After arriving Sunday we attended Bill Gates' fun, but relatively lackluster Keynote address on Sunday night (Sorry, Bill, but Steve Jobs you ain't). What was not relatively lackluster was the size of the crowd here - they are estimating that there are 140,000 people attending CES this year. Walking through the halls, sometimes it feels like most of them are trying to stand in front of where I want to go.
Monday was our first full day here and it was quite a day. We wandered the floor a bit (more on that below) before attending a couple of industry-leader panels. Both were groups of 5 or 6 industry execs from companies like Samsung, Motorola, Sony, and - of course - Palm. Palm's voice in these panels was Peter Skillman, Senior Director of New Product Engineering.
The first panel was about the challenges of designing devices with "looks that kill" but are still usable in the real world. This was actually a great panel to sit in with, as we heard from Arlene Harris, the CEO of Great Call, which created the Jitterbug phone. I'd call the Jitterbug the "anti-Treo", as it's a stripped-down phone - but the design that went into stripping down a phone so that elderly users don't find it frustrating (or, on the other hand, patronizing!) turned out to be quite a challenge.
Next to Harris was Rob Shaddock, a Product Manager at Motorola who was involved in the creation of the Razr. My favorite exhange from the panel was between Shaddock and Palm's Skillman. The topic at hand was the question of packing more features into a phone - movies, music, email, etc. These aren't exact quotes, I'm afraid, but they're pretty close based on my notes:
Skillman: Eventually you reach a point of diminishing returns when you just start packing features onto a phone.
Shaddock: I disagree. More features are always better for the consumer.
Audience: Stunned silence.
It was illuminating. Skillman also asked the audience what percentage of people use their phones for music - it clocked in at like 30% or so, movies came in at probably 2%. This is at CES, mind you. It was the perfect occasion for Skillman to talk about trying to improve ease of use and lowering the learning curve on devices.
I could go on and talk a bit more about this and the second panel and perhaps will in our final roundup - but let's hit that show floor!
The Show "Floor", Palm's Booth
CES is Big this year, the capital "B" in Big intentional. Not only are they taking up every hall of the convention center, it's also spilled out into other hotel convention centers (ex. the Sands) and outside into a big set of tents. It was in one of these tents that we found Palm's booth.
Palm's booth was surprisingly well attended, given that the only new stuff they have right now - the Treo 750 and the Treo 680 - have both been pretty well known for awhile now. Palm also decided to forego the full-fledged booth this year, opting instead for a much smaller one, but adding presence elsewhere at the conference with "mobile" teams of representatives. It's a small booth stocked with Treos only - No T|X, no Zire.
Perhaps the high attendance was due to the fact that dropping your name in a bin (As TreoCentrals' Chris Kingree does here) enters you in a drawing for a free Treo of your choice. That drawing: once an hour. So if you happen to be at CES, it's worth a swing-by just for that fact alone.
Palm also has some cute swag (Stuff We All Get) - so far I've picked up a glowy ball, a light-up yo-yo (I'm still a 12 year old inside, so back off), a keychain, a pen, I could probably go on. I'm not the sort to go from booth to booth picking up free junk, but seems like a Treo site should show the Treo swag, eh? Plus, swag that's only useful if you're thowing a mini-dance-party/raver is the best kind.
The Show Floor, Some Gadgets
We walked a significant portion of the show floor yesterday, but rather than overload you with everything we say I'll just show some highlights. The biggest highlight, for me, was big, beautiful HD screens. They're everywhere, and I mean everywhere. I don't care what you have in your living room, if you want to feel like your TV is small, come to CES. Here's the low end of the HD fun, a display of Sharp's Aquos. Can you see that tiny little one at the top, that's the one that's in my price range. Sigh.
(Note - I just caught the Apple Keynote coverage. Suddenly everything I have to write about CES seems so.. sad.)
We also saw the Plantronics Discovery 665 - an update to their 640, 645, and 655 line. This latest version is essentially a 655 with "AudioIQ" - which is little more than auto-volume adjustment, so far as I can tell. It also comes with a car-charger adapter, which is nice, you can just set the "silo" into the car charger.
And now we can file this one under "Music phones that seemed cool until we heard about Apple's iPhone:" the Samsung Ultra Music phone. They solved the "big screen big keyboard" problem by just putting screens on both sides of the phone. It is tiny and thin and all, but there is no replacable battery (and it's Korea-only for now, anyway). It's an interesting design, though.