My CES Wish List

Jan/Feb 2011

The CES (Consumer Electronics Show), held in Las Vegas every January, is a candy-land of new electronic doodads. You never know what you’ll find around the next corner. My favorites from 2010 included 3D TVs, a roll-up piano, and the “As Seen on TV Hat”: a personal movie theater made from a visor that sports a dark curtain around the brim with a pocket for your iPhone and a magnifying lens, so you can watch movies anywhere: great for watching movies on the train; not recommended for bicycling.

Here are three technologies I’d liked to have seen at this year’s CES, though I didn’t expect to. Maybe a CW ereader like you will run with one of these and we’ll see it at CES 2012. No charge for the ideas; just let me be a beta tester.

  1. Forward-Sensing Smartphone. CES is the biggest congregation of geeks in the universe, every one of them wandering the show floor with their gaze firmly fixed on their smartphone, tweeting or emailing with vigor. It’s best to stay out of their way: I dodged a lot of head-on collisions and nearly mowed a few folks down myself. Humans just don’t have effective forward sensing. Most of us can “feel” a person coming a foot or two away, at best. The smartphone “prayer position” can shrink forward-sensing distance to zero, and with a drink in the other hand it’s likely to go negative. (“Ow!” splash “Crap!”)

    We need forward-sensing smartphones that sound a proximity alarm when someone is approaching on a collision course. The phone should also vibrate and display an on-screen alert, in case the geek is listening to another device. Candidate technologies include low-power forward-seeking radar and Ident’s über-cool Skinplex, which uses the electrical conductivity of human skin to transmit data and sense proximity. Skinplex can sense a person up to three feet away, and trigger events based on a person’s presence or touch.

  2. Elevator Games. It took 15 to 20 minutes every morning to get from my mid-tower floor to the lobby, when everyone left for the show at the same time. The stairs on my floor were blocked for construction, so I had to wait. (Can you spell “f-i-r-e t-r-a-p?”)

    Waiting on the ground floor was better: While the elevators packed full of CES attendees slowly descended, stopping on every floor, the throngs of all-night revelers that collected in the lobby amused themselves by placing bets on which elevator would arrive first. Even though no money changed hands, it was a fun game and it actually caught on: I played several times as CES week dragged on.

    Several leading Vegas hotels have smartphone apps, including Caesar’s Palace and the MGM Grand. These apps extend the hotel’s brand into the guest’s pocket, providing guest conveniences such as wireless check-in and hotel revenue drivers such as meals and show discounts. They should be upgraded with game elements such as rewarding repeat check-ins and enabling facilities-based games like the ‘Elevator Challenge.’ Prizes could be casino points or freebies, and the apps should allow guests to make real bets—measured in pennies, or mils.

    By the way, setting up an Elevator Challenge is simple: Install sensors on the elevators and readers at the ground floor; stream elevator arrival data over the hotel’s Wi-Fi network to the game servers, which in turn interact with smartphone apps downloaded by guests when they made their reservation or checked into the hotel. Throughout time, additional guest services could be added to the app including wireless guest room locks, hotel voicemail access, food and beverage charging, and bill approval, with a higher “take” rate among patrons because the app is fun as well as rewarding.

  3. Accurate CES In-Building Location. The CES 2011 iPhone app was helpful, with its zoomable floor maps and ability to search by exhibitor name, but it didn’t take me from where I was to where I needed to be.

    My ideal 2012 version would include accurate turn-by-turn show floor directions, estimate walking time between exhibits, and proactively tip me about nearby restrooms, food courts, and exhibits I’ve put on a “must-see” list. The app should integrate with the major LBS platforms, including Facebook Places, Foursquare, Gowalla, Loopt, and Whrrl, so I can see whether any of my friends are nearby.

The Las Vegas Convention Center can beef up its in-building location capabilities with systems from Polaris Wireless, MobiWERX, or Ekahau. Creating an accurate in-building location cloud would benefit the convention center, its exhibitors, and attendees: It could push food offers, exhibitor collateral, and alerts that a nearby booth is beginning a presentation or holding a drawing to opted-in smartphones, when their owners are close enough to actually take advantage of the offer.

Although these technologies didn’t make an appearance at CES 2011, many new and important consumer technologies were on display. I can’t wait for next year’s show!

Sidebar: Don’t Pay to Be Someone’s Beta Tester

Don’t buy a product introduced at CES 2011 until it’s available from a mainstream retail outlet, as tempting as it seems. Small companies that introduce new gizmos are usually happy to take an Internet or phone order, but they don’t always have robust customer service and warranty processes in place yet.

I speak from experience: At the 2010 show, I fell in love with two products. They were the solution to my problems. Once home, I bought one via the phone and the other from the company’s Website.

The first product was a stick-on sound amplifier that turned any hollow object into a speaker. I wanted speakers for camping, and this seemed perfect: Slap it onto the cooler and everyone could listen! The cord wrapped inside a hard plastic case that easily fit in one hand. That is, it did when I opened the package. It wouldn’t wind back into its shell, no matter who tried. I wasn’t willing to take a tangle of wires on a camping trip, even if they turned my campsite into a disco. I called the company, disappointed, and asked for a refund. They sent a shipping pick-up tag and promptly refunded my money. Acceptable outcome.

Things didn’t turn out so well with the second product. It never worked as advertised. The company replaced it once, after I shipped the first one back at my expense, but the second one was no better. The company refused to issue a pick-up tag, and when I returned the second unit at my expense, the company deducted a 20% restocking fee plus their initial shipping charge from my refund. Through a credit card dispute, I eventually got a full refund, but still got stiffed for $13 in return shipping charges.

So when you fall in love with a product at CES, wait. If it never appears on major retail shelves, there’s a reason why.

Laurie Lamberth sometimes rides the escalators at the Las Vegas Convention Center just for fun. Check out her CES Twitter commentary (@laurielamberth #CES2011), or learn about her strategic business development and marketing consultancy at www.laurielamberth.com

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