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CES Recap: Gadgets and Blisters

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the what-I-did-on-my-winter-vacation dept.

Displays 53

I was in Las Vegas last week to see the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show. (Officially, it's the International Consumer Electronics Show, but no one calls it "ICES.") I've been to CES just a few times before, but usually as the finish line of a marathon drive from Seattle, rather than a plane flight from Tennessee as it was this time around. I've also never arrived with an armload of video equipment, which brings its own hassles. (Did you notice our videos?) Following are a few thoughts about the experience.

I started my trip with a friendly rubdown from a TSA functionary in Knoxville, whose carefully narrated prodding ("Now I'm going to be touching the inside of your waistband ...") failed to scan the recesses of my brain for what evil may there lurk, or take much notice of the should-be-suspicious bundle of batteries and radio-equipped mics in an evil-looking hard-shelled case that smells of gun oil, but did take a while to poke through ("check out") my bag of unremarkable clothing, paper, and sundries. It is a nice bag, after all, and one must have priorities: I could have had cupcakes.

Rooms are typically cheap in Vegas; the city is still America's gambling mecca, but gambling has become so widespread elsewhere that the draw is weaker -- and there are all those hotel rooms looking for occupants. But because CES is the biggest event of the year, even overbuilt Vegas fills up and prices are high that week. So I stayed at the Sin City Hostel, which has a friendly staff, an eclectic clientele (of young international travelers, mostly), and some of the most uncomfortable beds I have ever slept on. On the other hand, it was a thousand bucks cheaper than I was quoted for a room that week at a decent mid-range hotel on the strip, and I have a high tolerance for unusual accommodation. Unless you're actually going to CES, and would rather have a reasonable, luxurious room than a hammock-shaped lump of foam, any other week is probably a smarter time to visit.

Things to note about CES:

It's huge.

CES takes up not just an enormous convention center, but spills over into hotels both nearby and not-especially nearby. Just to touch every booth, suite, and temporary meeting corral would probably take a full-time effort for the whole run of the show, and it might not even be possible (that would make an interesting video game!), especially since some of the dealers are in town for CES, but not officially part of the show as exhibitors. When I met with Steven Isaac of TouchFire, for instance, it was in the lobby of an adjacent hotel. "Nearby" in this case still means a walk of 20 minutes or more just to cross the convention center grounds; it can take nearly that long, too, to walk entrance-to-wall in any of the several large halls at the convention center.

And you'd want to walk all the way back, too. The flashy kiosks operated by companies like Samsung, Nokia, and Motorola tend to be right near the front of the exhibit halls ("them as has, gets"), but back in the low(er) rent districts toward the back of each hall is where a lot of the most interesting stuff collects. Some of these booths might not be that interesting in themselves, but it's fascinating to see the modest public face of companies that sell the bits (LEDs, copper wire, blank circuit boards) and services (custom molding, circuit board layout, high-end fabric embroidery) that underlie even seemingly simple goods. This is also the place to find interesting devices like a ring-mounted mouse, helmet- and google-mounted video cameras in great profusion, and a wireless silicone keyboard cleverly molded to fold into what looks almost like a translucent billfold.

For pure technological art, it's hard to beat the industrial sculpture of the High End audio world. But the show is too big: I didn't get a chance this year to see the biggest trove of that, which is at the Venetian rather than the convention center. $50,000 speakers, and amplifiers in the same range, aren't in my budget (see above re. Sin City Hostel), but if you want to see where Monster Cable and Best Buy get their ideas of how to price electronics, it's enlightening to ogle some of the beautiful components and then their price tags.

It's not just electronics.

