CES 2013: Lessons from Las Vegas

 
CES crowds

I've been coming to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas since 2007, and I think at last I'm beginning to get the hang of it.

It's loud, overwhelming, crowded and sometimes chaotic - but there are ways to cope with it. So here's what I've learned in Las Vegas this year.

The best stuff is not on the floor

Leap allows you to use gesture-control on your computer

The two most exciting products I came across at CES this year were not on any of the stands in the vast Convention Centre, and neither was made by one of the big names in consumer electronics.

The Pebble watch, which connects to your smartphone and allows you to look at text messages, answer calls - and even tell the time - with a simple glance at your wrist is already a huge hit thanks to the crowdfunding site Kickstarter. And just by turning up in Las Vegas and announcing that the watch was at last going to ship, Pebble's CEO Eric Migocovsky managed to create even more buzz around his product.

This may just be version 1.0 of the smartwatch era, with plenty of bugs that need to be ironed out, but Pebble looks certain to make Mr Migocovsky one of the tech industry's brightest young stars.

Eric Migicovsky demonstrates his smartwatch

And in an unpromising back room I was shown something even more impressive. Leap Motion's Leap is a small, beautifully designed device that you plug into your computer. This creates an invisible field around the computer, allowing you to control what happens on screen with your fingers, whether it's slashing melons in a game of Fruit Ninja or shaping a vase in a 3D design program.

This was the most impressive demo I've seen of gesture as a new computing interface and it looks set to make the founders of Leap Motion very rich. Our predecessors in the shabby conference room were executives from one of the biggest names in global entertainment, and the firm has already struck deals with computer makers who will install their technology inside their products.

Get connected

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Live U bonds together several Sim cards to produce a strong broadcast signal”

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It is no use gathering interesting material if you can't find a quick way of shipping it back home. We used to rely on satellite feeds - reliable but expensive - but most of the time we are now using internet connections to feed our video and audio back to the UK. This means hotel wi-fi, which is often flaky but served us well this time, or mobile phone networks.

And this year we tried something new to go live, a technology called Live U which bonds together several Sim cards to produce a strong broadcast signal. With 4G networks available in Las Vegas, this worked a treat when we broadcast live from the Strip late at night - eight TV and radio broadcasts without a hitch. But when we tried it again from the Convention Centre the next day, the speed dropped so far that the video image froze and we had to give up. However fast the mobile networks, put thousands of technology journalists in one place and they will test them to destruction.

Sensible shoes, sporadic sleep

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Fitbit seemed reluctant to hand over information to my phone”

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CES is an exhausting experience and if you're travelling from the UK, there is the added challenge of jetlag. Then there is the geography of Las Vegas, a city almost devoid of public transport - there is a monorail but it seems designed mainly to get you to walk miles through casinos before you find a station.

You could try a taxi, but during CES the queues are endless so walking is often the best option. This year I wore two fitness devices, the Fitbit and Nike's Fuelband, that monitor your activity and sync the data with a smartphone.

Each showed me walking miles each day, though the Fitbit struggled to cope with the different timezone and seemed reluctant to hand over information to my phone. It was also supposed to monitor my sleep pattern but as I had to remember to press a button before I fell asleep, this didn't really work. Overall, I reckon I managed about four hours sleep each night - but this is Vegas, who needs sleep?

Teamwork is vital

In the business of broadcasting, you have to operate as a team and I'm lucky to work with some really talented people.

Some gadgets on show, including split-screen 3D TVs

This year, cameraman Steve Adrain surpassed himself with stunning time-lapse sequences of Las Vegas traffic by night, and calm late edits to meet London deadlines. Producer Victoria Fritz, who spent weeks researching interesting companies in advance and dug out the Leap Motion story, also proved invaluable on security duties.

As I broadcast live to BBC Breakfast at midnight outside Planet Hollywood, I saw out of the corner of my eye my producer speeding past in hot pursuit. Two drunks out on the town had decided it would be great to appear on British TV, demonstrating their own gesture interface. Victoria thought otherwise and ushered them firmly down a flight of steps and out of shot.

And one last lesson - never moan to colleagues or family about the sheer hell of covering a gadget conference in Las Vegas. Some of your gripes may be true but nobody's ever going to believe it is anything but the best job you could imagine. And they're probably right.

 
Rory Cellan-Jones Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 52.

    Oh dear, left this story open for a whole 3 days to invite comments and so far only managed 51, the vast majority of which seem to be criticising Rory's lack of technical knowledge, a rumour he only got the job because of who he knows, his constant plugging of Apple and last but not least, the fact us licence payers are funding this jolly and his, I am guessing, not inconsiderable salary.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 51.

    49.mediapunk "Is there something that can take me right back to the Stone Age"?

    Just switch it all off. You are in control. It does not control you. Get a grip! Engage a neighbour in conversation.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 50.

    @48. thiswayup
    Strangely at least this time he mentions something other than Apple so progress is being made.
    Of course, the mistakes in the coverage on the BBC are huge and many (even suggestion that the S40 phones Nokia are pretending to be smartphones are Symbian - they are not (mores the pity).
    But don't worry, your taxes here are only spent on a huge salary, 1st class flights and hotels

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 49.

    I'd like some time-saving tech gear please. All of my time is taken up on my time-saving tech gear.

    Is there something that can take me right back to the Stone Age (apart from nuclear weapons), when life was more productive, and less complicated?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 48.

    I finally signed up to BBC comments, driven by the passionate need to express how utterly terrible this report was. I have no idea who the reporter is, but a quick look at other articles does not rescue the situation for him. The BBC really needs to do better. I'm off to Google proper technology reports.

 

Comments 5 of 52

 

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