Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Notes from CES

New Reality Show

Heard on the plane enroute from Las Vegas to New York:  a plan to create a reality show in and around a CES-type, Las Vegas-based tech show using as a model and metaphor the Eagle's famous Hotel California song. That's all I heard. I get it. After four days at the Show I could understand being prisoners of our own device--in this case mobile. For a while it did feel that I could check out but never leave. Stay tuned.

Publishers Abroad

I'm not going to mention any names but I was pleasantly surprised by the number of senior publishing executives who were at CES and actually visited booths and worked the floor. For a few years publishers have been talking about "content as differentiator" on devices. Seems like they are serious.

Garage Mechanics

Given all the HD, 3D, and 4G at CES, it is tempting to think these technologies attract the masses and drive the conversation on the show floor. I met a lot of garage tech guys who are eager to create the next big thing. One was a representative from an organization called Parks for America--I suggested something sexier.  The company offers a mobile network that provides free, informational apps for state parks nationwide that are essentially instant mobile solutions for park visitors. Revenue for this enterprise comes from sponsorship at the park, or on mobile devices or the various participating web sites. Apps are currently available through Apple and Android with RIM to follow.  It's still in the startup phase but looks promising.


Content wasn't on display, per se, at CES but there was tremerndous interest in content for screens of all sizes. That conversation continues. I was pleased to learn during the show that Hulu Plus will be available on 50 million devices from 10 manufacturers. Monthly subscriptions prices will be $7.99.

Motorola Droid Pro

An earlier post about the Pro, written as it was a Sunday afternoon love affair, didn't fully hold up under the intense lights and battery drain of CES that has too much of everything excepts outlets to recharge cameras,smartphones and computers. Don't get me started on WiFi access at CES or local hotels. With everyone looking for a deal or a connection, it was no wonder there was so much roaming for WiFi, sucking the energy out of the room. But I went dutifully to the Motorola booth and complained that CES was literally sucking my Pro battery dry. A booth technician took out the battery, breathed on it, made a few setting adjustments and sent me on my way. After that I never missed another meeting. 

And by the way an emerging product category very evident at CES were businesses focused on power and charging accessories, including companies such as Innex, a wireless induction charger capable of powering six devices at a time.

Your Brain on the Internet

I wish I had read "Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think" before I attended the show that changed the way I thought, slept, and ate.  In this book 150 writers, artists, scholars and the like addressed the preceding question. Playwright Richard Foreman wrote: "I can't help being reminded of the Greek philosopher who attributed his long life to avoiding dinner parties. If only I could avoid the equally distracting Internet, which, in its promise of connectiveness and expanded knowledge, is really a substitute social phenomenon."  Neuroscientist Brian Knutson suggests that the future might belong to the gifted humans who can stay focused while others  drown in a Web-based attentional vortex.

I listened to the Eagle's Hotel California at least a dozen times on my flight home. It worked.

Post-PC World

CES has long being a showcase for PCs but that world is definitely changing with the advent of the tablet computer and smartphones. We have already heard from Gartner that more people will access the web by smartphone than PC by 2013.  Even with all the deserved fuss about the tablets at CES, the smartphone
with its powerful processors, fast data transmission, high resolution displays, not to mention the 500,000 apps currently available took center stage. Mike Malone and Tom Hayes have a very interesting article in the WSJ about the growing power and influence of smartphones (January 7, 2011). As they note, consider where the action is; the experimentation; the community; the creatives. In their words "We want to be mobile, yet we still want to remain connected....  Nothing currently fulfills that psychic hunger better than a fully-loaded tablet or smartphone in your pocket."

You couldn't fail but notice the thousands of differentiated smartphones at CES pulling behind them a growing aftermarket for mobile products underscoring that this product is as much about lifestyle and psychology as about technology. 


Nick Wingfield in the WSJ wrote about an ongoing irony--and nuisance--at CES; the lack of bandwidth and outlets.  As Wingfield notes one reason for this is that tech geeks with our data-guzzling devices simply overtax the networks. This situation is made worse by the tendency of attendees to carry and use multiple-devices given lie to all the chatter about convergence. Some tech companies set up their own private networks for employees and the press. Like thousands of others I carried my PC for four days hoping for a hotspsot. Never again.

CNET to the Rescue

After days of sloshing around the show, making notes and taking names, I realized that I could do exactly what certain media organizations were doing. Dispense with all the leg work and relax in the CNET television lounge and devour all that great tech coverage.

What's good enough for old media is good enough for me.

Lady Gaga

And finally, Lady Gaga was at CES representing Polaroid that launched three Grey Label products: sunglasses with a built in digital-camera, a portable printer that can work with a smartphone to take instant pictures of friends at embarrassing moments, and an updated version of the instant camera which is both printer and digital camera.

Lady Gaga will likely get good use out of the smartphone/printer combination.

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