The annual rite of, well, the year, began today: the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, featuring the gadgets you’ll see – and many you won’t – in 2012. Reporters typically measure the show’s size in football fields, and in this case, it’s 35 of them. That is very, very large.
I went to my first of two CES’s six years ago as a reporter for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, covering the half dozen or so companies and handful of sales reps from Virginia that were attending. I’d spot the sales guys by scouring nametags as they’d pass by.
“Hey, you from Richmond?” I’d ask.
“Quote for the paper?”
“What the —- are you doing here?”
Your first CES is difficult to enjoy because it’s so overwhelming. Multiple halls, each the size of a standard city’s entire convention center, house thousands of exhibitors and play host to tens of thousands of industry people. Lots of the booths give out branded mini-moisturizers, tissues and lip balm to help combat the dry air. Single “booths” are the size of McMansions and filled with gadgets – some conceptual, others that will go on sale and be outdated in six months. I recall being told by a reporter who’d been before to plan ahead. Get booth numbers, map out a schedule, drink lots of water. I chose instead to wing it, and found myself doubling-back throughout the week and destroying the soles on a well-made pair of shoes. That first year I remember delaying booking a hotel room and had to stay at a Howard Johnson’s outside of the main Strip area. I imagined horrible, horrible things had happened at that room before my arrival. I recall being close to tears at one point attempting to submit my stories by the deadline, which, thanks to time zones, was three hours ahead in Richmond.
I did a little better the second year – including booking a sweet room – but still not great.
As technology changes every few months, so too does how the show is covered in the media. While blogs were of course popular in 2006 and 2007, when I was there, the updates coming out of CES weren’t as constant (annoying?) as they are today thanks to the prevalence of social media. Print deadlines are less important because you’re writing for the web. The deadline is unending.
In my mind, though, almost more than anything, CES stands today as a time to remind people that Apple is not the only company in the world that makes gadgets, nor is it the only company in the world that makes good gadgets.* Apple doesn’t attend CES.
I recall being in the press room at CES in January 2007 when Apple announced the first iPhone. Slick timing on the company’s part: distract the industry. We were all huddled in that press room reading about the iPhone on blogs and watching news reports on TV as a world of ridiculous technology sat outside our door, waiting to be touched and looked at and reported upon. Yet the announcement instantly killed the vibe of CES and overshadowed everything for the remainder of the trade show. Reporters in the press room called their editors to determine how to handle CES coverage with the iPhone news. Which story led? The answer, that day, was iPhone. Hundred-inch televisions, the newest gaming consoles, the hottest stereo systems and the bikini-clad women showing them off were no match for a tiny three-in-one touchscreen device that would go on to disrupt entire industries.
But Apple doesn’t make TVs (yet), and not everyone uses Macs. People still pick up game controllers, and enjoy flip-style phones, and buy technology products from many other reputable and innovative brands. And all of it is on display at CES. Here are a few trends and products to that I’ve been watching come out of this year’s convention:
Ultrabooks. Super thin, fast, and not a lot of bells and whistles.
Skinny TVs. Slim, more natural colors, richer blacks, thin, thin, and definitely not thick.
Kinect on Windows. “I’m thrilled to announce that Kinect is coming to Windows on February 1,” Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer said.
Health and Fitness. A host of upstart companies want to serve a helping of vegetables to those consumers in the form of health-and-fitness gadgets.
Oh, and that * symbol a few paragraphs up: for every one really awesome thing at CES, there are at least two completely lame things that will never, ever be bought or used by anyone. Though I probably still thought they were cool.