The Consumer Electronics Show is the world stage to show, see and get hands-on experiences with new technology. Twelve months ago, CES was the last normal thing I remember about 2020. The pandemic changed the way we work, live and play, and in keeping with all of our pivoting, the first all-digital CES began Monday, Jan. 11. When CES first appeared in 1967, 17,000 people showed up. In recent years the show has attracted about 180,000 visitors and last year there were 4,400 exhibitors.
I had high expectations. If anyone could pull it off a digital extravaganza, it would be CES, right? But the first day wasn’t ideal for me. I’d poured through dozens of advance press releases and did due diligence to determine which products interested me. Some were added to “My Exhibits”, which one would assume to be a shortcut. But I experienced glitches with the links. By day two, all was well. Since I didn’t know what I was doing, it could’ve been me.
Leading up to CES, I’m usually working overtime to clear deadlines out of the way. I’ll travel to McLaren International Airport where I’ll be greeted by my friends Diane and Steve Brogan — my hosts the past two years.
But this year CES is VIRTUAL. So Monday I woke up at reasonable time, ate my Cheerios, then turned on my computer. BOOM. I was there.
Monday, I sat in on several live events. If something wasn’t interesting, I wandered away, so in that respect, it was like the real deal. In between the keynotes and presentations, I visited dozens of companies and viewed their content. Some of the exhibitors were “present” when I “stopped by,” so if I typed a question in the chat box, they answered in real time as they would if you were there in person.
What I’ve liked so far
So far, two events made big impressions. One was the 30-minute “Better Normal for All” press conference by Samsung. The storytelling was superb from the “Mad Men”-style opening graphics to the host (name) and introduction of products, of which some I’d normally feel under-excited about, like washers, dryers and vacuums. Samsung pulled out the stops and even the refrigerators seemed cool (pun intended). The reveal felt like what I might normally see at CES — exciting showmanship and lots of “wow.” Entertaining animal actors and vacuum robots that keep a camera eye on your pet clean up after them made for fun context for their products. Here is a link: https://youtu.be/DqXsTtW5VEo
The other was a “thing” rather than an event. Over the weekend I had a chance to explore The Taiwan Tech Arena (TTA). TTA came closest to what I imagined digital CES would feel like. A cool video greets you upon arrival visually touching on some of the companies and products. It did a great job of setting the tone and I liked this quote: “There are ordinary people and extraordinary dreamers.”
TTA was a virtual reality experience that featured more than 100 startups. Their arena was set up like you’d expect to see an exhibition hall: visitors could navigate to five categories and wander from exhibitor to exhibitor. Each startup featured multimedia presentations and I had the sensation I was wandering around the show floor. Thunderzee showcased a zinc air battery which hopes to usurp lithium ion. The zinc batteries eliminate the fire risk associated with lithium ion batteries and are more lightweight, cheaper and reportedly better for the environment.
Verizon’s presentation focused on 5G. They’ve been working to educate consumers about 5G because many of us don’t know anything about it. A series of Twitter chats have focused on it and introduced consumers to ways 5G is beneficial. (Disclosure: I have been a paid brand partner in Verizon 5G promotions). In addition to learning what is really exciting about 5G and how Verizon is partnering with businesses to enable almost incomprehensible speed in everything from medicine to delivery to sports to gaming and entertainment, it also gave us the chance to experience a live concert using virtual reality. By aiming at a QR code, viewers were taken into a VR environment to feel the reality of walking around the performers and viewing them live in 360°
Tuesday and Wednesday I spent spelunking in smaller exhibits and companies. A few that have interested me so far include:
- American Printing House for the Blind and their “Road to Code” that makes coding activities accessible to visually impaired students, preparing them for future careers.
- DeepScore enables people without traditional credit to earn “trust scores” based on facial responses to pressurized questions using AI to detect fraud/
- Nomadplug is a product designed for travelers who are tired of lugging around a bag full of adapters as they travel from country to country. It’s attractive and compact and uses magnets to morph from one adapter type to another..
- NinuPerfume positions its product as the first “smart perfume” that personalizes fragrance and is guided by AI. At the real-life CES you could experience what it smells like.
It’s actually easier to make a one-on-one connection with companies at this digital version of CES, so if you’re interested in what they’re doing, you can chat or email and they quickly respond. The immediacy makes the virtual nature of CES feel more satisfying. Also, as anyone who has attended the CES knows—the guards start shepherding people out of the venues around 5 or 6 PM. With the all-digital CES and the linked micro sites, visitors can wander around in the middle of the night. You can explore whenever it’s convenient.
I really miss the crowds, atmosphere, mind-boggling immersive displays like taking a simulated helicopter ride. And the accidental discoveries of amazing products, ideas and services like when Alibaba previewed real-time voice translation in 2019.
And I miss hanging out in the media room writing, drinking coffee and having lunch with friends, journalists and analysts who share something in common — a love of technology.
PS. A crazy thing about this story — I couldn’t publish it. We had a huge power outage from Tuesday evening until mid-day Wednesday. It’s ironic to have no Internet during a major tech event. It was like 2018 when the lights went out in the Central Hall at CES — another unforgettable moment that could only be experienced in person!