In fact, it's not just "consumer" electronics, either, as that term is generally used. No mistake, the consumer end of things isn't neglected: there are plenty of TVs (one of the crowd draws this year was LG's super-thin OLED panel (video), which I didn't have time to properly appreciate), plenty of computers and accessories, and a fair number of white goods -- stoves, refrigerators, and washing machines, all of which are ever more "electronics" in their own right. And Yes, there are shipping containers' worth of MP3 players, cameras of all descriptions, blinking and hovering toys for all ages, robots, headphones, cell phones from the mundane to the exotic, and stacks of tablets from familiar names as well as unknowns (most of them Android, and a surprising number running Android 4.0). But much of the stuff on offer is aimed squarely at institutional buyers or business users. Fancy your own collapsible walk-through metal-detector, or some high-end eye-tracking technology? A $1300 pointing device? (Or, arguably more consumer-friendly, a $900 skateboard perfect for getting around a factory floor?) This is the show for you.

And lots of the goods on display are meant for end-users, but aren't electronics themselves. There are easily thousands, probably tens of thousands, of phone cases, not to mention USB drive casings, computer bags, tripods for cameras, stands for tablets, and other accoutrements. (You can even buy the world's fanciest piece of string.) I overheard a confident claim that there were more than a hundred vendors selling computer bags; I don't doubt it, but I haven't tried to count, and it's probably a fool's errand: not every company's entry in the massive show directory gives much of a clue just what they sell.

Speaking of selling: show rules (and, I was later told, Nevada tax rules) prohibit sales of goods on the show floor itself, but they go on just the same, ranging from furtive (sideways glances and handshake-with-money) to blatant (large, handwritten sign: "Show special! $499!"). For vendors who've made the trip to CES to show off their wares to potential buyers from companies like Fry's and Best Buy as well as smaller dealers, the inventory they've brought as samples can drop in value as soon as that chance is gone; I ended up with a few iPhone 4 cases that the vendor was trying to foist on anyone not bold enough to refuse. (I don't own an iPhone, and have no plans to. Anyone want a few cases with geometric designs in red and grey?)

Besides vendors, there are organizations on hand, too. I ran short of time, or I would have have a chance to ask the folks at the EFF what a nice bunch like them was doing at a place like this.

It lasts too long.

There are a few days of special events prior to CES proper, and then four days of crowded show floor. By the end of the show, vendors are drooping in the most popular booths, and looking a bit forlorn in the lonelier ones. Elevator pitches are down to the length of a short escalator ride, and grazing show-goers are weighed down by their masses of brochures, business cards and tchotchkes. The hub-bub is impossible to avoid even on the last day, and the crowd is crushing. Even with shoes that seemed comfortable going in, I developed blisters to impress the Devil on three toes and both heels, wore out a few pens, and considered commandeering a massage chair for an hour to beat down the ache in my shoulder from hauling around my camera bag and bulky laptop.

It goes too fast.

Even though seeing it all is an impossible task, and even with inevitably sore feet, the lure of novelty is strong. I saw hundreds of exhibitors I would have liked to return to at least briefly. I had just a few minutes to play with the very attractive Mirasol screens at the Qualcomm booth, for instance (shown off in a handful of small tablets that they insist are "e-readers that play music, display video and can browse the web" rather than "tablets"), and missed out on the chance to see the new OLPC tablet.

Being a newbie with the video camera and operating without a trusty servant, I lost some time fumbling with mics, batteries, cables, and a small tripod that I bought mostly as a grip. (Why bother with external mics? Because the roar of the crowd is overwhelming to the camera's built-in mics, and only partly defeated with a shotgun mic mounted on the camera.) By the final day of the show, I had the routine down a little better, but still caught on tape — or rather, in flash memory — only a fraction of the things that caught my eye. I'm lucky that my video conspirator Roblimo has a knack for finding and assembling the most watchable bits. Good news, if hardly impressive these days: my laptop running Linux Mint had no complaints importing files from my Panasonic HD camera for sending off to him a few thousand miles away in Florida for editing.

I stayed two more nights, foam-hammock and all, sorting through marketing goo and enjoying the neon and buffet offerings along the Las Vegas strip. Because I lucked out and reached a line at the Las Vegas airport that lets the miscreants through easily (no puffer machine or full-body scanner to refuse), my trip home didn't even offer a rub-down, only the chance to catch up on a few hours of sleep.

