Standing on the long cab line outside the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) at this year's Consumer Electronics Show afforded me plenty of time to ponder a number of things — Las Vegas, the trade show, CES's apparent success, the likely comparison to the lack of success (I won't say failure) of Comdex, and, last but not least, why in the world I had to wait two hours for a cab.
With at least 110,000 attendees (a conservative estimate, I think), CES was a bona fide success. But on the way to making a splash, it left many confused, frustrated, and sometimes angry attendees to contend with everything from general overcrowding to a labyrinthine floor layout to the aforementioned two-hour cab lines.
So why the long lines? Well, as one cabby after another explained to me, no one wants to make a pickup at the LVCC, drop the person off at a hotel, then return to the convention center with no fare.
Instead, drivers shuttle vacationers and, as the evening wears on, show attendees, among hotels, leaving thousands stranded at the LVCC. It gets to the point where you'll count maybe two taxis every 20 minutes. There are shuttle buses, but the lines for them are also very long, and the routes have so many stops that the commute back to a hotel can burn at least an hour.
My advice to Mayor Oscar B. Goodman: Fix this before next year's show or deal with the absence of conventioneers like the one who told me he's never coming back.
Lost in the Labyrinth
The show floor was a mess as well. There were signs aplenty, but they did little to keep you headed in the right direction (none included arrows).
Booth numbers, which ran from 7,000 to over 27,000, often seemed to go up and down at the same time as you'd walk in one direction. Hanging signs would indicate you were heading in the right direction for the next section of booths but told nothing about what lay beyond.
Finding your way through the grid layout, with numbers seemingly running arbitrarily throughout, was difficult. If you needed to find booth 11,017, for instance, the banners were of no assistance. The signage could make you long for a Los Angeles freeway.
Frustrations aside, you can't argue with success; the difference between CES and fall Comdex was startling.
Back in November, my suspicions of trouble were confirmed when an announcement over the Las Vegas airport speaker system proclaimed we were attending "year one for a new Comdex," going on to explain that the show covered seven areas important to Information Technology (IT) pros.
Immediately following that, booming laughter came over the system. The guffaws were part of an unfortunately placed promo for a Vegas comedy club, but the effect was to mock Comdex. The show coasted downhill from there. But getting from booth to booth and between the LVCC and any other Las Vegas local was a breeze.
CES was a different story. I squeezed through hundreds of people crowded around LCD and plasma flat panels and DLP projectors at booths hosted by Daewoo, Philips, Sharp, and others, and I noticed that people seemed unable to get clear looks at any of these 35- to 45-inch images from more than 10 inches away.
Everyone was looking at these things, so I decided to haunt the outer edges of the show — which was so big it filled the South, Center, and North Halls and countless meeting rooms — in a quest for other cool products.
It was a good move. Here's some of what I found.
Looking Glass Video
At the quieter, outer edge of the Philips booth, I found products that were more interesting than what everyone was ogling near the center aisle. MiraVision is a wall-hanging mirror and LCD in one.
With the display off, the device looks like a mirror. When you turn the display on, the mirror disappears and you see television or your computer display (the unit can accept component, HD, and XVGA signals). You can even get different frames.
MiraVision runs from $2,400 to $4,000, depending on size. Interesting, but I cannot imagine why anyone would want this.
A Really Close-Up View
Near the side doors, I discovered what looked like a display of Oral-B electric toothbrushes. They were, in fact, JJC MagniCam handheld digital microscopes.
The $199.95 devices (set to ship April 1 — a date I would rethink) were originally developed for medical use — they even come with oto- and rhinoscopic attachments — but the developers decided to offer the microscopes to consumers because they can magnify virtually anything. The USB device delivers up to 150X magnification at 640-by-480 to your computer.
A version that will produce 1-megapixel images should arrive later this year. The MagniCam sits in a cradle when not in use.
Oddly, the developers had never heard of the Scalar ProScope. It's also a USB device, but unlike the MagniCam, it can capture microscopic movies. Still, JJC's design is far more user friendly and familiar (if you own an Oral-B electric toothbrush, at least).
