Every year at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), there’s an event called Showstoppers where dozens – maybe about a hundred? – technology companies show off their latest wares to the press, and the press drinks so heavily that they wind up giving everything great reviews.
Unfortunately for the companies exhibiting, I was too busy gorging myself on grilled cheese sandwiches made with white chocolate orange bread and brie to remember where I put my Sam Adams. I didn’t get to see every company there because:
- I didn’t want to.
- It’s kind of tiresome talking to booth vendors after awhile.
- I had to pry myself away from the grilled cheese.
But I did get a good taste of things. Below are my gut reactions from the various gadgets and tech toys I tried there. You can find all of their press kits online from Showstoppers, you can view more of my photos from the event on Flickr, and I have a handful of videos on YouTube.
Technology I started using right away: Seesmic for Droid
Seesmic is best known for its desktop Twitter client. I’ve tried it but I always wind up either using Twitter.com or a mobile app. On the Droid, the gold standard has been Twidroid, but I think they just went silver. When I met Seesmic founder Loic LeMeur, he showed me how Seesmic for Droid had integrated Twitter Lists, and any of its features I’ve tried out so far either mirror or surpass anything from Twidroid.
Gadget I don’t understand why anyone would ever buy unless they’re a board member’s mother: Plastic Logic’s Que
One of the hot product categories at CES were e-readers… no big surprise there. There was a pretty, glassy, thin one that debuted from Paper Logic called Que, which is designed to format newspapers and magazines in a more natural way while also making it easy to review and even annotate Microsoft Office docs like presentations. I fell over when I heard the price – $649 (4GB wifi) or $799 (8GB wifi and 3G).
So let’s see – you can get a netbook for a few hundred, or a tablet somewhere close to $1000. If tablets go big, they will kill the market for this device because tablets have web browsers, color, and really any features you’d expect from your laptop without the physical keyboard. When I saw another demo of the Que they were very quick to say you shouldn’t spend much time typing – it was only for brief notes. When I appeared skeptical, on more than one occasion, different reps would say, “But it’s for business!” It’s reminiscent of the “You know, for kids!” tagline from Hudsucker Proxy. But at least in Hudsucker Tim Robbins was selling the hula hoop, a gadget that filled a need in the market.
By the way one reader that looks far more compelling is the Skiff, but pricing hasn’t been announced. Here are some views of the Que:
Technology that will make you look like the biggest idiot in front of your co-workers: Zyxio’s Sensawaft
This wasn’t an easy award to give out – so many contenders… but Sensawaft lets you control computing devices just by breathing. The guy below was blowing into a mic and controlling flicking a website up and down. I got to do this too, and it took a little getting used to, but yes, the direction of the air blown can make a difference.
I can see it being used in some kind if My Left Foot scenario – I mean, imagine if the guy played by Daniel Day Lewis had this. Or if he had the Internet. The movie would have probably been a little less depressing.
There are some things I like about it. One big one is that they’re opening up the platform, and they created the Be A Mind Blower competition to get people to submit ideas.
I have seen other applications of breath blowing digital tech. GE’s Plug Into the Smart Grid augmented reality showcase allowed you to blow into the computer mic and turn the wind turbines. I’m sure this Sensawaft stuff is more sophisticated and perhaps more useful, but I think if your cubicle mate hears you blowing into your computer all day, they’re going to report you for running a 900 hotline.
Most creative use of an iPhone application: Yurbuds by Yurtopia
Yurbuds hooked me on a great use of both cool and practical, and it offered a fun demo of how digital tools can improve retail for physical goods.
The basic premise: custom-fitting earbuds. They have a much longer explanation for how these earbud covers fit better around your optic nerves and improve the sound and maybe improve your balance (I could use that last feature but I’m making that up). Go to their site for the specs. Ultimately, they’re these rubbery covers that make your earbuds fit better in your ear, even when running, or as I tried, waving your head back and forth like an idiot. They didn’t fall out.
What upped the cool factor tremendously though is that they’re sized with an iPhone app. You hold a quarter up to your earlobe, take a picture, and they use that to determine your ear size. It worked for me. On their site they also do it with a photo submission process. The price is $20 for the covers or $30 for the covers with the earphones, and their earphones look EXACTLY like iPod earphones. Full disclosure: I got a free pair of the earbuds and the earphones, and I used them on the plane ride home. The sound was about as good as you can expect to get from watching a Jets game on a Jetblue flight.
Best musical instrument for someone who can’t even figure out Guitar Hero: Beamz
If your kid can’t play any of these real musical instruments or even video games based on them, get them Beamz – a way to make noise just by running your hand across laser beams. They even advertise this on their site, calling it “an approachable instrument that anyone may play.” In other words, if your musical talents include banging a rock on the ground and almost kind of being able to whistle, you’ll love this.
It’s weird. I tried it out and, not being among the most rhythmically gifted, didn’t really let loose there. If you’re of drinking age, I highly recommend doing a few shots before trying this. But please note this blog does not advocate giving liquor to minors – they will enjoy it just fine as they are.
Apparently some real artists use it. I can’t remember who but they sounded famous. And you can program the Beamz to play any kind of instrument. They also have a new game Shadowbeamz. So yes, people who are talented can probably have even more fun with this than people who aren’t. But it is “approachable.” That’s one of those words often used as a backhanded compliment, but for those who like toys that make a lot of noise, I think “approachable” is a huge upside here.
Technology with most promise that’s not delivering (for me): PlayOn
I couldn’t love the idea of PlayOn more: you download software (free trial, then $40 flat fee), use your gaming console to connect to the Internet, and watch video from Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, and elsewhere on your TV. I thought this was the most impactful technology at all of Showstoppers.
Then I tried to use it.
It didn’t take too long to set up on my PC and then my Wii. A nice touch is that you can add your accounts for Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, and YouTube so you can quickly access your content.
I tried going to Hulu first to watch some TV shows, only to get a recurring ‘error loading video’ message. Then I went to YouTube to load one of my own, a brief clip from CES. It took a couple minutes to load, and then it was choppy – and this was just a 20-second clip.
My PC passes all the connection tests in the PlayOn software, but maybe if I had a newer laptop it would run better. I really wish this would work so I could easily watch Hulu on my HD TV without even needing a box. Great idea, and maybe it works better for others. It’s a free trial so I’d still recommend giving it a shot to see if it works for you.
If it does though, I might be coming over to your place to watch it.