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53 comments

Relevancy of CES (5, Insightful)

bonch (38532) | more than 2 years ago | (#38742552)

Is CES still relevant? Look at the past three, the Best of CES 2011 winner was the Motorola Xoom, 2010 was the Panasonic 3D plasma TV, and 2009 was the Palm Pre. It seems like it's more about giving tech writers neat gadgets to write about with no guarantee that any of it will ship, or if it does, that it will be successful. And it also seems like the most important products don't even show up there [techcrunch.com]. Not to mention that this was Microsoft's last appearance at CES and that trade shows in general are on the decline. It just makes me wonder if CES is still worth it.

Re:Relevancy of CES (2)

postbigbang (761081) | more than 2 years ago | (#38742738)

Microsoft's appearance, or lack thereof, is no indicator of the success or failure of CES. Microsoft's entry into consumer devices, except the xbox, has been met with consistent failure. Windows CE, Windows Phone, and other products aren't doing that well.

Apple boycotts CES to control their own PR, and this is what Microsoft is doing. Other "enterprise" players also have their own shows and very tightly control their own press. At CES, there's something for everybody, including audio, video, appliances, even phone cases. This is because everyone wants CES to be COMDEX, and COMDEX died because their top management wasn't prepared for 9/11. CES is for consumers, and not consumers of Apple stuff. Is it relevant? Heck yeah. Just not as a computer-device show, where the highlight is Apple. Apple purposefully has staged events right after CES to snatch the conversation back to themselves, in a very astute way.

Re:Relevancy of CES (2)

bonch (38532) | more than 2 years ago | (#38742776)

Apple boycotts CES to control their own PR, and this is what Microsoft is doing.

Trade shows really are declining [hubpages.com]. Apple may not have done CES, but they used to do MacWorld to one-up CES. Now they don't even do MacWorld, because it's not necessary for them, and Microsoft apparently feels the same way about CES. In general, the Internet has made big CES product announcements unnecessary.

bonch is a sockpuppet shill Re:Relevancy of CES (-1, Troll)

GreatBunzinni (642500) | more than 2 years ago | (#38744794)

The only thing that is declining is your ability to push PR crap onto slashdot and manipulate discussions through your sister sockpuppet accounts.

The bonch user account is a shill account which is used, along with other user accounts such as SharkLaser [slashdot.org] and Overly Critical Guy [slashdot.org], to astroturf slashdot in order to manipulate slashdot users with pro-Microsoft, anti-Google PR.

See how these accounts paste PR crap from the same corporate script in this post [slashdot.org] and this post [slashdot.org], and in this post [slashdot.org] check how these accounts are employed together in the same discussion to karmawhore and to steer the discussion into a more corporate PR position.

As more evidence linking these accounts, particularly how they copy/paste the same PR script and reiterate it in different discussions, check out this post [slashdot.org] with a roundup of all propaganda copy/paste screwups

Mod this astroturfing sockpuppet account accordingly.

Re:bonch is a sockpuppet shill Re:Relevancy of CES (1)

segin (883667) | more than 2 years ago | (#38754166)

Oh, shut up, you're just some Slashdot chat AI I wrote in Perl for my own amusement. Quit hanging on that scripting algorithm and use some better script, you worthless pile of Perl!

Re:bonch is a sockpuppet shill Re:Relevancy of CES (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 2 years ago | (#38821755)

He's actually making me want to visit Slashdot less with the way he always gets first post and derails discussions with his bullshit and sock puppet moderation.. it's nice to see I'm not the only one who's noticed and getting frustrated. I've wondered who reviews his work, and if we can contact them to show that he's a failure. They could at least send someone more intelligent.

