The Consumer Electronics Show started out early this year with an event two days prior to the official start of the show, Startup Debut. Held at a country club off-strip, it featured 40 or so small companies, many taking their first step into the spotlight with what can only be charitably be described as less than fully baked products.
New and innovative are what CES is all about for the AskDaveTaylor team, however, so we of course spent time checking things out so you can be on top of what’s coming out of Las Vegas this week, even if we had some stealth photography in the mix…
Again, keep in mind that at least a half dozen of the companies were either still in beta or were making their first announcement ever to a media-heavy room of tech press and video crews, including teams from CBS and Engadget.
Like most of these sort of events, not everything was notable. Some were companies that, quite frankly, probably need to go back into their garage and think through their offering versus the competition or their business model a bit more before unveiling their company to the wolfpack of CES tech journalists. We won’t name names, because they won’t rise about the 100dB noise level and gain coverage.
On the other hand, as always, there were a lot of really cool ideas, and a few companies that I think might well be going places if everything can work out just so.
One example is a company called SimulTV.com. They were demonstrating a codec system that let them stream HD quality video using half the bandwidth of existing HD streams. That’s a big deal for companies like Netflix or HBO that stream vast amounts of data onto screens via the network (not to mention major ISPs). But that’s not what they were focusing on. The concept behind their product is that subscribers can upload video content or tune into one of their existing 24 channels of video content and simultaneously open a video chat with one or two other people. The idea is that my Dad and I, say, could watch a soccer match together and chat about it, sharing a synchronized game stream and seeing each other in little video chat windows on the screen too. Add second screen support and that’s a neat idea. But that half-the-bandwidth HD? That’s the gem.
A French company Voxeet was demonstrating the audio equivalent of that better bandwidth idea with a much higher quality audio conferencing system that used spatial cues to locate speakers on the call by “placing them” in specific spots in the aural sphere. In other words, if I’m on a conference call with Mark and Leo, Mark might sound like he’s on my left, while Leo will be on my right. Very quickly helps the mess that is current audio conferencing, and the audio sounded terrific. Coming soon from them: screen sharing. But what’s great right now is that you can move from a smartphone to computer and back with a single click, so picking up the call while en route to the office then moving it onto your main computer is a breeze, something you can’t really do at all with existing conference call solutions.
In a classic “but how do you make money?” sort of way, a small company called Focus@Will introduced something that I’m already using as I write this article: a free streaming audio service that offers channels of curated music intended to help you stay focused on what you’re doing rather than distracted with random music or interruptions. I know the experience of being in the zone, having my headphones on, music jammin’, so I can ignore what’s going on around me. They’ve analyzed what helps people concentrate and that’s what their playlists are about. No frantic beats, no lyrics, no singing, nothing jarring. Just streams of music in a dozen different genres (they recommend you work with one that isn’t your usual musical genre) that will help you stay more focused as you work or study. Cool. Coming soon.
A couple of other companies struck me as interesting, though for different reasons. rednote offers audio content for text messaging, which is a neat idea. I mean, my text messages are littered with “emoji”, little emoticons that go far beyond the half-dozen smileys, and being able to add little musical snippets? Cool. Problem: It’s clunky for standard MMS, so their focus is with third party text messaging apps. Hmmm…
SongFreaks also had a fun site they were showing off that offers lyric identification (built atop the LyricFind engine used by apps like Shazam) but was gamifying it so that musicians can identify their most loyal fans, people can share audio clips, and much more. If you’re a music fanatic, it might grow into something you’ll want to check out.
From a professional perspective, I enjoyed bantering with CEO Brian Cohen of Launch.IT, a company that’s rethinking the entire business news distribution system, offering a much smarter way for companies to get the word out and for events like CES to have a single, coherent repository of news and events. It’s no wonder they’re powering CES events like ShowStoppers. If you’re in tech, check it out.
One more cool company: Liquipel. What they’ll be offering sounds like it’s out of a sci-fi novel: a nanotech coating for electronics that is undetectable but makes the device waterproof. Coating products is a complex operation and takes 15-20 minutes, but once done, it’s a completely invisible shield that’s crept into every button, every slot, even connector pins, and makes the device impervious to water. Smartphones, tablets, even laptops. It’s not magic, you can’t use your iPad underwater, but if your Galaxy S III falls in the punchbowl, it’ll still be fine after you freak out and fish it out of the bowl. Very cool. But will it fly? We’ll see whether companies like BestBuy will want one of their machines in the store and whether consumers will pay $50 or more for a “water resistant” coating. I’d be very, very tempted…
That’s it for now. The tiny tip of the massive iceberg that is the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show, with over 3000 companies exhibiting and over 150,000 attendees invading Las Vegas, Nevada. We’ll be reporting throughout the week, don’t miss it!