Although CES 2014 was my first, I felt I learned a lot from that experience. And since I’ve been told I’m a pretty smart guy, I devised a plan to make CES 2015 even more efficient. Maybe this time I wouldn’t end up with a blistered limp by the end of the week (I didn’t!). But this meant passing up on any scheduled booth meeting, minimizing backtracking across the show floors, and using buses as breaks to rest my soles. With this in mind, I had high expectations to squeeze out more for myself, like a glorified tech glutton.
Naturally, things didn’t go quite as planned.
CES was so much bigger this year that my time went from being ‘premium’ to being borrowed. Compared to my vision of how I anticipated things to pan out, it was kind of a bummer. Although I can always hit up people via email in order to set phone/video conversations with company CEOs or managers, the dynamic is so different in person. There is a lot more to be had from keen questions when the answers come from breath and blood.
Just as last year (and likely each year to come), breakfast consisted of a single piece of fruit and an energy drink, consumed during my march to the closest free bus to the LVCC.
Aside from water during the day, that was it for me until the free dinner buffets at Pepcom, Showstoppers, and Western Digital’s 45th anniversary party. Unhealthy, right? Maybe. But breakfast and lunch lines are luxuries for those with time on their hands.
My apologies go out to all those companies who got stuck in the Palazzo suites and didn’t get much foot traffic. It’s a really craptastic place to be, because it’s the absolute opposite of convenient. The same could be said about the Venetian’s floors packed with high performance audio, but at least I can make good use of my time there. Even from the Sands Expo, it can take about 10 minutes to reach either tower’s elevators. Tick tock.
There were way more overseas companies (e.g. Shenzhen, Guangzhou) this year, and they no longer just rimmed the outskirts of halls. Some had primo locations and sizeable booths. Aside from the extra walking spent to reach something more interesting, I didn’t mind most of them – not even the booths showcasing a wide variety of products that looked all too similar to everything else. What I didn’t care for in particular was that ‘flea market’ vibe given off by some. Unless you were a buyer or distributor, some people looked and/or talked to you as if you were in the way of an important business deal. Even though they were plopped in a chair, switching between masks of vacancy or boredom not moments before.
Somehow, more floorspace also translated into more bodies at CES, resulting in more overall traffic in car and on foot. But let me tell you something about vehicular traffic in the mornings, when everyone is attempting to get to the LVCC one way or another; you’re going to spend more time in those shuttle buses. And they all smell like fetid farts on the inside. So bad.
Of course I would have preferred to walk, having personal space and fresher air. But after a full Monday and Tuesday, I was already dying on my feet by Wednesday. As press, your step doesn’t quite have the same spring to it after a couple of days. So that’s why I found myself lying flat on the bathroom floor, legs draped over the tub edge to soak tired feet in icy water, Wednesday night after midnight. Being ever-productive, I used that relaxation time to update and catch up on social media (yup, while facing the ceiling). While drinking a beer. That was me.
But enough of storytime..
It didn’t take very long for me to notice the dearth of Google Glass, compared to how frequently I saw these ‘explorers’ just a year before. But at least these few owners appeared to be regular people on whatever kind of mission. At CES 2014, I remember seeing quite a number of ‘glassholes’ just pacing around (sometimes in the middle of foot traffic), appearing aloof yet reeking of a desperate want for personal attention.
The idea for my little game dawned upon me struck sometime during 2015 Pepcom on Monday night. I had just seen my first, legitimate fanny packs and thought, “..I’ve seen a fanny pack.. but not a Google Glass.” So that’s when I decided to be on the lookout for people wearing fanny packs or Google Glass. I even got some pics for proof. I can’t tell you how tired my eyes and head was by the end of the week, due to the continuous scanning of names, booths, products, waists, and headgear.
Can you guess what won? Fanny packs took the title of dorkdom popularity at CES 2015, beating out Google Glass, 6 to 4. That’s still six fanny packs (of what should be) above the legal social limit. So while a vast majority of Google Glass users have come to their senses already, the rest of you should take note. Fanny packs are more popular. Let that sink in a bit, while you search your house for the dustiest tech shelf.