Re:Relevancy of CES (1)

scottbomb (1290580) | more than 2 years ago | (#38742766)

CES is not open to the public (the CONSUMERS that buy their wares) so therefore, it is dead to me. I couldn't care less what happened at their industry frat party.

Re:Relevancy of CES (1)

wmelnick (411371) | more than 2 years ago | (#38742834)

All you have to do is "say" that you are member of the trade. Half of the people at CES are the public.

Re:Relevancy of CES (1)

tlhIngan (30335) | more than 2 years ago | (#38744536)

CES is not open to the public (the CONSUMERS that buy their wares) so therefore, it is dead to me. I couldn't care less what happened at their industry frat party.

It's closed to the general public, but with a little effort, it's trivially easy to get in. Just say you're a buyer for scottbomb, Inc. and they'll let you right in. ("Buyer" typically means someone who procures the necessary supplies, but it can also mean, well, you the consumer).

In the end, it's really a "no children" kind of rule. Anyone can get in with a little effort. Anyone not interested in doing that effort, they don't want to target (they want interested people).

Of course, some exhibitors have an exclusive policy so you may not be able to see everything as they only let a very select group of people in (usually ones who have signed an NDA before) and are showing in private booths.

Re:Relevancy of CES (1)

CohibaVancouver (864662) | more than 2 years ago | (#38745212)

I couldn't care less what happened at their industry frat party.

You do if your investment portfolio includes companies that do business at CES - Because CES is where a lot of wheeling and dealing happens.

Re:Relevancy of CES (0)

stephanruby (542433) | more than 2 years ago | (#38743012)

And it also seems like the most important products don't even show up there [techcrunch.com]

Just as expected, you just linked to an article by an Apple fanboy. Apple Television? What's that? Didn't this product already come out five or ten years ago?

Not to mention that this was Microsoft's last appearance at CES and that trade shows in general are on the decline. It just makes me wonder if CES is still worth it.

It's probably not worth it for Microsoft. Microsoft is clearly not getting the Marketshare it was hoping to get against Android (even with the help of Nokia).

and that trade shows in general are on the decline.

That statement is true enough. Just take a look at the last MacWorld. Not getting the iPhone 5 was a let down for everyone who went to it.

Re:Relevancy of CES (1)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 2 years ago | (#38743016)

Woah, say what you will about the Palm Pre or Panasonic Plasma TV, but the Motorola Xoom is the 4th most popular [bgr.com] non-iPad tablet with 1.55 impressions per 100 iPad impressions. If Motorola (I almost typed Notorola, lol) had a better ad campaign, they could probably hit Galaxy numbers (1.6). hell maybe even Playbook numbers (1.8).

Re:Relevancy of CES (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38743448)

And the Ford Taurus lead US car sales for almost a decade. What's your point?

Re:Relevancy of CES (0)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 2 years ago | (#38743886)

My point is: say what you will about the Palm Pre or Panasonic Plasma TV, but the Motorola Xoom is the 4th most popular non-iPad tablet.

What's your point?

Re:Relevancy of CES (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38743348)

Based on the amount of people that go (more than ANY other event in Vegas), the amount of vendors, the amount of space required etc. What do YOU consider relevant? Sounds like it was jammed fking packed and kicking for over a week to me. I've been to VM World and EMC World a few times and maybe 10-15K show up and it fits inside the Venetian. That is a tiny fraction of what CES draws.

Consumer electronics and technology consists of more than the few things Apple sells.

