CES is probably the best example that folks who work around tech are just a tad insane. While no big product has yet emerged, there will be a ton of crazy stuff to see.
Yes, there will be robots, smartwatches, tablets, PCs, smart appliances, exoskeletons, body monitors, head thumpers, drones, self-driving cars, augmented reality, virtual reality, holographics, 3D printers, and a ton of junk that someone thought someone else would want to buy, but that we’ll never see again.
I’ll share my expectations for CES this year and why I’m glad I now live in a state where getting stoned is legal.
I’ll close with my product of the week: the Microsoft Surface Book, the current best example that the PC has been reborn.
CES has to be one of the strangest shows in existence. It comes right after the biggest consumer selling period in the year, and long before vendors are ready to showcase products they plan to sell in the high selling seasons of the following year.
The preparation for this show distracts from tactical selling during the holidays for those in marketing, and for everyone preparing for the show it pretty much screws up their holiday break. It can’t drive demand, because folks are broke from their holiday spending sprees. Also, with thousands of vendors all trying to get attention at once, even large well-funded companies have trouble getting any media coverage. Yet they’ll spend tons of money on the belief that if everyone else is doing it, it must be smart.
Getting around CES is like getting around Disney properties in August (trust me, there is no hell like Disneyland in August). There are huge lines for cabs, the Las Vegas monorail (which has to be one of the most inconvenient public transportation systems in the world), and buses, as well as massive lines both in and out of the airport.
Because CES comes right after the holidays, the folks who speak at its events often don’t rehearse (actually, I’m not sure some of them ever rehearse), which means that at one of the entertainment capitals of the world, you get to attend huge events that are anything but entertaining. I think this is one of the big ironies of this show. Surrounded by people who can plan and execute incredible shows, CES events often are exemplified by poor planning, inexperience, and a practice of showing mind-numbing static slides.
When Apple launched the iPhone, Steve Jobs eclipsed all of CES. Given the mass of firms and products at the show, that shouldn’t have been possible, but with everyone at the show drowning everyone else out, Jobs cut through the mess like a hot knife through soft butter.
Now, here’s a preview of some of the weird stuff at this year’s show.
The Aging Exoskeleton
Exoskeletons are cool. If you watched the Tom Cruise movie Edge of Tomorrow, you saw Tom and his girlfriend/trainer wearing them while beating the holy crap out of a bunch of aliens. In Aliens, Sigourney Weaver used one to smash the massive alien queen upside the head. One thing is clear: If you have to fight an alien, or a whole bunch of them, you’ll need an exoskeleton! Except not the one at CES.
You see, a company has figured out that kids need to know what it will feel like to grow old, so at CES they will showcase the alien-friendly exoskeleton — one that instead of making you stronger, faster, and able to leap small buildings with a single bound will make you feel as if you are 40 or more years older.
Yes, you go from having superpowers to being able to stand up and walk few steps, because we clearly aren’t depressed enough about aging and need a tool to make us dread getting old even more.
Now, I’m not going anywhere near this, because at 61, I’m pretty sure hitting the 40 years button would be suicidal. Kind of reminds me of De Niro in The Intern.
Runway-Ready Smartphone Cases
One of the really strange things about the iPhone and other design-forward products is that they tend to be rather fragile. So you pay extra to get a device that is really pretty, and then you pay more for a cover in order to preserve it, so you never get to see that beauty. Well, what about a design-forward case? Apparently, the fashion brand STIL is bringing cases to market for your smartphone that actually make a device look beautiful.
Of course, that raises the question of why we create phones that look good in the first place if we are only going to cover them up with a case and only see that expensive beauty when we first buy the device, when we get rid of it, or when we have to have it repaired.
I mean, why don’t we just design the phones to be sturdy in the first place and not spend the money on a feature we’ll never see? I think Amy Shumer inadvertently made the commercial for this.
McAfee Smart Key
John McAfee — the guy who is known for putting the Crazy in, well, crazy is launching a new device. McAfee is famous either for being insanely brilliant or brilliantly insane, depending on the year. So you’d expect any product he came out with to be nuts. Ha! He fooled us and apparently came up with a pretty good idea: a universal electronic key that works with everything that needs a key. It is electronic, though, so it won’t work on your mechanical locks.
