CES 2011 Recap

Sin City. I’ve been making my pilgrimage to Las Vegas for about ten years, from when COMDEX was the biggest conference in North America. I fasted last year, but this year I started my trip to CES on the 3rd. I had to get there early because the first press conferences as well as the press-only CES Unveiled were on the 4th. In CES 2011: Travelling With Less I shared with you my unsuccessful attempt at connecting to Verizon’s LTE network using the Pantech UML290 USB modem on my MacBook Pro at San Jose International, how I had no black socks, and that I took only a few pieces of clothing and stuffed them into a single duffle bag.

If you haven’t been to Las Vegas in January let me tell you: it’s not that great. First, you need to be drinking water constantly throughout the day and/or eating lots of high water content foods such as fruits and vegetables. The first couple of mornings I woke up to a bone-dry throat. It is extremely dry in Las Vegas so if you’re not careful you’ll end up sick. Second, you’ll need to wear a warm jacket. I even took my leather gloves and was forced to wear them most evenings. Because it’s so cold you want to keep pressing the up button on the thermometer in your room, but don’t. You’ll end up with problem number one. Third, imagine 130,000 extra people trying to catch taxis, make reservations at restaurants and shows. It is crazy. There are lines everywhere. Just to give you an example, there were several hundred members of the press lined up for CES Unveiled. It took more than 30 minutes just to get to the doors. We looked like sardined penguins, squeezed into a line, and wobbling to get to sea.

As soon as I entered The Venetian Ballroom there was Lenovo just to my right. The company was showcasing new notebooks and a tablet, but there were about twenty people surrounding the small table. I didn’t want to wait so I went straight for the food. Prawns to be exact. I grabbed as many as I could and cranked up my visual radar for an open seat. I got lucky. My aching feet and back were thanking me. While snacking on jumbo prawns I struck up a conversation with a wonderful woman who works at CBS. We got to know each other well and 45 minutes zoomed by. There was still no sign the crowd was dying down. A few minutes later I decided I had to check out some gadgets in the room.

There were more than 60 exhibitors and only a few caught my eye. The first was the Tremont Electric nPower Personal Energy Generator (PEG), which I first wrote about back in June. According to Tremont you place the PEG in your backpack vertically and as you walk about the PEG turns your ups and downs into energy. According to Tremont:

26 minutes of walking provides approximately 1 minute of talk time on an iPhone 3

I stayed at the South Point Hotel, which is far enough away from The Strip that I had to take daily shuttles to either the Aria Hotel or Treasure Island. I did a lot of walking and even if I had the PEG I would not have had generated enough energy for all of my iPhone 4 needs. The concept is wonderful, but unfortunately the PEG doesn’t last forever and will eventually stop working. I was told that all you need to do is replace the battery inside, but that’s not possible with the first design. Tremont wanted to get the PEG out to the public as fast as possible, hence the limitations. It’s a bit heavy, too, at 11 ounces or 312 grams. The PEG is priced at US$159.99 and is currently backordered. Tremont is developing version two, which will be lighter and could have a replaceable battery. I was excited to find out that the PEG is made in the USA with 90% of the components locally sourced from Ohio. An iGo cable and adapter tip of your choice is included. Even with some limitations I think the PEG was one of the most interesting products at CES Unveiled.

The second gadget that caught my eye was the pipSqueak, “a square thingamajig that connects to your smart phone via Bluetooth.” Everyone who stashes his/her phone inside a large bag needs the pipSqueak. For the reasons why, click on the link above and find out.

I returned to my room exhausted. I hydrated in the bath, wrote the pipSqueak article and collapsed on the bed. Oh, I should note that Lori Rosen, President of The Rosen Group, emailed me regarding BlackSocks after reading my CES 2011: Traveling Light post. Normally I wouldn’t have been interested, but here I was in need of black socks! BlackSocks is a “sockscription” that ships black socks to you on a regular basis so you never run out.

[…] the ultimate time saver – delivering the highest quality socks, year round, right to your door. No more sock stress!

I thought it was fascinating and asked Lori if she could send me a pair. Come to think of it, I do spend more time than I should shopping for socks online (reading reviews) and at brick-and-mortar stores. I’ve been thinking for some time how nice it would be to have socks that were all the same. Finding and matching the right pair of dozens of socks after they come out of the dryer can be a pain, and a waste of time. (Note: As I was working on this article, I came across Khunu, an adventure-wear company pioneering the use of yak wool from the Tibetan Plateau and Mongolia. The name comes from the first Mongolian dynasty. Here are some facts about wool from yaks: 10-15% warmer than merino wool, odor resistant, breathable, soft as cashmere. Unfortunately it is made in China, something I’m not terribly fond of with very few exceptions.)

End of day one. The next day was press conference day at the Venetian. Vegas runs on tips (and gambling, of course). I needed some cash, for tips naturally, so I took out my handy iPhone and searched for “Chase ATM” before heading out the door. There weren’t many, but thankfully there was one at CVS right next door to the Aria Hotel, which was one of the shuttle stops. It also meant that I had to make the trek from the Aria to the Venetian on foot. “It’s good to walk and it’s good to save $4.50 in ATM fees,” I convinced myself. The $4.50 fee at hotel ATMs is extortion I tell you.

The Venetian, like many other hotels in Vegas, is so big it’s easy to get lost. I don’t mind asking for directions, and I did, but it still ended up taking a long time. Eventually I got queued up behind a line 200+ strong. The Samsung press conference wasn’t going to start for another ten minutes and the line was just starting to move, but just then someone announced that the room was completely full. I looked at the card she handed out and there was information to access a real-time stream of the event. “You must be kidding!” I was barely able to pull down emails and there was no way a video stream was going to work. So I did what 100 others did: went downstairs and got in line for the Panasonic press conference, an hour early.

It’s nice to have someone to talk to when all you’re doing is standing in line. I was spared from the hour-long boredom with conversations. I owe my gratitude to David Kender, VP Editorial Management at Reviewed.com. Fifty minutes breezed by and I was sitting toward the front and near the center. As I was getting comfortable and getting excited over all the pre-press conference chatter a thought broke the spell, “What the heck am I doing here???” I was certain Engadget was here. Wired, too, as well as a dozen other media outlets. These guys do an excellent job of jotting down everything that happens during these press conferences. I stood up, walked out and didn’t look back. Later that night I browsed through Engadget, Wired, and others and as expected they did a thorough job of combing through every gadget and technology at all of the press conferences. Unfortunately there weren’t much that interested me: 3D stuff, tablets, smartphones, TVs. (Yawn.) It turned out CES was much the same.

Before I turned in for the day I made up my mind not to attend another press conference if possible especially if an Engadget or Wired was present. I just didn’t want to waste my time, in line as well as sitting down. I also did one more thing: I gazed at Calvetica, my go-to calendar app on my iPhone, and started right-flicking all the meetings that I thought weren’t necessary. Those included any meeting before noon: I needed my rest. What was left were just a few. The dry smokey air was slowly doing me in and I wanted to take it easy the next three days. I fell asleep already feeling better.

3M, Eton, Parrot, and Samsung Mobile Display were four of the very few companies that had products and/or technologies that caught my eye during CES. But there was something completely non-high-tech and wonderful, too. You remember I didn’t pack any black socks because for some odd reason they were left out of the laundry bag? Well, a package arrived Thursday and I had a feeling it was from BlackSocks. The business center was already closed and had to wait until Friday. I’ve been telling everyone about my black socks story and wanted it to have a good ending. After waiting in yet another line, I told the person behind the counter my name and my room number. Some of my enthusiasm deflated when I was told there was a $5 “processing fee,” but I had enough excitement to veto the growing irritation.

Black socks. I had a pair of black socks. And these were high quality. I was impressed. These were made with Merino wool in Italy. No fancy decorations and were very comfortable. During the “A Day at CES” test my feet were dry, warm, and comfortable. As I was walking around I wiggled my toes just to check for moisture or any discomfort: my feet were happy. At the end of the day I was impressed. These Merino wool socks were good. Now these aren’t the very best you can get from BlackSocks. The Cashmere Silk socks are: 58% cashmere, 25% silk, 17% polyamide (toe, heal reinforcement), $27. I can only imagine how good a pair of Cashmere Silk socks would feel. I might have to find out.

Eton. I’ve never heard of Eton before but a dancing booth babe (she was the only one) caught my attention and I just had to check out what she was so excited about. There were some solar powered gadgets I was introduced to, but I was really interested in the American Red Cross-branded gadgets, especially the Rover TurboDyne emergency weather radio, flashlight, USB phone charger. This beautifully designed gizmo has a nifty crank or “self-powered hand turbine” that generates electricity. The idea that I can generate electricity to power the gadgets I use is exhilarating. The Rover is expected to ship early February and priced at $49.99.

The next item is the DIA from Parrot. I wrote about this marvelous digital photo frame back in December and I had the opportunity to see it in real life. Théodore Sean, Chef de Groupe Marketing at Parrot, shared his time and knowledge regarding the story behind the DIA. As you can see from the photo I took the DIA looks incredible. The visual effect from separating the backlight from the LCD cell brings about that experience of looking at slides, which was the inspiration that led designer Jean-Louis Frechin to develop the DIA:

Today, screens are all the same. So, with my partner Uros Petrevski, we had to find a different type of screen, without falling into the category of “do different just to be different”. We started to handle slide film, to dismantle screens, to play with transparency of light. DIA frame was born from the idea that it is impossible to represent a printed image on a photo frame. So our frame is close to a slide film, with the quality of transparence, light and format of professional ektachrome.

My visit to 3M’s booth was fantastic. The multi-display multi-touch technology and product showcases were impressive, but more than that the people who work at 3M were genuine, down-to-earth, and emanated a strong sense of family or community that I haven’t felt since returning from an extended trip to Korea last year. Jeff Han, Founder, President and CEO of Perceptive Pixel, was also on the 3M floor giving demonstrations of his ground-breaking work in implementing multi-touch in large displays. The two companies worked together to develop the multi-touch display demonstrations at CES. One technology that was mentioned but I didn’t get to witness was the ability to physically untether a multi-touch multi-display. Imagine being able to slide a photo from your display to another that’s thousands of miles away. I can imagine playing virtual air-hockey with friends from all over the world. How fun!

The lines were long. So instead of waiting for a bus, shuttle or a taxi, I started walking away from the Las Vegas Convention Center toward the Mirage, where I was invited to check out 3M’s suite. The Maps app on my iPhone frequently reassured me I was walking in the right direction. After 30 minutes (John B. tells me this can only be achieved running, was probably more like 45 minutes) and almost four miles I arrived the Starbucks huffing and puffing, and late. Stephani Simon, President of Orange Communications, was more than understanding and helped navigate through the hotel maze and up to 3M’s suite. As I walked in I recognized a couple of friendly faces and several I met for the first time. My shoulders and back screamed of pain so I quickly found a place to put my backpack down.

Craig Sykora, Product Development Manager at 3M Electronics Markets Materials Division, explained the technology behind some of the interesting prototypes that were displayed. I can’t talk much in detail about them, but let’s just say I’m looking forward to all sorts of gadgets with flexible multi-touch transparent displays in the near future.

After the briefing I sat down with sliced watermelon, honey dew, pineapples and a bottle of water that simultaneously quenched my thirst and hunger. I came to CES looking for the latest and greatest display products and technologies; I also found warmth and kindness. I was soaked in genuine hospitality, which washed away the stress from a long CES day. For that I especially thank Evelyn Baldwin, Assembly Solutions Manager. (I have a terrible memory so forgive me for the other gentleman who was so kind to share his valuable time and funny stories from Minnesota.)

Friday was another day where the focus was on people, five to be exact. But they are mostly personal in nature so I’ll skip to Saturday, my last day at CES 2011.

Samsung Mobile Display (SMD) was the only meeting on Saturday and very last at CES 2011. Transparent OLED displays. Flexible ones. OLEDs with extremely thin bezels. A Samsung Galaxy Tab with an OLED display. There were many interesting products being showcased. I was particularly fascinated by the flexible OLED display, whipped out my iPhone and started taking a video. A Gran Turismo 5 video was being looped so I wanted to capture one complete cycle. As I was hunched over with my hands acting as rudimentary optical stabilizers, someone came around and stood right beside me. I waited for the GT5 loop to end and so did he, who turned out to be Brian Berkeley, VP OLED R&D Center and SID President-Elect. Brian is exceedingly brilliant and knows all there is to know about LCDs and now OLEDs. We talked about possible future applications for OLEDs and one thing stuck: OLEDs with embedded photo sensors. There are three ideas that are fascinating. First, a display that is also your camera. Second, a display that self-powers. Third, a display that is a self-powered camera.

While I was writing this article I bumped into REC, a camera designed by Dongyeon Kim that has a rotating transparent display. The REC is nifty, but what if that transparent display was also the image sensor? If what Brian say is true, that image sensors can be embedded into OLED displays, then my insane idea can become a reality some time in the future. Cool. The limits of your imagination gain another dimension when you interact with folks like Brian. Mine sure did.

Looking back at CES 2011 the most memorable were the people I met. After all, these are the people that invent, build, and market these amazing products and technologies. While going through the hustle and bustle of CES I decided it was going to be my last. As I am writing this article I’ve changed my mind. CES 2011 certainly won’t be my last; it will just be my last where products and technologies are the focus. I’m looking forward to CES 2012 already.

PS: Thanks for making CES a pleasure: Michael K., Karina B., Allison G., Anita K., Chris C., Kathleen J., German F., Noelene M., Estaban K., Heather G., Sychuang N., Martin L., Kevin K., Edward M., Hanna C., Kristen B., Jeff H., Melanie P., Jill L., James R., Roberta D., Richard B., John M., Eui Tae K., Derek D., David F., Kristina H., TS K., Joshua S., Robert K., Jay Y., Ryan K., Richard B., Tim P., Chris M., Sunghoe Y., Angella Y., Yoo-gyung K., David Y., Bret H., Tony D., David H., Tim H., Tom R., Eric P., Sung P., Henri S., and Neil M.