TIME Technologizer

CES Still Matters, but Shadow CES Matters Even More

A sign at International CES 2014 in Las Vegas Bloomberg / Getty Images

Shadow CES -- the show beyond the show, largely carried on behind closed doors.

So was this year’s International CES in Las Vegas a success? I had a good time, as I expected I would. As usual, though, the yearly gadgetfest had to deal with its share of critics — including people who didn’t even attend and still considered themselves qualified to declare it to be a bust. But the numbers seem to indicate that it’s still thriving: This year’s edition hosted more than two million square feet of exhibition space, breaking last year’s record, and the number of exhibitors (3,200+) and attendees (150,000+) were apparently similar to 2013.

But really, it needs to be said that whether you’re a CES skeptic or cheerleader, obsessing over the size of the exhibition halls and the quantity of companies and products contained therein is kind of missing the point. A gigantic percentage of what makes the trek to Vegas worthwhile for those 150,000 participants is what I think of as Shadow CES — the show beyond the show, largely carried on behind closed doors.

Shadow CES consists of:

  • The private meeting rooms at the LVCC and the Venetian, which were often private because the people in them — manufacturers, component makers, retailers, reporters and others — were discussing secret future products that weren’t announced at the show.
  • Hundreds, maybe thousands of hotel suites on and off the Strip, often occupied by companies with no formal CES presence at all, also largely devoted to meetings about items that aren’t yet public knowledge.
  • Independent press events such as Pepcom’s Digital Experience and ShowStoppers, where both large companies that don’t want to bother with the CES show floor (such as HP) and small companies that can’t afford the show were demonstrating their wares.
  • Private exhibition space such as the restaurant at the Venetian that Lenovo took over to show off its new PCs and other products (it was so full of gear that the company had to rent out another nearby eatery for meetings).
  • Meetings of varying levels of formality all over Vegas — I had two good ones sitting on the floor in a hallway in the Las Vegas Convention Center, and learned things from people I just happened to bump into as I raced around the show.
  • A meaningful percentage of the breakfasts, lunches and dinners consumed during the show, since so much business was conducted over meals.
  • Probably other confabs so secretive that I don’t know about them.

It’s worth nothing that countless companies that “weren’t at CES” attended Shadow CES. For instance, when Microsoft announced that it wouldn’t be on the show floor in 2013, it made headlines and was taken as possible evidence that CES was on the cusp of collapse. The company stayed away from the LVCC again this year, but it sent plenty of staffers to Vegas and paid for a sizable private space at the Venetian, where they met with the people they felt like meeting with — including me — and talked about the subjects they felt like discussing. (CES’s January show dates rarely synced up with Microsoft’s major product launches, which meant that its exhibition space was often devoted to demos of products and services that everybody was already familiar with, giving the whole exercise a redundant feel.)

The average encounter at Shadow CES is probably more interesting than the average CES one, for several reasons. For one thing, they’re often about products and plans that are further out, and therefore more tantalizing. For another, the privacy makes for better conversation than the chatter at the official show, which rarely strays too far from official talking points. It’s the industry in a less polished form, with an emphasis on substance over hoopla.

Being on the CES show floor can make a huge amount of sense if you’ve got something newly announced that needs to be seen to be fully understood, such as a curved 4K TV set. But if you’re just talking — maybe about the next generation of products beyond this year’s CES debutantes — you aren’t seeking attention and don’t need to splurge on a fancy booth. And by avoiding the floor, you avoid having to deal with whatever random people show up and demand attention, such as folks seeking tech support.

In the end, CES and Shadow CES feed off each other. Nobody would bother to go to Las Vegas a few days into the new year if the high-profile stuff wasn’t there: giant booths, flashy announcements, keynote speeches and press conferences. But the activities of Shadow CES, though usually unglamorous, do at least as much to keep the industry healthy — especially since so many of them involve business transactions of the sort that don’t get done on the show floor, such as deals between manufacturers and retailers.

Every CES participant attends his or her own distinct Shadow CES: Nobody gets to see anywhere near all of it, and I’m afraid that some of the juiciest parts are off-limits to journalists like me. (They involve hush-hush products we won’t learn about for months to come — in some cases, not until CES 2015 or beyond.) So it doesn’t make sense to declare that this year’s Shadow CES was better or worse than last year’s Shadow CES. But I do know that it remains an essential ritual — and that any assessment of CES’s relevance that doesn’t acknowledge its importance is too incomplete to take seriously.