However, it will unlock your phone, laptop, car, home, etc., when you are near — and then each automatically locks up again when you walk away. If the battery goes dead, you might be totally screwed — but the idea of having only one device to get into everything is a damned good one. Granted, you’d likely want to guard this thing from, oh I don’t know, folks like John McAfee, but otherwise it really isn’t a crazy idea at all. I think John is just messing with our heads.
Cannabis Business Opportunity Tour
Leslie Bocskor, the founding chairman of the Nevada Cannabis Industry Association, offered to give me personal tour of CES, pointing out which companies to invest in.
Setting aside how smart it would be to take investment guidance from a cannabis expert — go long on Doritos! — apparently there is some marijuana tech at the show. One of the examples is Potbotics, a firm that is developing (I’m not kidding) an EEG brain scan technology for marijuana users. We actually are going to see what someone’s brain looks like on drugs! Bet it looks nothing like fried eggs…
On the other hand, depending on what Leslie brings on the tour, I may be passing up the most relaxing opportunity at CES. Granted, I’d probably just stop at one of the TV showcases, grab some munchies, and not leave the show until July.
The Samsung Super-Smart TV
Samsung is going to showcase a new smart TV that has a SmartThings hub in it. I have a SmartThings hub, and ever since Samsung bought the technology, the SmartThings forum has been full of folks trying to get this hub to work.
Yes, apparently it is more like a do-it-yourself programming platform (example here) and sometimes it actually works. I found out about it when I was looking for a way to get the Amazon Echo to talk to a Sonos sound system. Though it doesn’t pass music — it just allows you turn on and off speakers with your voice — it works more than 30 percent of the time, and takes only slightly longer than the Sonos remote takes.
So, Samsung takes something that is currently really reliable and adds a control function that doesn’t seem to be working all that well at the moment, and the result should increase cannabis use for stress relief. The idea of a smart TV as an Internet of Things hub isn’t a bad one, but you’d think they might want to get the standalone hubs working reliably first.
As I think about this, given cannabis is legal in Oregon, rather than go to CES this year I should kick back in my living room and enjoy my newfound recreational substance freedom. I could do the tour in my head and not have to worry about an exoskeleton that might kill me, a smart TV I’d have to program, or why John McAfee is creating what appears to be the ultimate key.
Well, I will be at CES this year — and unfortunately not stoned, along with many of my peers. Sadly, I am suddenly recalling the ancient gladiator saying, “We who are about to die salute you!”
One thing to think about: No matter how badly your Monday is going this week, I’ll be up at 5 a.m. just after mostly recovering from a McAfee-like New Year’s party, and flying through some of the most insane weather anyone has ever seen to go to a show that makes no sense — so you’ll be doing better than I am. That should help get one of us through the lousiest Monday of the year.
The Surface Book arrived just before Christmas, and it was actually the highlight of Christmas day. (This year I mostly got clothing.)
What really strikes me is just how beautiful this 2-in-1 laptop is and how far Microsoft has come since the Zune. From little things like the magnetic charger connection to big things like the electronic screen release, this product is more a view of the future than it is a product of the present. While the Surface Pro is by far the more practical product, the Surface Book makes a statement. It is the only product since the old Dell Adamo that has the potential to get an Apple user even to consider moving to Windows.
One of the most powerful design elements is the hinge that extends the base of the laptop, allowing it to remain balanced even though the screen is a full tablet and relatively heavy. It is very much as if you took the best parts of a MacBook and an iPad Pro and molded them into a single offering — and from the moment you open the box, you have to keep checking to see if there is an Apple logo on it.
In the end, though, the most powerful part of the Surface Book is that it starts off 2016 with a very high design bar — one that the PC OEMs are sworn to top. It is a precursor to what likely will be the most beautiful line of notebook PCs the world has ever seen. As with most halo products, I don’t expect many to actually buy the Surface Book — but those who do should get a piece of history, and that’s why the Microsoft Surface Book is my product of the week.