Every January, I start my year in Las Vegas. There is always a certain level of excitement as friends and colleagues tell me how cool it is that I get to attend CES. And then inevitably, I return with a camera full of pictures, a pocket full of business cards, a bag full of products for evaluation and a schedule full of follow-up notes to write.
And then comes the inevitable question: “So what was cool?”
That question proves difficult to answer because it relies on context. On one hand, the Ventev USB C charger was cool, but that isn’t what people want to know about when they ask that question.
What many want to know is about VR, AR, drones, robots, connected home devices, OLED TVs, wearables and driverless cars, at least the big picture tech people mean that. They trend watch, which can prove dangerous. Last year was all about the launch of VR. This year, VR was everywhere, but few people waited in line for the experience unless it was over the top like Samsung’s big VR pavilion, which was pretty much the same as last year’s Samsung pavilion. The GearVR headsets were black instead of white. I didn’t see any 3D TVs because 3D TVs are dead. So much for trends.
And then there are more personal interests, like headphones, iPhone cases and toys. With that hat on, Fametek’s Star Trek the Next Generation Comm Badge that acts as a speaker phone and portal to Apple’s Siri was pretty cool. I was also taken by the musering personal device that puts smart device control in a ring. And I loved the new design of the Dell XPS-13 2-in-1 ultrabook. Yep, that is right: a notebook computer. I went to CES 2017 and notebook computers were still cool. The Dell Canvas was pretty cool too.
As much as CES purports to be about cool, the show is really about deals and the press. This an industry event, not a consumer event, despite the old name of the show: (the Consumer Electronics Show, which journalists are admonished from usinh now. The show’s main drive is to get product into channels so consumers can buy them. The press is there to create early buzz and demand for the stuff that will be cool next year. Many items aren’t shipping yet—so much of the show offers a sneak peak, and sometimes early units arrive at the door just after the show
For CES, I work as a journalist and a technology analyst. My job is to call out the winners, and if the show runners have their way, just ignore the potential losers. I write about all forms of technology, but I usually have to concentrate on very specific items. This year, just as the show was to launch, my review of the Apple Watch Series 2 arrived in iPhone Life Magazine. My mission this year? Find Apple Watch accessories for evaluation. This takes time. I look past much of what may be cool, much even of what the particular manufacturers and designers want me to see and look only for the thing I’m on a mission to cover. My peripheral vision blurs as I hone in on Incipio Apple Watch bands that aren’t shipping yet, or an Apple Watch sitting on a stand made of wood. You have to do the job first before you can just enjoy the show. Many exhibitor attendees see little beyond their booth and the edges of the nearby booths that can be seen from their own turf.
Sometimes I end up with more than one job at CES. This year it was miniaturization and the future of mobile, along with the Apple Watch, and as many things Apple and Android as I have time for.
During this work, one must remain pleasant and, as a journalist/analyst, curious. Sometimes I end up talking to someone about a product I’m never going to cover, and I feel bad, because I’m wasting their time and they are wasting mine. Who knows what thing I’m interested in (or might be interested in) that I missed because I lost 30 minutes of wandering that would have taken me to another out-of-the-way corner where a discovery might await.
Unfortunately for the cool hunters, I didn’t spend much time with drones or driverless cars. I talked to only a handful of AR/VR companies. Truth be told, I don’t think those things were going to have an impact on my life or anyone else’s life anytime soon. I was wearing an Apple Watch, carrying an iPhone 6s and a Galaxy s7. The near-term coolness for me, and for many of my readers, is what else can be done with those devices, or those ecosystems, that will be meaningful and useful, or perhaps fun, over the next twelve months until CES kicks off again in January 2018.
Don’t get me wrong. I did see in my peripheral vision some cool things:
The Sleep Number 360 Smart Bed. We spend so much time in our beds, our bodies put out a lot of data. Why not use that data to create a better sleep experience.
Toyota Concept-i. The car they would use in Bladerunner if gravity was recognized, and if the sky occasionally opened up to the sun. The Faraday Future FF 91 was also pretty cool looking. At least in cars and robots, science fiction thinking has returned.
Super Retro Boy from retro-bit. Dust off those old carts and get ready to relive the 90s.
Lenovo’s Smart Assistant. Uses Amazon’s Alexa service but is better looking and better sounding.
Gigantic flash memory. Kingston crushes it with a 2TB flash drive. Just 2 years ago the news was a 128GB flash drive. Moore’s Law that!
Razer’s Project Valerie. A huge gaming laptop. Totally impractical at 12 pounds, but with three 17-inch monitors folded together, what do you expect? Also totally awesome.
Bluetooth Earbuds. All the buzz has been about Apple’s Earpods, but many others are on the way. More on Jabra’s Elite Sport soon.
ASUS’s Zenfone AR. A 5.7-inch smartphone that supports Google tech Tango and Daydream, thus combining AR and VR capabilities into one device (still requires a headset for VR).
ct band, a smart band that turns any watch into a wearable (well, a smarter wearable).
Overall, I love CES. There is something about the challenge of covering the massive show floors over a series of three or four days. A challenge in trying to cram as much input into one’s head as can be had. A journey to see just how many iPhone cases the world really needs, and to discover, despite the assertion of Android and alternatives to the iPhone, it is the Apple market that really drives accessories with good margins. CES offers the opportunity to sense not trends, but movements. CES 2016 wasn’t an exposure of trends toward VR any more than 2017 served up trends to autonomous vehicles or robots. Trends in technology don’t start or end in a year. CES creates a check point full of data, but it is just that, a check point.
Yes, CES is a job, but not one I’m willing to give up. It may not be the experience others expect me to have, but it is an experience I look forward to every year because if nothing else, it keeps me hopeful about progress and globalization, it gives me an insight into bigger patterns. We are all connected in the web of life and in the web of technology. CES exposes that latter connection in Las Vegas, in January, better than any event, or place, on the planet.
Daniel W. Rasmus
Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.