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Monday, January 25, 2010

2010 CES Summary

2010 CES Summary -sort of

32 years ago, I attended CES f or the first time. I was working at a small “wholesale” car stereo business that sold and installed “OEM” (original equipment manufacturer) radios to car dealers. The business was called Liberty Radio, and was owned by Wally and Gloria Nathan, who had done the same thing in NY and had recently moved to Scottsdale, bringing their product lines like Audiovox and RCA, along with their heavy Brooklyn accents. I liked them. They were direct and honest people, and their NY sensibilities seemed sort of exotic to me.

I was a young, green kid, only 19, and had only been to Las Vegas one time, with my girlfriend and her parents. And about the most exciting thing we saw was the tiny circus acts in Circus Circus - like the talented poodles and the unicycle guy. So one day Wally announced to all his employees (both of us), that we would be closed next week for two days, because he would be attending the trade show and that we should consider attending to get a “big picture” of the industry, and also, to have some fun. Wally always put a healthy amount of emphasis on having some fun, and I always appreciated him for teaching me that, along with some other “frugal” business survival skills.

Well, the show sounded like a great idea to Eugene and I, but we were both too broke to spring for the expensive hotel rooms. But when we mentioned it to our friends Louie and Mark, Louie’s Dad arranged for a room at the Stardust for the whole 4 days, and since some guy up there still owed him money on a drapery job, he threw in free tickets to the hotel’s big show! So, we were off to Vegas, with all of the typical anticipations of the bright lights and big city, even for back then, in the 70’s. We were feeling like big dogs, staying in what was then one of the nicest casino hotels, especially when, to our total surprise, we were seated front row center at the show, with the show girls kicking their legs over our heads!

But for me, the consumer electronics show itself was the biggest thrill. Every consumer electronic gadget known to man, at that point in time, along with prototypes of what was just about to come out, perfectly displayed for you to touch, test, and ask any question about! I was in heaven! I think I knew right then that some aspect of consumer electronics would become my life-long passion and career. We did meet up with Wally and Gloria up there and watched him enjoy playing craps, as I continued to do for another 31 consecutive years.

Later when I had my own car stereo store, I would always encourage my employees to go as well, even to the point of arranging “CES-on-the-cheap” excursions with under-construction motorhomes full of young guys, sleeping wall-to-wall in sleepingbags, at the Circus-Circus RV Park. This year, I again stayed at Circus RV park, only it was in our new (to us), quite finished motorhome, and we never needed to use the public restroom or showers at the rv park! I guess some things get in your blood and stick.

But this year, the dynamic of seeing the actual show was quite different for me, as Wendy, Ethan, and Regina and her boyfriend, Dan, were along as well, all interested in different things. So, we tried to “see-it-all”, and find the next new, exciting gadget or trend, however, it is a bit harder to do these days with the industry as mature as it is. The CES show itself is quite daunting, with over 1400 huge booths to try and see. And the electronics companies are so very much more complicated than back when I first attended. Billions of dollars are at stake, and the successful products today are usually a result of sneaky political strategies with allied companies, rather than a superior technological breakthrough, or even clever marketing.

I guess I sound jaded, but I still enjoy attending CES just as much as I did 32 years ago because, in viewing the progress of our technological toys, you can see the continuing evolution of our species and our society, and it’s always incrementally more civilized, even if it’s occasionally less civil. 32 years ago, the average person wasn’t thinking about the advent of such gadgets as personal computers, digital music and photography, cell phones, and the internet. But those of us that attended CES did, because the world’s leading tech visionaries made a point of describing the positive impacts those next-year’s-toys would have, to not only drive their current marketing efforts, but also plant seeds of anticipation that would lead to consumer demand and therefore help drive the R & D that much harder.

I’ve always felt that those in the consumer electronics field are some of the most optimistic about our chances for a peaceful, sustained future. Like Gene Roddenberry, we’re all sure that technology will ultimately save the day, and provide us with the leisure time required to interact with one another long enough to realize that we’re all together on this marble, and really, all just one big tribe.

Was this year’s CES interesting? It was fascinating. Just like the last 32 years, and just like the next 32. Beyond that, I can’t imagine it. If I tried, my head would just sorta explode. So, what did I see that stood out to me as truly whiz-bang? I would have to say, - nothing. No one thing shone above the rest by such a great margin as to be in the “got-to-tell-you-‘bout” category. But one thing stood out… in this huge recession, there were still 120,000 attendees buying billions of dollars worth of gadgets to stock their store shelves and sell to their customers, that still want more and more ways to pass their time, interact with others, and improve their lives. I’m still having a blast, just trying to “dial it all in”.

for details of cool gadgets consider: or even my ces summary from last year here on this blog.