CES is a place to do business—for nearly any industry, the number of opportunities to improve (or at least change) your business approaches infinity. And while not everybody is desperate to seduce walk-ins—the guys selling transistors and small metal parts seem pretty laid-back about floor traffic—the strategies for getting a wandering attendee to check out your product range from old-fashioned booth babes and free candy to raffles and freebies. But the best-loved tend to be the ones that make the product itself seem like a great time, and we undertook the very serious research into the brands that most reliably stimulated the fun receptors in our brains' party lobes. Please don your lab coat and goggles and check out the brands that actually made being one of the ant-like masses lost on the Las Vegas strip seem like a desirable proposition.
Kidrobot pulled out all the stops at the ultra-crowded Samsung booth this time, bringing in artists like Aaron "Woes" Martin to paint up giant, blank versions of its trendy art toys. Around the booth, they had Samsung products with case designs by Kidrobot artists, sure, but they also had a whole miniature city populated by Simpsons vinyl figures, several walls of toys in various stages of painting, and displays that showed off the ways the toys matched the cases. It was cute, it was tasteful, and it was a good time.
Parrot brought out its iOS-piloted drone four years ago. Now it has a smaller and even cooler version that flies around like a robot dragonfly, perfect for teasing the cat or just doing bombing runs over the dinner table. The company also brought along the Jumping Sumo vehicle, which runs around the floor rather than soaring through the skies but is no less fun for all that.
PlayStation brought along a fun, slightly obscure game called Puppeteer to demo its new lack of hardware, the PlayStation Now streaming service. Granted, the network connection Sony must have been using to show off the new cloud-based game app must have been pretty hefty, but the effect was incredible: there you were with a controller, a big TV, a really graphically intense game, and no console box anywhere in sight. If Sony can manage to sell gamers on a monthly sub fee rather than a big box of expensive-to-develop hardware, it will have pulled off a major coup. At CES, playing was believing.
Serendipity made WakaWaka the mobile hardware company to love at CES: everybody was grumbling about dying cell phones, no outlets, and heavy battery packs that have to be charged overnight. Meanwhile, the WakaWaka Power sat on the table, smugly showing off its solar cells. The light-powered device is meant to be a power source for the world's out-of-the-way places; in Las Vegas, the little piece of yellow-and-black plastic was an uncomfortable reminder that "out-of-the-way" can be pretty much anywhere.
Syfy hosted a party on Monday evening with gaming hardware aplenty; one of the simpler devices we'd never seen before was the Sixsense Stem system, a two-controller interface that tracks hand movement and lets you inhabit the virtual world with such a high degree of control, it's a lot like you're still in the real one. With two electronic hands, you can climb ladders, swordfight, build with virtual blocks—a good addition to any cocktail party.
Yes, all right, no one who's ever been in a guitar store wants to hear Stairway to Heaven tentatively picked out on a brand-new axe ever again, but it was pretty cool to walk down the aisle in the Venetian and see people who'd never held a guitar in their lives managing to stumble through the melody to Here Comes the Sun. The gTar has a light-up fretboard that tells you when and where to play its strings, and it's not a training-wheels instrument, either; it's a real six-string electric guitar. If you can provide a break from screens and speakers and still wow overstimulated attendees, you've done something right.
The CEA Experience
Not all the booth branding was product-based: the CEA is going nuclear on patent trolls and sometimes the best way to get across a fairly complicated, arcane concept—trolls file broad patents without intending to create anything from them and then sue real inventors who use concepts like "force measurement" in their products—is to make it childish and colorful. This poor dude was handing out little squeezable club-wielding trolls to passers by and getting plenty of laughs from techies. It may have been silly, but you'll remember it.