With more than 20,000 new products expected and 300 presentations delivered at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, putting together a definitive list of noteworthy products, trends and happenings is no mean feat.
Which is why I’m not even going to try.
Instead, let me confirm what you may have already heard: that wearables of all kinds (particularly smartwatches and fitness monitors), 4K TVs, smart cars and robots were this year’s standouts.
Here are 10 other things to takeaway from this year’s confab.
1. Crop circles trump social media. Forget tweeting. To help create buzz for its new 3-D graphics chips, Nvidia hired some crop circle experts to create one in a barley field in a small town about two hours south of San Francisco, leaving locals scratching their heads over what the heck it meant. One reporter figured out that the circle repeatedly spelled out the number 192 in Braille, but she didn’t’ know. Nvidia CEO Jen Hsun-Huang explained all when he announced the new Tegra K1 chip, which has 192 cores. The crop circle, intended as a low-cost marketing ploy, did generate publicity. Said Huang: “People thought aliens had done it.”
2. Party crashing is also a good publicity stunt. T-Mobile CEO John Legere proved himself a savvy marketer after he crashed the developer party held by rival AT&T and was, as my Forbes colleague Parmy Olson notes, escorted out when CNET reporter Roger Cheng tweeted a photo of him at the bash. Legere, who showed up to the AT&T party in a leather jacked and hot pink T-Mobile shirt, retweeted reaction to his stunt, much of which praised him for being so outrageous. He said he crashed the party because he wanted to see the headline act, rapper Macklemore. At a keynote speech today, Legere said of the incident that “AT&T is a continual source of entertainment to me.” It’s the latest salvo in the increasing war between T-Mobile and AT&T, which recently started offering $450 in credit to T-Mobile customers who switched.
3. The best place to stun someone is in the groin. Yellow Jacket, a startup out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has collected about $1 million in funding to create the world’s first iPhone case that is also a non-lethal stun gun. For $149.99, you get a rubberized case that prevents the iPhone 5/5s from breaking when dropped, that charges your smartphone, doubling battery life, and that delivers 950,000 volts to anyone threatening you or trying to steal your iPhone. While the fritzing sound the stun gun makes may be enough to serve as a deterrent to criminals who are “Apple picking” – a term coined by the New York police department to describe iPhone thefts — this device isn’t just a noisemaker. Said Yellow Jacket CEO Sean Simone, “This cause pain. It has brought people down.” The challenge with any self-defense device is knowing how to use it properly and Yellow Jacket called on expert Donavin Britt of Krav Maga in Las Vegas, who said if you’re going to use the stun gun, go for soft tissue. That means zap your attacker in the face or the neck. But if you really want to take someone down, Britt says go directly for the groin. The Yellow Jacket for the iPhone 5/5s will be available in February.
4. When the going gets tough and you don’t have a Transformer robot to bail you out, head for the exit. Samsung likely asked Transformers’ director Michael Bay to help tout its new 105-inch curved TV because they thought it would be a good public relations move. Well, Bay definitely got a lot of attention — but not for the TV. He abruptly exited the press conference after a teleprompter glitch left him script-less. Improvisation apparently wasn’t his thing. The one-minute video of the minute-long “Michael Bay Meltdown” has been the talk of the show. Bay wrote on his blog that he was embarrassed by what happened. “Wow! I just embarrassed myself at CES – I was about to speak for Samsung for this awesome Curved 105-inch UHD TV. I rarely lend my name to any products, but this one is just stellar. I got so excited to talk, that I skipped over the Exec VP’s intro line and then the teleprompter got lost. Then the prompter went up and down – then I walked off. I guess live shows aren’t my thing. But I’m doing a special curved screen experience with Samsung and Transformers 4 footage that will be traveling around the world.”