Re:Relevancy of CES (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38743414)

Hi (bonch==Overly Critical Guy)! Can you please quit it with your "anonymous" Organized trolling campaign on Slashdot posts. kthxbye!

bonch: The "shill" accusations flying around on Slashdot lately are getting out of control. [slashdot.org]
Overly Critical Guy: This isn't bonch... Aren't you Galestar/NicknameOne/flurp who replies to all his posts? [slashdot.org]
Overly Critical Guy: Hi, GreatBunzinni. How do I know it's you? ... This is not bonch.... Signed, NOT bonch [slashdot.org]

"NOT bonch"? Ha ha. BUSTED!

bonch: Seamless experiences win out in the long term. We saw this when gaming moved from PCs to consoles in the 2000s, and it's happening now in the transition to the post-PC era. [slashdot.org]
Overly Critical Guy: Seamless experiences always win out over time. We saw it when gaming shifted from PCs to consoles, and now the industry is shifting from desktops to mobile devices. [slashdot.org]

Overly Critical Guy: Android phones used to look like this [imgur.com] [slashdot.org]
bonch: Android used to look like this [imgur.com] [slashdot.org]

Overly Critical Guy: The keyboard looks exactly like Apple's flat keyboard, and the trackpad is the Magic Trackpad that Apple started offering a year or so ago [slashdot.org]
bonch: The keyboard looks just like Apple's flat keyboard introduced a few years ago, the trackpad is a clone of the Apple Trackpad. [slashdot.org]

bonch: A Slashdot employee recently told me that my comments generate more moderations than any he's ever seen. [slashdot.org]
(yes, that is what happens when you mod your own posts up from multiple accounts then everyone else mods them down. But what are you doing complaining to a Slashdot employee? "No matter how many downmods I get, my karma somehow goes back up to excellent." [slashdot.org] Hahaha! U Mad?)

Re:Relevancy of CES (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38743712)

I don't understand this either, on
http://slashdot.org/~Overly+Critical+Guy [slashdot.org]
"Apple Closes Marketshare Gap With Android", the comment starts with "Bonch writes" but it is on the /. page for OCG. Am I not seeing something or do I know understand the layout of ./ member pages?

Re:Relevancy of CES (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38743844)

It means bonch is using his multiple accounts to +1 his own submissions in the firehose [slashdot.org]

Re:Relevancy of CES (2)

CohibaVancouver (864662) | more than 2 years ago | (#38745202)

Is CES still relevant?

Depends on your definition. We work closely with the laptop OEMs - They're all there, so we manage to get a tremendous amount of meetings under our belts at CES. The booths are mostly just there for brand recognition - All the value is what goes on in the suites, meeting rooms and restaurants.

Organized trolling campaign on Slashdot (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38742554)

GreatBunzinni [slashdot.org] has been posting anonymous accusations [slashdot.org] listing a whole bunch of Slashdot accounts as being part of a marketing campaign for Microsoft, without any evidence. GreatBunzinni has accidentally outed himself [slashdot.org] as this anonymous poster. Half the accounts he attacks don't even post pro-Microsoft rhetoric. The one thing they appear to have in common is that they have been critical of Google in the past. GreatBunzinni has been using multiple accounts to post these "shill" accusations, such as Galestar [slashdot.org], NicknameOne [slashdot.org], and flurp [slashdot.org].

That's not the problem. The problem is that moderators gave him +5 Informative and are now modding down the accused, even for legitimate posts. Metamoderation is supposed to address this by filtering out the bad moderators, but clearly it's not working.

This "shill" crap that has been flying around lately has to stop. It's restricting a variety of viewpoints from participating on the site and creating an echo chamber.

protest fail? (-1, Offtopic)

Laxori666 (748529) | more than 2 years ago | (#38742570)

"Note: This will be the last story we post today until 6pm EST in protest of SOPA."

Re:protest fail? (1)

LostCluster (625375) | more than 2 years ago | (#38742576)

Slashdot NewsTime is a few minutes after 6:00pm EST.... the protest appears to have gone as planned and they now return us to our regular Slashdot.

Re:protest fail? (4, Funny)

Lashat (1041424) | more than 2 years ago | (#38742732)

Thank god it's over. I almost did some work today.

Re:protest fail? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38743768)

All jokes aside I dig the way /. handled the black out today.

I saw some early complaints but making everyone sit on one article all day shows some intelligence and class, even though we're all so overly informed we're sick of it and it by now.

