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Adventures at CES 2013: Impudent Forks, Finger Food, and Bad News at Home

Pardon the shaky-cam video, but I’m back in Las Vegas to cover International CES, the Consumer Electronics Show, the annual gathering of gadget freaks, tech journalists, and Not Apple (and, this year, Not Microsoft, Either). I do this every year, and there are some things that are constant about the experience: for example, the Disaster Back Home. Last year, while standing at a booth next to Matt Mira looking at smartphone-enabled radar detectors, I learned by a phone call from a radio station that my neighborhood was at that moment ablaze (a brush fire came disturbingly close). This year, a tragedy on my street the day before I had to go to Vegas — a landscaper hit a power line while trimming trees — left my house without power, the breaker panel needing expensive replacement, several appliances and gadgets fried (including the Wii — no more bowling and Mario for you, buddy), and, oh, right, the poor gardener died. That would be the most important part. Maybe I shouldn’t schedule myself for this thing anymore. The Gods, they are not pleased with my attendance, it would appear.

My view of opening speech. My typical vantage point.

My view of opening speech. My typical vantage point.

But I come anyway, because I have to — I cover the show for these guys, because radio is, still, barely, a consumer electronics item. And for Nerdist, because we like gadgets. I know that a lot of Nerdist readers come to CES every year, and if you’re one of them and run into me, say hi. I may be a little distracted, because I’m worried about what else could be happening back home, but I’ll appreciate the familiarity.

The convention so far? Sunday was the Pre-Pre-Show, the Day Before Press Day, on which were scheduled a couple of “State of the Union” addresses about the industry that served primarily to get media members to sit through the speeches — they’re rundowns of trends to watch and sales figures to note (globally trending upward, except that they were actually down a little in 2012, so, um, right) — to get the prized “orange card.” That was used to get in the shorter Premier First Class Special Side Entrance queue to get into “CES Unveiled,” in which a bunch of tech firms showed off stuff in a hotel ballroom amidst media types whacking each other with overloaded backpacks and camera tripods while cutting the line for finger food (“OUT OF MY WAY, THAT SHRIMP IS MINE”) and free drinks. This year’s edition had a few interesting things, like GM’s version of Ford’s Sync (GM added Siri capability this time) and 3M’s huge Ultra HD tabletop touch display (very “CSI: Miami”, if not quite “Minority Report”). It also had a fork that sends information about your eating to, I don’t know, the CIA or someone, and vibrates when you eat too fast, which… well, maybe YOU want that, but not me. There were also headphones, someone’s competing version of Google Glasses which I couldn’t get close enough to try, a new Lenovo laptop that I imagine was behind the large clutch of people surrounding something at that booth, a combination Bluetooth speaker/headset/stylus (because you want to be able to talk to your stylus), and a tracker you drop into your luggage so if it gets lost, you can find it, like a Lojack. I kinda like that one, and I’d do it if I ever checked luggage, but I’m firmly in the stuff-it-all-in-one-carry-on club.

Monday will be the Pre-Show, Press Day, with lots of press conferences from a lot of the Big Guns (LG, Panasonic, Samsung, Lexus, Intel, Ford, Sony) and another Booths in a Ballroom gathering, a larger one. And then, on Tuesday, it’s the real show, with Ultra HD TV sets and a zillion tablets and a bajillion iPhone and iPad cases and “connected car” technology and mobs of people. But no Apple, of course, and no Microsoft, because… well, maybe they really should have brought Surface here, but they’re absent. Also, discussion panels and more discussion panels, which are the kind of things I end up having to cover (see photo). Panels are not fun. But I’ll try to let you know if I see anything that IS fun. Vibrating forks, well, that’s a start.