TIME Big Picture

The Next Big Thing for Tech: The Internet of Everything

Newest Innovations In Consumer Technology On Display At 2014 International CES
Samsung spokesmodel Kai Madden displays the connectivity feature on a Samsung smart refrigerator. David Becker / Getty Images

Although we have been talking about connected devices since the mid '90s, I think we will look back at this year's CES and realize it as the event where the Internet of Everything finally hit the mainstream.

In a column I wrote here before CES, I outlined eight trends I suggested would come out of the show. I omitted a key trend known as the Internet of Everything (IOE), as it was implied throughout out most of the trends I listed. But now that I have digested the events of the show, I should have called it out as a trend in its own right because it ultimately became the true theme of this year’s CES.

This became very clear to me during a meeting I had with the CEO of Cisco, John Chambers, where he outlined Cisco’s thinking on IOE. The financial numbers he predicts for the impact of IOE in the public sector alone: $4.6 trillion. He believes it will have a dramatic impact on everything from city planning, first responders, military, health and dozens of other environments. When I hear numbers this big, I become skeptical. We’re talking about trillions of dollars here, not billions. However, when you look at the ultimate idea of what IOE is, these numbers could be on the mark.

The Internet of Everything has become a catch-all phrase to describe adding connectivity and intelligence to just about every device in order to give them special functions. At the show, for instance, there was an Internet-connected crock pot. You could control when it comes on and adjust its settings from the other side of the world. There were also various car vendors who introduced the next generation of connected automobiles. All of them referred to their cars as being part of IOE. Smart cars, smart appliances, smartwatches and more all end up with the “smart” moniker in front of them when they become tied to the Internet and interconnect to ecosystems of devices, software and services. The company behind the Sleep Number beds even announced a smart bed that monitors sleep patterns with 500 sensors built into the mattress, sending the results to an app on your smartphone or tablet.

As I walked the CES show floor, which by the way had 2 million square feet of exhibit space, it was hard to find a product that didn’t have some form of connectivity.This was especially true in the health section, where about 60 booths showed off health-related wearables that monitored steps taken, heart rate, calories burned and blood pressure. There were even personal EKG systems. I was wearing the Fitbit Force wrist band and found that I walked in excess of 20,000 steps each day I was at the show. When I checked out the various cars on the show floor, all were showing off how smart and connected they were. There were connected TVs, refrigerators, appliances, home automation systems; you name it, and it was connected in some way or another to the Internet or to a smartphone, tablet or PC.

The IOE focus on health is quite interesting and I consider very important. In the health section at CES, United Healthcare, which is one of the largest health care insurers in the U.S., had a large booth that highlighted various health monitoring devices and online educational services. Healthcare providers and insurers know that keeping you healthy and out of the hospital is much cheaper and better than taking care of the costs for you if you get sick — and especially if you’re admitted to a hospital. So they are very much behind IOE, suggesting that people use things like the Jawbone Up, Misfit Shine, Nike Fuelband, Fibit Force and dozens of other health devices used to motivate you and monitor your exercise. Some of these devices, such as connected blood pressure kits and connected blood glucose testing kits can even send the data they collect to your healthcare provider so that he or she can monitor your progress. As a type-2 diabetic, I was especially interested in a product from Dexcom: a continuous blood glucose monitoring system that uses a subcutaneous sensor inserted into the arm, belly or thigh and wirelessly communicates with a handheld digital monitoring device. This monitor then slides into an Internet connected docking system and can send an entire 24-hour or even a 10-day reading to your healthcare provider so he or she can see how you are doing with your meds and make adjustments in real time.

Connected cars will be the big differentiators for the auto industry in the near future. AT&T announced a major platform that can be used by car makers to add 4G connectivity and services to their vehicles. And last fall, AT&T introduced a foundry that will serve as a source for automakers to make their cars smarter. At CES, AT&T announced that Audi and GM would be using AT&T’s 4G solutions, and in a surprise move said that GM would move its OnStar services from Verizon to AT&T soon.

