My First CES

At the spur of the moment last month, Peter and I decided to get tickets to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the monster industry show where you can see and try out all the new gadgets and electronics goodies scheduled to come out in the next year and beyond.

Peter had told me it was huge, and it was huger than that. There were big gadgets and little gadgets, innovative gadgets and dorky gadgets, true blue American gadgets and completely untranslatable Asian gadgets, simple gadgets and complex gadgets, and everything in between, and in multiple iterations. To top it all off, this took place in Las Vegas, which itself is freakishly gargantuan in its scale. We had nice 4-star hotel rooms which were so cheap we could book a separate room for Neil and Kelly in a casino with its own movie theatre.

But back to CES. On the first day (after we dropped Neil and Kelly off at Chris’ house in the hopes we’d get them back as fluent Mandarin speakers), we were somehow still working under the delusion that we might be able to spend a moment at any interesting booth. We started in the International Pavillion to admire electronic cigarettes, still ignorant that there were about 20 manufacturers of electronic cigarettes (and pipes) at the show, and that all smokers still smoked tobacco. I admired a mini egg-shaped MP3 player/speaker from Singapore, not knowing that a Hawaiian company had already copied the design and begun distribution in the U.S. In the meantime, I (inadvertently) insulted all the Asian companies by taking business cards and shoving them in my purse, instead of attentively studying them before carefully putting them away.

Before I managed to insult all of Asia’s entrepreneurs, we booked it over to the South Hall, where Peter was going to meet one of his comic book heroes, Stan Lee, in person, at the Marvell booth. While he was there, I explored the rest of the hall, and ran across Elvis in the Tiffen booth.

Elvis

The next day, Peter and I started at the Venetian, where I was hoping to meet up with some of my VZW peeps, but they had been locked up in some private rooms to do penance by talking with journalists. Alcatel Lucent showed off LTE (fast true wireless 4G) nearby, and I agreed it was fast. Then we returned to the Las Vegas Convention Center, which was obviously where the show show was going on.

OMG, was there ever a lot of 3D TV. You could have your old-school 3D TV with paper glasses, or the more sophisticated 3D TV with expensive IF glasses. Or you could have a special lens that would create a holographic effect. There were 3D games and 3D TV shows and 3D movies and they all looked stunning. Wisely, the manufacturers did not provide seating in front of their 3D screens, nor any media which played for longer than 3 minutes, because only sore feet and a break could tear many people away from those screens. As it was, Panasonic had a 52″ 3D HDTV which was permanently blocked by gawpers.

I tore myself away from the 3D effects long enough to have my moment as an insufferable wireless geek. Intel was showing off a VoIP phone (another ubiquitous technology at this show), and when the rep pointed out the RJ-11 jack, I mocked it as the vestige of a dying paradigm. Peter decided it was time for us to call it a day.

I’d brought a skirt to wear the next day, which unfortunately also made the wearing of heels not optional. Luckily, I chose Central Hall as my first destination. It was where many of the bigger companies were, which also meant many of them had seating for their demonstrations.

The marketing person in me was awed by the level of presentation. Casio had set up a regularly recurring showcase of their latest gadgets like a runway show, complete with a television camera recording the show and putting close-ups on one or several of the screens. The spokesmodel came out, smiled brightly, hit her lines, presented the show, and cued up her male counterpart. He smiled, stepped to the other side of the stage, gave his scripted banter. Product introduction, and a dour model-type in sparkly dress moved down the runway holding a Casio product and making sure all the members of the audience could see the precious object before she arrogantly whisked it away.

Casio

And repeat. It was cheesy, but in a delightful Zoolander way, and I loved it. The only thing that could have made it better would have been a Mugatu type zapped in the end with one of the Casio gadgets, but for all I know, that’s the 6 pm show every day.

I just had to find out who at Casio had put this together, so when I ran across one of the actors coming out of the dressing room, I asked her. She brightly told me she’d find out for me, and quickly returned with the information that the entire show had been scripted and produced at the Casio headquarters in Japan, and translated to English. “So where were you cast, in L.A. or Las Vegas?” I asked her. “In Japan,” she told me. Her brightness faded when my eyes registered disbelief. “All of us were cast in Japan,” she said, “we work there.”  The fact that I’d assumed this had been created in Casio’s L.A. office probably shows how little I still have to learn about business in Asia. But that the presentation had been totally made in Japan also explained why one of the featured products was a camera phone which you can only get there.

Canon had a fairly stunning presentation, too. This showed off some of their camera in the context of a wedding, with a professional videographer, a bridesmaid with a handheld camera, and a mother-in-law with a camera, all Canon products. But not only was this demonstrated in a promotional movie introduced by a spokeswoman, the cast–at least those who had wielded a camera in the “making of the movie of the wedding”  video–stepping out to further talk about their designated Canon products, in person, and in character. This all made my agonizingly-produced PowerPoint presentations look very lowly indeed.

In the end, there was so much there, and so much of it, again and again, that it all converges into a memory of wirelessly connected 3D TVs, cell phones, computers, and devices–oh, and there were several devices that did that connecting too, complete with widgets (small single-purpose programs). I remember looking at the new Samsung Omnia II, which had widgets and TV and a computer, and asking the rep when the screen would be in 3D.

It was a sign it was time for me to go home and leave the gadgets alone. For now.

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