
In this case, I think Bluetooth speaker systems are more like GPS systems: They provide enough of a benefit that they will sell for a while, with competition whittling away their prices until manufacturers move on to something else, or the phonemakers themselves develop a way to incorporate the technology into the devices themselves. (Great sounding speakers on a smartphone? Hey, it could happen!)
As for those who want to buy one of these, if you don't mind waiting a bit, I predict strong price drops, if not by the "Dads and Grads" May electronics sale time, then definitely by Black Friday 2013. Until then, whenever you see a Bluetooth speaker system on a store shelf or in an ad, just think to yourself, "SPAM SPAM SPAM SPAM SPAM SPAM SPAM." You're welcome!
Wilson Rothman is the Technology & Science editor at NBC News Digital. He'll be at the Consumer Electronics Show through Friday in Las Vegas, so feel free to tweet him up at @wjrothman, and join our conversation on Facebook.