Intel, Nvidia, Qualcomm and most of the semiconductor companies at the show all announced new processors and services aimed at IOE with Intel announcing its Quartz chip for wearables and a new SOC (system on a chip) called Edison, which is the size of an SD card and provides a complete computer system for use in all types of IOE devices. I see Qualcomm as being one of the really big players and winners in IOE since the company has been championing IOE for the past two years and attacks IOE at two levels. Its mobile chips and radios are used in millions of smartphones and tablets now, and the company has also been pushing something it calls the Digital Sixth Sense, which relates to another important part of IOE: sensors. Qualcomm’s sensors are called Gimbal processors.

Billions of sensors will be shipped each year. These sensors give devices like lights, beacons, appliances and home automation systems a connection to other devices and Internet ecosystems. Market researcher IDC projects that by 2020, 220 billion connected devices will be in use. Qualcomm can deliver these sensors in dedicated products such as beacons and home automation systems, but they can also be added to the company’s Snapdragon mobile processors that power phones and tablets.

Although we have been talking about connected devices since the mid ’90s, I think we will look back at this year’s CES and realize it as the event where IOE finally hit the mainstream. Over the next three to five years, all companies will create products and services that fit into a world of smarter devices, services and ecosystems. While there will surely be some variants on this theme, the bottom line is that the Internet of Everything is the next big thing for tech and pretty much all industries, as they’ll all want to be part of this revolution.

One last note on IOE: What I share here is simply the trend. All industries will still have to deal with issues like security, privacy, hardware compatibility, software compatibility, synchronization, wired infrastructure, wireless infrastructure, data mining, data analysis and dozens of other things that will make IOE really work all over the world. While IOE is the next big trend, the next step will be to work on these major issues if IOE is to meet its full potential.

Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every Monday on TIME Tech.

TIME CES 2014

Samsung and LG Show Off Curved TVs That You Can Bend Yourself

That title is misleading. You are not expected to bend the screens of these TV using your own strength.

There are, however, buttons on each remote that you can use to make the screens bend and unbend at your whim, all the while cackling like a maniacal supervillain in your man-lair.

Here’s a quick video of Samsung’s TV getting a workout:

Blink and you’ll miss it, right? And here’s a photo from the CES show floor of LG’s similar bendable TV concept, which sports a 77-inch screen:

LG Flickr

No word on when we’ll see one of these for sale. If you’re wondering what the point is, it’s mostly to show off that curved TV screen technology is coming and it’s coming fast. Samsung noted at its CES press conference that being able to curve this TV for watching movies while keeping it flat for watching other stuff would be a nice feature, too.

MORE: Check out TIME Tech’s complete CES coverage

TIME CES 2014

Polaroid to Finally Get the Museum It’s Always Deserved

Polaroid Fotobar

A loving look back at instant photography is in the works for Sin City, in a massive space just off the Las Vegas Strip, putting the spotlight on the vintage cameras (and the photos they created) acquired from museums and universities nationwide

Right in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip, there’s a new shopping and entertainment complex called the Linq. I didn’t get there during my trip to CES. But I’m already looking forward to visiting it next time I’m in here — because there are plans afoot to open a museum there devoted to my favorite technology company of all time, Polaroid.

The museum is a project of Polaroid Fotobar, a startup that’s building retail stores where folks can have their camera-phone pictures turned into Polaroid-like printed snapshots, collages, framed art and more. Like everyone else who sells Polaroid-branded products these days — from the makers of an Android-based instant camera to 4K TVs — Fotobar licenses the Polaroid name from its current owners, who are in the business of renting out their iconic brand rather than developing products themselves. It makes for a weird array of offerings — hey, Polaroid yoga mats! — but the business strategy seems to be working. The Polaroid booth at CES was big, bustling and full of stuff.

The Polaroid Museum will be devoted to the real Polaroid, the one that was the brainchild of the amazing Edwin Land. It was founded in 1937, introduced the world’s first instant camera in 1948 and was, for decades, part of everyday life. Cameras such as the SX-70 are among the most dazzlingly clever pieces of consumer electronics ever invented. The company started floundering in the 1980s and fell on extremely hard times in the digital photography era, but its products and the photos people took with them still make people smile. The idea of paying tribute to this memorable slice of American culture on the Strip doesn’t feel crazy to me.

