I mentioned it yesterday, and so I’ll talk about it a bit. I went to CES this year for the first time and I have to say that the experience was… a resounding ‘meh’.
Note: I’m going to apologize if this is sent out as an email – it seems to be unusually hard to disable WordPress emails (which is yet another reason I’ll be switching away from WP).
At CES, there were about 185k people in total, with 67k exhibitors to 118 media + attendees (reference). That’s a ludicrous number of people to add to a city for a week, even with the crazy-sized Las Vegas Convention Center and hotels. For some, just the sheer number of people can be overwhelming – but that’s assuming you don’t come from a busy metropolis.
I was exhibiting, so I couldn’t make it to some of the other venues – but my venue had all the stuff I’m interested in (gaming, AI, drones, automotive, massage chairs) so it was the best one to be in.
Even with that leg-up, I wasn’t really that pumped up by what I saw. A few years ago when drones were the bees-knees, just seeing them hover was something to watch – but now, there are 50 drone companies producing 50 “almost-identical” products (I know each company has strengths and weaknesses, but fundamentally, the product is conceptually the same – a RC controlled drone, or an autonomous one).
Same with VR. 15-20 years ago – I had the opportunity to go into those high-tech VR rooms; 8 or so years ago, I tried the first Oculus Rift. In each of those experiences, while the quality might not have been great, I was pretty excited by what now existed and where they could go someday…. Well, we seem to be “there” and there are some 50 companies producing VR headsets. They improve immensely year over year, but it feels more like incremental improvement instead of game-changing.
There’s nothing wrong with any of this, and I’m not faulting a single company because the commoditization of products is how they become accessible to the masses. But that doesn’t mean I need to be excited by going to a show and seeing commoditization either.
Porn Confidential IP
The weirdest experience I had (for many reasons) was in a VR porn booth, which was nearby to where I was exhibiting. It was one of the most awkward experiences of my adult life.
It was a VR headset (some Oculus powered one) displaying porn in VR (unsurprisingly). There were 3 other people checking out the booth at the same time as me, and 3-4 exhibitors (not exhibitionists) explaining what this company did. So, here I am wearing this VR headset watching clips of a porno with some guy (that I can’t see) talking to me. There were some funny interactions, which I can’t post here – but just trust me that it was AWKWARD.
Anyways, it was such an awkward feeling that I took off the headset in about a minute and talked to the guy about the technology behind the VR capture of their custom content (which is what they were exhibiting).
After asking something like “which technology do you use for the VR capture”, he smirked and said that it’s a proprietary secret. I laughed, because there are only so many companies who make these VR rigs and I’m just curious about them from a tech point of view – but he persisted that his company’s VR capture tech was completely proprietary (even though it’s all off-the-shelf).
I think someone needs to explain off-the-shelf to this guy, because given the quality, resolution, and a few other stats – I could probably flip a coin and guess their whole tech stack.
Demo or Die
Another thing that bugged me as someone who likes to see technology (but I understood, as someone who builds technology) is that a lot of what I saw was demo material, rather than production material. My gut feel is that this was intended to attract investment or to drive hype to then attract investment for these products. Turns out, CNBC thinks similar
I don’t want to come off sounding too negative. I think the problem here for me is that the hype around CES was blown way too far out of proportion. By a couple thousand miles… In addition, I’m heavily in the technology space (read, research, build, etc) and so there wasn’t much I saw that I didn’t know already existed – so there was no “reveal” or pulling back the curtains. I could imagine that for a typical consumer, some of what was presented could be completely magic.
There were three things that I was completely wowed by, and I thought it’d be fair to mention them.
First, Omron had their first booth at CES and they knocked it entirely out of the park. They had a giant space, free beer in the evening, a CNC machine which played ping-pong with passerbys, and a ton of other cool tech. Much respect here, because for a first-time showing, it was amazing!
Second, a 4k 360 degree camera. There was more than one of these, but the experience with one of them was perfectly seamless – including the software. It’s something that I could use in a tele-conference room tomorrow and see immense value, and trust it to work exactly as demoed.
Third, an OLED wallpaper TV. So thin, so crisp. I thought it was a physical painting and the company was demoing servos/motors or something, until it changed pictures.
Finally, a $10,000 massage chair. I’ve used some pretty expensive massage chairs in my day, but this one was a complete game changer. Note: I found out the price AFTER I used it, so I wasn’t biased by cost.