Intel, Sony and Cisco had better luck with their celebrity picks. Intel called on DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg to talk about 3-D animation, Sony had Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan talk about how low-cost cameras have allowed TV shows to have more cinematic shots, and Cisco relied on stand-up comedian Sarah Silverman to pitch the Internet of Everything. he always irreverent Silverman lived up to her reputation, telling Cisco CEO John Chambers: “Hi I’m Sarah Silverman, comedian, actor and writer — though I didn’t write this shit,” she says. “I’m here to talk to you about the new Internet of everything. It ill cook your food for you, drive your car and make you more interesting…And if you order it now, you will get a free set of Ginsu knives.”
5. Big TVs, small potential. TVs — 4K, large-format, curved and flexible, smart — might be among the most touted products based on new models showcases by Samsung, LG, Sony, Hisense and others, but the market potential for monster, expensive 4K sets may be minimal. Predicts Forrester analyst James McQuivey: “TV makers are primed to be disappointed because the most important thing that will happen in TV in 2014 will be the continued expansion of online video into the TV screen via over-the-top solutions like the Xbox One, Roku, and Google’s Chromecast. Instead of raising the quality and cost bar like 4K does, these over-the-top devices and services lower consumer costs while expanding viewing options.”
6. Women in tech take one step forward. This year’s lineup of keynote speakers included a woman, something that wasn’t the case last year. It was Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, who used her time on stage to talk about the company’s media efforts with help from a variety of celebrity speakers, including new global anchor Katie Couric. Even so, CES continues to be a male-dominated event, notes Webby Awards creator and filmmaker Tiffany Shlain. “CES is the only place where a whole bunch of men come together and compete over how small their stuff is.”
7. The eyes have it. Apple is doing a good job of getting people talking about how biometrics can be used to replace passwords, thanks to the fingerprint scanner built into the new iPhone 5s. But after DNA, the next best biometric source for authenticating users is not your finger. It’s your eye. That’s according to EyeLock Inc., which of course has an iris-based authenticating technology. Called myris, it identifies more than 240 points of “unique characteristics” in each eye, compared to the 12 to 20 characteristics read by fingerprint scanners, marketing chief Anthony Antolino said. EyeLock will myris, to sell for less than $300, in the first half of the year. Will consumers really want to stop typing passwords and instead hook up an external iris scanner to their laptops, even if does authenticate your eyes in a split second? Antolino predicts passwords will no longer be the major verification mechanism and that iris scanning will be built into laptops and tablets by the end of the year. We’ll see, pun intended.
8. Bring on the drones. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is years away from realizing (if ever) his plan to use drones to deliver packages by air to customers. But just the fact that he’s touting drone delivery has been a boon to drone makers. French-based drone maker Parrot says Bezos’ drone pitch helped drive up holiday sales at the Paris-based drone maker. “Thanks to Amazon, people are now even more curious about drones,” said Parrot sales and marketing exec Peter George. Parrot, which offers the AR.Drone, plans to release a smaller, inexpensive mini drone called MiniDrone into the toy market later this year.
9. If you want your bedmate to stop snoring, elevate their side of the mattress by 6 degrees. That advice comes courtesy of Sleep Number, which introduced what is says is the world’s most technology advanced bed. The dual-sided SleepIQ x12 tracks and monitors how you’ve slept by tracking heart and breathing rate among other things, and helps identify what support adjustments you should make to the mattress through firmness setting and adjustable air centers to get a better night’s sleep. And then there’s the Partner Snore feature, a voice-activated feature that allows you to elevate their side of the bed ever so slightly — about 6 degrees — to stop snoring temporarily. The bed goes on sale in selected markets in February and is priced starting at $8,000. If you think that’s too high a price to pay to reduce snoring, Sleep Number also offers a “snore reduce foam pillow” for $60.
10. Blue and purple are the new black. Don’t be surprised if many new tech products are blue and purple. That’s because those are this year’s trending colors. Blue was the “it” color at New York fashion week. And Pantone has named purple, or rather Radiant Orchid, the color of 2014. “A captivating harmony of fuchsia, purple and pink undertones, Radiant Orchid emanates great joy, love and health.”