The museum will be co-located with a Polaroid Fotobar at the Linq in an 8,500 square-foot space. Its founders are currently trying to raise $100,000 on crowdfunding site Indiegogo, and say that they plan to open the museum in April. If that sounds like a small budget and a short time frame for such an ambitious undertaking, you’re right: They’re already hard at work on the project, which they were previewing at CES, and say it’ll happen no matter how the Indiegogo campaign goes.

To fill the museum with artifacts, Fotobar is working with organizations such as MIT, which has the original Polaroid Corporation archives, and the Andy Warhol Museum, which has some of the many, many Polaroids Warhol snapped with his beloved Polaroid Big Shot.

Beyond Warhol, many of the greatest photographers of the 20th century liked taking Polaroids: Ansel Adams, Chuck Close, Walker Evans, Robert Mapplethorpe, Helmut Newton and many others. And today, even though Polaroid no longer makes instant cameras and film, photographers such as Lucas Michael continue to use vintage cameras with film manufactured by FujiFilm and the Impossible Project to take new Polaroid photos. So Polaroid doesn’t seem like a limiting subject for a museum, but rather one which could provide fodder for exhibitions for years to come. Here’s hoping that the idea takes off.

Polaroid Museum Project [PolaroidFotobar.com]

TIME CES 2014

This Is Pretty Clever, Lenovo

Jared Newman for TIME

The ThinkPad 8 tablet solves the covered-up camera problem.

I’m not going to do a big post on Lenovo’s ThinkPad 8. It’s a nice-looking little Windows 8.1 tablet, a bit on the chunky side, but with an impressive 8.3-inch 1920-by-1200 resolution display. I just want to point out a bit of smart design in Lenovo’s optional “QuickShot” cover, which snaps onto the tablet magnetically and serves as a stand and screen protector.

You’ve probably seen some iPad users awkwardly holding their Smart Covers out to the side while trying to take a shot. Lenovo realized that it’s annoying to use rear-facing tablet cameras when there’s a cover attached.

The QuickShot cover solves the problem by letting users dog-ear the corner to expose the rear camera. Doing so causes the Windows camera app to launch automatically, while the flap stays folded by magnet. Folding the QuickShot cover closed again exits the camera app before shutting off the screen. Sometimes it’s the little things that are the most impressive.

Lenovo’s ThinkPad 8 is launching later this month, with a base price of $399.

MORE: Check out TIME Tech’s complete CES coverage

TIME CES 2014

New Laptop Charger Fits in Your Pocket, Has Apple Acquisition Written All Over It

Doug Aamoth / TIME

And we shall call it "MagSafe Nano." Sixty-five watts. Impossibly small.

Here at CES, the annual gadget show in Las Vegas, a company called Finsix is showing off the world’s smallest laptop adapter.

Using technology they developed at MIT (“very high frequency switching” for those of you keeping score at home), the group managed to shrink the innards of your common laptop charger down into something that could easily be mistaken for a cellphone charger.

Finsix

The result is a highly portable, 65-watt power adapter that also sports an inline USB connector so you can charge your laptop and your smartphone (or tablet or just about any other portable device) at the same time. The plug itself is a two-prong plug, too, so you won’t need to hunt for a three-prong outlet.

The Finsix charger will hit the market toward the middle of the year, with pre-orders to begin in March for around $90. It’ll be a universal charger, with tips to fit the makes and models of popular laptops.

Therein lies the giant asterisk, however: Although Finsix wasn’t shy about showing off its adapter juxtaposed against the relatively bulky MacBook power brick, the problem is that Apple doesn’t license out the use of its MagSafe magnetically-attached power connector for use with third-party universal power adapters.

I spoke with Finsix VP Joe Scarci, who said they’re hoping Apple might change its tune due to the Finsix adapter’s unique design, but admitted that such an outcome is going to be a tremendous challenge. When I suggested the Apple might just buy the entire company – a small group based in Boston – in order to have the simple, stylish, dare-I-say-Apple-like adapter technology all to itself, Finsix CEO Vanessa Green cheerfully chimed in, “Well, wouldn’t that be nice?”

In other words, keep your eye on this one.

Product page [Finsix.com]

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