But if you really wanted to be trendy, ‘selfie sticks’ were the way to go. Couldn’t escape them in Vegas. Heck, Walgreens was selling them on an end-cap for $10 bucks apiece! And if you paid enough attention while roaming around the booths, you could have found out where to find these blinged-out, bedazzled remote camera/smartphone wands.
3D printing has matured
If you ever were curious, yet hesitant, about 3D printing, now is a great time to get in and have some fun. It’s incredible how the prices of entry-level machines has dropped over the past couple of years. It doesn’t seem that long ago when the first consumer 3D printer made it under the $1000 dollar mark. But now users have a few choices for less than half that amount. It does help that more companies have popped up to compete with some aggressive pricing. But, hey, it’s the nature of the beast.
Soon enough, we may see 3D printers practically given away as revenue focus shifts from hardware to consumables. Remember all those photo inkjet printer price wars a decade ago? Compared to the cumulative costs of ink and paper, the printer was just a drop in the bucket.
Not only has general awareness for 3D printing increased, but the complexity of designs have gone through a growth spurt. I saw stuff at the Afina, Formlabs, and Ultimaker booths that made last year’s designs look like toys for children.
And when I did see such beforementioned examples, it was explained to me that the affiliated 3D printer models were of the budget kind. Stuff for schools or entry-level enthusiasts. Despite some of the coarse designs, it’s impressive to think of how such tools can be made available to eager kids.
Given the current state of the 3D printing market, what is it that consumers are demanding? Well, I asked around and got the answers that I probably could have guessed myself. People want better prices, more back-end support, higher resolutions, faster speeds, and different materials to print with. It seems that almost anyone today can create a company to make and market a 3D printer, but long-term success will be dependent on big-picture execution.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens during 2015 in the 3D printer market. Despite some very diplomatic answers to direct questions, I could tell that some companies were ruthlessly eager to completely crush any competition. Oh, you know who you are. You weren’t quick enough to hide the corners of your sly grin. Paused too long to think and answer. Yeah, you little sharks, you.
Fitness tech still holds strong
Similar to 3D printing, wearable fitness trackers have developed a permanence with consumers. Depending on who you believe – reports showing abandon rates or the companies unveiling the latest and greatest – the hold is either tenuous or firm. But after speaking with a few teams, I’m inclined to lean towards the latter sentiment. Although many fitness-related sensors and features are found in devices such as smartphones, customers are still interested in trackers as separate equipment.
Chalk it up to personal image and lifestyle brands. The younger generations are definitely keen on choosing things that complement individual identity. These fitness companies know that there is still more room for innovation, but are really pushing for increased awareness. So what are consumers asking for? They want smaller and/or discreet and/or stylish designs with more sensors (e.g. biometric, gyroscope, accelerometer, heart rate, sleep tracking). But we knew that, right? We’re always wanting more.
But when asked deeper questions about staying relevant and competing, not all brought up presentation of information toward the end user. As I listened, I felt that companies who detailed software working with (and surpassing) hardware, and also about fitness products being a focal point for encouraging personal change and growth, were on the right track. It seems that many companies are adding sensors, features, or connectivity to devices for the sake of adding sensors, features, or connectivity. It matters little how powerful a gadget is if it can’t motivate users to wear it all the time.
Now don’t get me wrong about connectivity. I love it as much as the next guy, but just because it’s connected doesn’t mean it makes sense. A good example I came across was the Misfit Bolt LED bulb. While it may seem that such a device belongs somewhere with home automation, Misfit has wrapped it within their lifestyle perspective. It’s easy to use and doesn’t require a hub. It works with sleep tracking and can simulate a morning sunrise to compliment the body’s circadian rhythm. Plus, you can change it’s color to set a mood for any reason. Sure, Misfit is neither the first nor the last to tout such tech, but the key is that they are making connectivity centric to individuals.
Stay tuned for the second half of my CES 2015 wrap-up for drones, smart homes, and (most importantly) personal & high performance audio!