CES: Surviving the monster gadget show

A standard annual feature of CES - screens, screens and more screens. Photo / AFP
A standard annual feature of CES - screens, screens and more screens. Photo / AFP

The showfloor at CES is 1.8 million square feet. Crikey. To say I was hyped about covering this year's Consumer Electronics Show is a grand understatement. A week playing with some of the newest and coolest tech toys on the planet, and all in the bizarre desert den of iniquity that is Las Vegas, Nevada.

I was literally fizzing at the bung at the prospect of visiting geek heaven - it's the world's largest tech trade show, there's several thousand gadgets on display and all the major tech sector CEOs talking up their visions of the future. What's not to like?

With the acres of exhibits, spread across three halls, each the size of a small Kiwi town, I packed some comfy shoes and hoped for the best.

Gadgets packed

Unlike a lot of other attendees I wasn't posting videos or doing audio podcasts from CES, and only had to write stories. Using an Acer ultrabook I was able to get 5 hours plus of battery life whilst my trusty Panasonic TZ10 camera did an admirable job of shooting pics (and filling in any gaps in my failing memory).

After fitting my Samsung Galaxy SII with a T-Mobile US$3-a-day prepaid SIM card for unlimited texts data and calls, I was able keep myself semi-organised.

Size matters, phones disappear

There are a few challenges to filing stories at CES - with somewhere between 140,000 and a 160,000 analysts, journalists and buyers attending. Such huge crowds meant that doing something as simple as getting from A to B typically involved lining up with several hundred other people amidst and the noise and chaos which was truly unrelenting.

There was no shortage of Wi-Fi networks, but with thousands cramming words down the same pipe, it did get laggy and difficult. Perhaps the biggest trial at CES was keeping energy levels and maintaining focus amidst what can only be politely described as a deafening bedlam.

Sitting through several hours of press conferences, keynote speeches and wearing out a serious amount of shoe leather getting around the tens of thousands of exhibitors was nothing short of exhausting - but, let's be honest, also incredibly fun.

With an untold number of hardened smartphone-toting geeks hammering an already slow mobile network, mobile data was glacial, however at the end of the day, text messaging proved to be the most reliable form of communication for keeping track of which events were where, as well as sharing gossip with other journalists. Unfortunately my beloved Samsung Galaxy SII disappeared on my last day at CES which lead to a train-wreck of an afternoon spent filing police reports and chasing CES security to see if it had been found or handed in (as it turns out, my Galaxy is now in Taipei and is in the throes of being posted back to NZ).

Sustenance

Food in the press rooms may have been a journo freebie, but could only be politely described as basic. Good coffee options were tragically limited to Starbucks (I would've committed murder for a half decent flat white).

Thankfully I found a good Indian food outlet in one of the exhibit halls which provided a welcome break from the usual CES diet of greasy burgers and pizzas. These problems aside, CES was incredible and I'd happily do it again

The winners and losers

TVs - Both LG and Samsung had stands at CES the size of a small townships that featured an improbable number of flat screen TVs. Eye popping, more-real-than-real OLED displays and internet connectivity were the order of the day, even if Lenovo managed to steal their thunder with their amazing smart TV concept. Still some of the glasses-free 3D TVs were pretty astonishing.

PCs - If the hype was to be believed, this year's CES was all about ultrabooks, a specification laid out by Intel that sees the notebook PC slimed down to wafer thin 18mm and gaining a heap of battery life and toting ultra fast SSD hard drives. The number of ultrabooks on show at CES was impressive, and could be game changer as they hit the market in 2012/13.

Natural Interfaces - Speech recognition, touch screens and gesture controls were part and parcel of nearly all the gadgets and gizmos launched or announced at CES. Typing out archaic commands or driving a mouse could soon be a quaint reminder of the past as the barriers between humans and machines becomes just that much less impenetrable.

Smartphones - They're growing like topsy as people dump regular dumb-phones for data savvy palm-sized computers that transform how we stay in touch and online. Intel's latest foray into this category looks set to drive already intense competition up several notches as players such as HTC, Sony Ericsson and Lenovo all showcased their latest smartphone designs at CES 2012.

3D - There's nothing quite like having to wear a pair of 3D glasses already smudged, greasy and filthy after being worn by by several thousand other CES attendees to remind you just how much of a totally inconvenient pain they really are. Whilst the industry hype around 3D has been bigger than massive over the last 18 months, the sheer inconvenience of expensive and awkward 3D glasses means it is still struggling to gain traction. Here's hoping that the glasses-free 3D tech on show at CES 2012 gains traction sooner rather than later.

Tablets - Apple may have lit a fire under personal computing with the iPad, but like many, I really begin to wonder just how many of the exhibitors flogging "me too" tablets would be at showcasing them at CES 2013. Given the intense price competition and tiny amount of room for anything vaguely unique in the tablet market, it's unlikely.

Microsoft - CES 2012 may be the last time that Microsoft exhibit or have their CEO, Steve Ballmer, run a keynote event, yet they didn't go out with a bang by talking up a new Xbox or anything else remotely sexy or exciting. Attendees at the Microsoft keynote got a marketing pitch complete with a Twitter choir around how the Metro interface will be a game-changer, Windows Phone 7 and, bizarrely, a Sesame Street game for the Xbox 360 (I kid you not). The only item from Microsoft that generated any real excitement was a PC version of the Kinect motion sensor. Many at the keynote were left bewildered and wondering if Microsoft had finally lost the plot. Here's hoping Windows 8 is as cool in practice as it is in theory at launch.


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