The Ingineo Eyetop Centra (www.eyetop.net) was at the farthest corner of the show floor (a PR woman had to guide me there by cell phone). This $399 headset looks like a pair of sunglasses, but has a miniature display built in. The goggles connect to a portable control unit that can plug into any device with RCA video-out ports.
It runs on 4 AA batteries that also power stereo earpieces, which connect to the glasses. The headset adjusts to accommodate glasses and noses of different shapes, and the view screen also adjusts. Actual resolution is just 320 by 240, but the image appears to the viewer as something akin to that of a 15-inch display.
The claimed advantage is that you can view an image without it completely obscuring your vision. I almost immediately got vertigo — not to mention that I looked and felt ridiculous wearing the things, as I think most people will. This is not a product likely to succeed with consumers.
An expedition to other far reaches of the show floor proved more fruitful. Nestled in a small booth in the South Hall, I found ICPSolar Technologies (www.icpsolar.com). As its name implies, this company produces solar panels for a variety of products.
Company Vice President of Marketing, Nasir Ameeriar (a Ph.D — talk about hiring the cream of the crop) explained that the company uses a thin-film technology to produce these ultralight, superthin, flexible solar panels.
The panels are typically encased in one of a number of vinyls to make them waterproof and can be sewn into fabric and placed in clothing or standalone devices like the Coleman Exponent FLEX 5 Solar Panel, a portable, foldable, lightweight charging panel that stores its energy in a battery pack. ICPSolar will also sell a variety of connectors to let you power virtually any kind of DC device.
Ameeriar modeled the company's SOLARSCOTTeVest jacket that has a solar array on its back.
A Literally Stunning Demo
Feeling a bit exhausted, I decided to leave the floor. As I stumbled by the bank of exits doors that led to the sunny, outside world, I found yet another got-to-see product. What caught my eye were the images of policemen and a photo that looked like someone getting shot. As I got closer I saw the company was Taser International (www.taser.com) and knew this was bound to be interesting.
"It's the first USB-enabled weapon," explained Taser Government Affairs Manager Mark Johnson. In his hand, Johnson held what looked like a little black gun, but it was actually a Taser X26, a device that shoots a small, piercing dart at an attacker. The dart is tethered to the gun by a long, thin wire. Once the dart impales the assailant, the attacker's potential victim can depress the trigger, sending sharp, incapacitating electrical charges.
The version Johnson showed off is part of the Taser X26c Citizen Defense System that consumers can purchase this coming summer — those who don't live in states outlawing ownership of stun guns by private citizens, that is.
Two lithium batteries power the device and can be swapped out for a USB interface, which allows users to upload new software or download usage information. The latter feature, only available with the law enforcement version of the Taser, is especially useful for law enforcement because it records when the weapon was fired and under what conditions, even noting the temperature.
The consumer version ($999) includes a free training class, instructional DVD, and four single-use Taser cartridges (new ones cost $30 a piece) that hold 15-foot wires. The law enforcement version ($699) comes with a holster, but no cartridges or training.
You could even get Taser International T-shirts at the show. All you had to do was be shot by a Taser. Remarkably, Johnson said that they had some takers.
Girl Power — Sort of
There was also an interesting juxtaposition at this show. In the LVCC entrance, show organizers were promoting women and technology with the "Technology is a Girl's Best Friend" pavilion (basically a display). Editors from technology and women's consumer publications and Web sites had selected products from the show that would ostensibly appeal to women because of the devices' size, overall design, or utility.
I applaud this very forward-thinking concept, and yet I had only to spend 10 minutes on the show floor before I was confronted by the myriad odd and appalling ways vendors used women to attract the largely male audience. There was the aggressively sexual campaign promoting LCD mounting hardware with girls wearing shirts that said "Mount Me," cheerleaders for Energizer Batteries, and much more in the way of eye candy.
I just wonder how the women who did attend, many of whom work in product management, development, marketing, and PR, felt about these booths. One step forward, two back.
Nearly done reliving the past few days, I looked around to see that I was still dozens of people away from getting my own cab. If I'm not back in my office by the time you read this, please send food and water to the taxi line at the LVCC.