CES 2009: a pictorial


— 4:51 PM on January 15, 2009

Every year I get sick after CES. It's inevitable. Thankfully, I'm already starting to recover from whatever nasty bug I brought home this year, which means it's time to get back to work and provide some insight on the show. Scott already shared his thoughts in the most recent podcast, and of course he, Geoff, and Cyril posted a flurry of news updates on all of the most important revelations.

Thanks to my less hectic schedule, I got to spend a bit more time wandering the show floor on the hunt for interesting finds. If you listened to the podcast, you'll know the show was definitely a bit more low-key than in previous years, but that didn't stop me from finding cool stuff hidden across the 2.7 million square feet of convention space.

When I saw a full-tower desktop PC with 84 USB flash drives plugged into the front, light dancing across the front as their LED activity indicators constantly flipped on and off, I couldn't help but stop and take a photo. While I'm not sure how many fields will find practical applications for high-volume flash duplication, the technology is nonetheless interesting and fun to watch in action.

If a full-tower PC (with the ability to duplicate up to 147 devices at once) is overkill for your needs, the FlashCopier.com folks also offer smaller copiers that connect to a host PC via USB and support up to 21 devices—sort of like USB hubs on steroids. PR interns who make a living by duplicating electronic press kits had best find a new forte.

I love the Taser booth, too. It seems like every year I manage to talk another one of my friends into getting electrocuted on the first day of CES. It's become something of a late Christmas gift for me, trekking across the CES floor on the hunt for my first stop of the show. And boy do the Taser guys ever love it. Look at the face of quiet content on the dude to the right as my poor friend Chris howls out in pain.

A small crowd invariably huddles around to watch someone get electrocuted, and it actually serves as rather positive marketing for the company. The use of stun guns has garnered a growing amount of negative press in recent years, and for regular consumers to walk up, get tased, and simply walk away 10 seconds later with nothing bad to say about the experience other than "I just couldn't move" helps validate the device's role as an incapacitating tool, rather than a painful weapon used for excessive force.

 

Going to studio tapings for television shows is a heck of a lot of fun. Living in Southern California, it's an experience I've had the opportunity to enjoy several times, but for the thousands of CES attendees who had never been on a soundstage before, seeing the Jeopardy! set in full effect was a treat. Just in case you're not a regular viewer of the program, Jeopardy! filmed a handful of episodes from the show floor using a dedicated stage and audience area offset from the Sony booth.

While the show wasn't taping, attendees were free to wander around the filming area and take photos of the stage. Sadly, my dreams of writing Turd Ferguson on one of the podiums were dashed by numerous security guards and tightly-wound producers who looked ready to beat me with their clipboards if I tried anything funny.

 

It's too bad the International Commerce Center doesn't get more attention at CES. Tucked away in the Hilton's convention halls, a couple of blocks north of CES proper, is where you'll find the ICC. You know that little kiosk at the mall that sells cell phone faceplates, LED antennas, and otherwise generally useless crap? Take that kiosk, and amplify it by about a billion—that's the International Commerce Center. I guarantee you've never heard of any of the companies that have booths there, and many of them have names I can't even pronounce.

The hall is made even more interesting by the segregation of booths based on nationality. Companies from China have their booths in the China Pavilion, Korean companies in the Korea Pavilion, etc. So you not only get information about the product that the booth is selling, but also a spiel laden with nationalistic pride and examples of why their products are far superior to their foreign competitors'. In effect, these booths are not only pitching a product, but their country's entire industry. In fact, for large countries like China, you'll find booths dedicated to individual provinces, designed to promote new business in specific areas.

The photo above is a perfect example of what you generally find at an International Commerce Center booth: plenty of posters, maybe a product in a glass case, some poorly-handwritten signs, a laptop, and a lone employee who is just aching for someone to talk to. The booth employees are always extremely courteous and fun to talk to, so I make sure to stop and say hello to the ones that look especially bored—unless of course they're asleep, which happens from time to time. The icing on the cake for this booth was the product poster on the back wall. It's advertising some sort of mount for electronics in the car, but the photo of Mao Zedong hanging from the mirror is what stood out for me.

To be fair, though, I'm selling it a bit short; there are interesting things to find in the ICC besides idle banter. Not only is it a cool place to go on the last day of the show to haggle for knock-off electronics, but just about one out of every twenty booths there has some neat new technology that will invariably find success when it's copied by a larger company. Though there's usually not enough reason for the press to venture down to the ICC, I enjoy it every year thanks to the gracious booth workers and interesting stuff I unearth.

No single product category swept the show this year (netbooks came close), but Mobile Internet Devices powered by Intel's Atom processor were rather popular, and they even made their presence known in the ICC. This rather cool little number is a bit bigger than a Nintendo DS Lite and is loaded to the gills with features. The machine has a bright, 4.8" 1024x600 touchscreen, an Intel Atom processor running up to 1.33GHz, a single DDR2 SO-DIMM slot, up to 32GB of internal flash memory, a MicroSD slot, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 2.0. Still not impressed? How about support for digital over-the-air TV in Europe and Asia, and a slot for a SIM card for mobile broadband access. Where does it fall flat? Well for one, the name. For now, it's unoriginally called the UMID MID—yeah they've got to work on that. The glossy plastic body also felt rather cheap, almost like a Fisher-Price toy, although the system felt pretty sturdy overall.

Like most other products in the ICC, the UMID MID is still hunting for a distributor in the United States, so it may never see the light of day on these shores. With an expected MSRP of $500-700, I'm not convinced the device would have a market here, anyway. It's a bit too small for the kind of use a netbook would get, and a bit too big for a mobile device that can be replaced by an iPhone for half of the price. Regardless, it's a cool toy and a tribute to the versatility of Intel's Atom processor.

Not every photo deserves a caption, but be sure to take a look through the gallery below for some of my other CES photos.

   
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