OK, so this was my first CES. I had attended Comdex many times (what do you say about a dead trade show -- May It Rest In Peace?), and for many years was a regular speaker at the VON conferences hosted by my friend Jeff Pulver. But this was first time at the fabled CES -- where all the latest gadgets and doodads get released, and in the demise of Comdex and E3 everybody was supposed to converge on Las Vegas.
And so they did. For three days we (remember, was there with the mPortico team) ran from meeting to meeting, which made the trip well worth it. But what of CES itself, you ask -- did I learn anything new? Did I see any extraordinary developments coming down the pike for the technology industry? I am sad to say, no. What I saw was same old same old. On every level. Down to worst aspects of trade shows -- yes, the "booth babes." No, I am not referring to the Adult Entertainment Expo happening literally next door (that's a whole other subject), but rather to the need for seemingly self-respecting serious companies to feel the need to bring themselves down to the lowest level -- mainly because for most, in this day of instant journalism and constant communication, there really isn't anything new to say. Even the iPhone from Mr. Jobs had been blogged to death before the "unveiling" at CES.
To use one example close to my heart, which is the current best known VoIP company, Vonage. These guys have spent hundreds of millions to let everyone know who they are, and they succeeded in generating over 1 million subscribers (paying!). But Vonage does not have a new story to tell -- they are about making phone calls. Lets analyze their booth:
For a better view of the Vonage Vixens, click on the thumbnail. Now what do dancing girls in short minidresses have to do with Internet based communications? Please enlighten me. In addition, if you enlarge the photo, you will see the tag line of Vonage on the booth: "A Better Way to Phone for Less." It seems that VoIP companies like Vonage are still focused, ten years after the first commercialized VoIP efforts (I was blessed to be among that pioneering generation) on cheap phone calls. Even ten years ago we said it was NOT about cheaper phone calls, but something else (because we were pioneers no one expected us to actually say what else...;-)). The best thing I can say about the Vonage booth at CES is that they had nice giveaways for my kids (VON trucks for my three year old, playing cards for the others).
There were some interesting plays on mobile television, unfortunately most of those companies could not say when their demos would be really commercialized. Sling Media had a huge booth, very slick materials, (no booth babes -- I guess they have confidence in their product) and were always crowded with people. Sling are first movers in place shifting, but when you think about it they are a backhanded hack -- redirecting data from my house, for use when I am traveling. Now, if I want to get HBO while traveling, why have it stream to my house and then be redirected....seems like a waste of perfectly good bandwidth. If I want to get HBO when in Singapore, why not just subscribe to HBO directly (for beginning of this idea, see Network2.tv initiative). Of course HBO doesn't let you subscribe to it directly as RSS or some other form of direct subscription...but its only a matter of time.
I guess my real problem is that I just don't like Las Vegas -- I don't gamble and hate the smell of cigarettes, which meant going in and out of buildings in Vegas a torture. In general, I found Vegas to be a sad and depressing place. But to each their own.
Here is the view from room at my hotel: