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The cheerleaders and skeptics at CES

The cheerleaders and skeptics at CES


At CES Unveiled, exhibitors and analysts scramble for the next big thing

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CES Unveiled
CES Unveiled

CES Unveiled, an early press event at the show, usually serves as a well-mannered appetizer before the face-stuffing free-for-all that is the CES floor. This year was no different, offering up GPS-enabled drones and eye-tracking gizmos. But alongside the gadgetry, it also brought the first taste of the strange mix of rumor and gadgety anticipation that can only be found at CES. After months of speculation on what this year’s hot new gadgets would be, this was our first chance to find out what the crowd of exhibitors and analysts at CES actually thinks.

The results were, in a word, inconclusive. If there's a big barnstorming gadget out there (and there are a few candidates), the early adopters haven't caught on yet. "What's funny is, I haven't heard much," said Jonathan Bacon of Wilson Electronics. "Two years ago, it was the 3D-TV. I'm curious to see what it is this year."

"I'd like to see someone do something we don't see coming."

The biggest contender is the mysterious new Samsung TV design, but most of the people at Unveiled were more interested other things. One analyst named Francis Rabuck singled out the new UI modes on display. "I like the Lenovo Tablet with the joysticks that make the surface adaptable," he told us. "Also the bendable displays, I like that." (We assume he was talking about these.)

The biggest complaint was that there was nothing we didn't see coming. Even Rabuck's displays were announced a full six months ago, something some attendees complain is sapping the element of surprise. "You know more and more in advance what you'll see," said Christopher Ward, who came to the conference representing ByteNow. "I'd like to see someone do something we don't see coming. But I think the last time I saw that was Palm in 2009."

Just a few hours later, Nvidia offered just that with Project Shield, an Android gaming project that, good or bad, most people didn't know was coming. The element of surprise, it turns out, looks something like this:

Their CES is a more narrow, focused thing

But wherever the "holy crap, that looks cool" spirit of CES was, it was not strong within the Mandalay Bay Conference Center. Most of the exhibitors were too busy with their own products to keep tabs on the rest of the scene. Their CES is a more narrow, focused thing, compared to the flood of gear that blog-watchers see. And occasionally people are just there to get the word out, as in the case of John Bunch. He made his living as a Zappos dev, and had won the Startup Weekend hackathon just hours earlier, with a project called Prymd, a crowd site that quizzes users on matching names to various faces pulled from your social network.

"I live in Las Vegas. I've been here seven years. The first couple years I went to CES, but I stopped following it after a while. I don't know why. I guess it didn't seem worth it." But the technological culture! The benevolent arc of the future! The crazy television! Bunch was unmoved. "I don't know how I would really use it."

Of course, most of us won’t use the things on display at CES, but sometimes you just go to the fair to see the lights.