Re:protest fail? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38742580)

Posted by timothy on Wednesday January 18, @06:00PM

Nope.

Re:protest fail? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38742584)

This article was posted at 6pm EST.

Are you, perhaps, a Texas high-schooler? How's that new curriculum going?

Re:protest fail? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38742592)

indeed, but the fail is not the one you think

Re:protest fail? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38742610)

The device you posted this with probably has a clock. Do you know the difference between your time zone and EST?

Re:protest fail? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38742624)

Uh, it was 6:01pm EST as of your post.

Re:protest fail? (1)

Laxori666 (748529) | more than 2 years ago | (#38742828)

Oh hah, thanks all. I misunderstood "until 6pm EST" as "for the rest of the night", or perhaps even "from 6pm EST on."

Re:protest fail? (1)

Osgeld (1900440) | more than 2 years ago | (#38743092)

so what your saying is you cant even comprehend "until"

Re:protest fail? (1)

Laxori666 (748529) | more than 2 years ago | (#38745182)

No, it's more a matter of me having seen the phrase at a glance and having assumed it meant something without reading it in detail. Are you saying that's never happened to you?

Re:protest fail? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38743270)

I misunderstood "until 6pm EST" as "for the rest of the night", or perhaps even "from 6pm EST on."

Why? How could you possibly think that? Are you ESL? Well, at least you came back and admitted you were wrong, which puts you above everyone on Slashdot who isn't you.

Re:protest fail? (1)

Laxori666 (748529) | more than 2 years ago | (#38745198)

I saw the phrase at a glance and assumed it meant something without reading it in detail. Are you saying that's never happened to you? Happens when I read quickly.

On a side note, I find it funny my post and its replies take up almost 50% of the comments for the story so far.

Re:protest fail? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38742974)

"Note: This will be the last story we post today until 6pm EST in protest of SOPA."

Posted by timothy on Wednesday January 18, @06:00PM

Protest win.

NP complete (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38742632)

"Just to touch every booth, suite, and temporary meeting corral would probably take a full-time effort for the whole run of the show, and it might not even be possible (that would make an interesting video game!), "

This is a classic traveling salesman problem... how appropriate.

What ever happened to standing up for yourself? (-1, Offtopic)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 2 years ago | (#38742686)

I guess it was October or November of 2010 when the TSA started touching your junk and people started carding. Then... nothing. The TSA didn't back down (quite the opposite in fact), you're no safer, and horror stories of grandmothers being strip searched are just as frequent.

I ask because our very own timothy was touched in an inappropriate place. As was I during a recent flight. I opted out of the millimeter cancer machines (looks a little bit like a personal gas machine, doesn't it?) much to the annoyance of TSA officer #1 who insisted that it's not an X-Ray machine. For four reasons:

  • To thine own self, be true
  • It's a much more honest to everyone about what's happening
  • To register my displeasure
  • To encourage others to stand up for themselves

As for number 4, I haven't been through the "enhanced" security, well, ever, so it was disappointing to see everyone line up and do the perp stand. Thank you to the anonymous guy ahead of me who also opted out. You're an inspiration and a hero.

The second flight, I was the only person to opt out (that I saw) but not the only person who was molested.

So I repeat, what happened?

CES? (2)

owlnation (858981) | more than 2 years ago | (#38742986)

Oh, so that's what the "C" in CES stands for... here's me thinking it was for "Crapware".

Based on most articles on products there over the years, it seemed like the only logical conclusion.

Re:CES? (1)

ArtFart (578813) | more than 2 years ago | (#38750550)

Considering where most of the products are manufactured, I'd think the "C" should stand for "Chinese".

Personal crap (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38746302)

Not even one fact or gadget from CES, only personal experiences. "Oh it was big". "And there was lights and people". Who the fuck cares how your room or airplane was?

Zero information, the worst article I've ever had the bloody misfortune to read.

were you able (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38749080)

to find anyone who cares?

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