There are many ways to describe the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, such as: vast, tiring, over the top, technophilic, illuminating, geeky, and productive. One more to add to the list is "social." Now that this year's gadget fest has wrapped, it's time to follow up on last year's roundup and check out the social side of CES 2011.
Tablets: You can find tablets wherever you look at CES. They line the walls, hors d'oeuvres are served on them, and strippers walk around wearing nothing but touch-screens. Maybe I'm exaggerating, but only a little. There's not much inherently social about tablets in particular, but if you look at the trends for social media usage as a percentage of digital media consumption, then tablet adoption will only accelerate social usage.
TVs: I'm a big believer in the living room's reinvention, or at least reimagination. Yet it's not so much about tweeting and Facebooking and checking in and chatting from your TV set. Video-chat on an HDTV is especially frightening to me. As someone who's had his face projected on to more than one large building, I know that no one — family and friends included — needs to see me in 1080p resolution. Instead, you'll find social media interwoven into the experiences, from reviews of Netflix content to multiplayer gaming.
Multimedia Sharing: I technically brought along four cameras to CES: a Canon SX30IS, a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH20, an iPhone, and a Motorola Droid. With all options on hand to capture the event, it was still nearly impossible to upload photos with the spotty wireless coverage across Las Vegas. It's a sobering omen of what lies ahead when the vast majority of mobile users are sporting smartphones.
Check-ins: I tried a bunch of check-in apps out in Vegas: Facebook, Foursquare, Yelp, Whrrl, SCVNGR, Gowalla, and possibly others. See the note above about the wireless — it's amazing anyone checked in anywhere. There were a bunch of rewards around if you could get a signal. Hotels like the Wynn offered free drinks to anyone who checked in, while SCVNGR offered some rewards at certain exhibitors' booths. With any of the rewards I found, I happened to stumble on all of them. I never saw any of them promoted by the venues themselves, so there was a missed opportunity.
Portable power: Portable charges for mobile devices facilitated my social media usage out in Vegas. I brought along a Zaggsparq 2.0 charger with 2 USB ports that claims to carry four full iPhone charges, all in a device that fits in a jacket pocket. I then won a poorly designed but compact Case-Mate charger while I was there, and both saved me during nights when I was texting people all night trying to link up with friends. Until battery life dramatically improves, these gadgets could wind up driving quite a bit of mobile usage — social and otherwise.
Crowdsourcing: Quirky's one of the more fascinating companies I've come across in recent years. It crowdsources product development, and people who influence the product earn a percentage of its sales. I didn't realize they're yet another one of the startups operating in my fair borough, so I'll be keeping even closer tabs on them back home.
Wearable and shareable: When it comes to CES launches of products that people I know will actually buy, the Nike+ SportWatch GPS is way up there. It's not the first GPS watch, but it syncs up seamlessly with the Nike+ online community. Before catching the Nike demo, I didn't realize that if you see someone share on Facebook that they're running, you can cheer them on, and the runner will hear your cheer live.
Washing and tweeting machine: All devices are becoming digital, and more are Internet-enabled, too. I was fascinated by LG's new line of appliances that connect to the internet for a range of purposes, from managing power consumption to updating the best ways to care for your clothes. Still, I'll beg them not to open it up to third-party developers so that Twitter and Farmville come to your fridge, even if a few friends of mine (OK, maybe just my colleague Matt Wurst) would want to be mayor of his own oven.
The future of brands: I didn't get to many panels at CES, but I lined up early for the Entertainment Matters keynote panel featuring The Coca-Cola Company CMO Joe Tripodi, along with leaders from MediaLink, Akamai, IPG, Microsoft, and WPP. The money quote came from Tripodi: "We're more in the space of managing communities than creating ads." He referred to community management several times, while other times decrying push marketing as passé.
Think about that. This CMO of one of the biggest brands and advertisers in the world wanted to talk about anything but advertising. Better than anyone else there, it took Tripodi one sentence to show how fast the world is changing. We'll see how much changes between now and CES 2012