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CES Amusements

Tue Jan 16, 2007 - 12:49 PM EST - By Dieter Bohn, Marcus Adolfsson, Chris Kingree


As fun as checking out the latest gadgets and toys (and gigantic HD TVs) is, that's not exactly what you spend the majority of your time doing at CES. Rather, you spend your time walking the show floor in a sort of haze, letting it all wash over you. CES 2007 was big: 2700 booths and 140,000 attendees. More than that, though CES is as much about spectacle as it is about finding the latest technology. Las Vegas is the perfect venue for this celebration of technology's excesses1.

Threaded SMS on the 700w|wx: more than just a technical challenge.

Before moving on to the funny and weird bits from CES 2007, there's yet another quick note to relay, related to all the Apple news. iLounge is reporting that Apple is charging Mac users $4.99 to upgrade their cards to support the super-high-speed 802.11n wireless standard. iLounge says that the reason for this extra charge is accounting, specifically:

[Apple] _can’t_ give you the 802.11n-unlocking software for free. The reason: the Core 2 Duo Macs weren’t advertised as 802.11n-ready, and a little law called the Sarbanes-Oxley Act supposedly prohibits Apple from giving away an unadvertised new feature for one of its products. Hence, said the Apple rep, the company’s not distributing new _features_ in Software Update any more, just _bug fixes._ Because of Sarbanes-Oxley. If this is an accurate statement of Apple’s position, which as an attorney (but not one with any Sarbanes background) I find at least plausible, this is really crazy.

Except, of course, if it’s not so much the Act that’s stopping Apple, but Apple’s lack of desire to have to keep paperwork on software giveaways, some related concerns over obnoxious shareholders mounting needless lawsuits, or a misinterpretation of what’s really required by the law. As Wikipedia notes, it could as easily be the third option as either of the first; “some companies have initiated very time consuming and costly internal standards that are beyond what is actually required for SOX compliance.”

We point this out as it relates to the Palm Dinner that Dieter attended and wrote about in the 2nd CES 2007 Roundup. During the dinner, Ben Higgenbotham asked "So, when are you guys going to give us threaded SMS messaging on the 700w|wx?" The response was very open and honest: a Palm exec spoke about the tradeoffs of adding features to existing devices. Specifically, he talked about what a gigantic accounting headache it would be, as after Sarbanes-Oxley it's essentially illegal to give away free features without somehow doing the necessary accounting to factor that into the cost of already-sold devices.

The upshot - Palm still is staying mum about whether or not they're going to be providing threaded SMS for the 700w|wx, but they have legal/accounting issues to consider in addition to the technical ones2.

Booth Reps: Please Learn More.

Back to CES and the spectacle. The trick for the companies at CES is to break that haze and get you to stop and interact. Below are photos from Qimonda, the company that makes the DRAM for devices like the 700p, 700w|wx, and even the Nintendo Wii. No trick necessary from these folks to get us to stop, the devices in their booth were enough.

Stopping and interacting turns out to be a two-edged sword, however. These particular reps were relatively clueless. Witness our interaction:

"So, you make the DRAM for the 700p, eh?"
"We do?"
"The device is right there in your display."
"Oh, Yes, so we do."
"...Ok ...Can you tell me a little bit about what makes your RAM ideal for the Treo?"
"... Well, uh, our RAM is low-powered. And..."
"Can you say more about that?"
"...Not really."

Great, thanks guys. To be fair, this scene was repeated in various other booths.

IMG_0364.JPG IMG_0363.JPG


If a company didn't have fancy new gadgets to show off, their booth still usually had something to offer. Our two favorite shows were the Asimo demonstration at Honda and Panasonic's gigantic display of their equally gigantic HD displays.

IMG_0399 Here's the Asimo walking down the stairs - thankfully navigating successfully and not falling down. DSCN0407.JPG The center two displays at Panasonic's presentation display rotated freely and also moved up and down - all while seamlessly syncing up the video between the screens. Not pictured because we couldn't fight our way through the gigantic crowd was a music and dance show that was seamlessly synced between rotating screens and live performers. Kudos to Panasonic for finding a way to do something with gigantic television besides putting them in front of you to drool over.

The North Hall: Cars

One odd thing we noticed: car gadget people refer to their technology as "mobile" - meaning "for cars." So we often would go to look at some "mobile solution" only to find that it was just another car stereo. Anyway, we could post probably 50 car photos here if we wanted to, thanks to our deep and abiding love for them. Instead, we'll settle for our three favorites:

IMG_0390 DSCN0377.JPG IMG_0387

The (Surreal) Return of the Booth Babe

Ever since the E3 gaming expo banned booth babes because they were getting out of hand, they seem to have been toned down everywhere. Opinions on this may vary, but overall it's a good move if you ask Dieter.

Some companies just can't help themselves, though. Rather than just have pretty girls standing around, most booths tried to find some way to justify their booth babes' reason for being there. Some were "signing autographs," some actually were able to talk intelligently about the products they were showing, and some were just plain ....weird. Witness:

Not so much a "booth babe" as a wandering fairy godmother, this lady was creeping people out left and right as she tried to raise interest on the interesting TV2Art television overlay. It's a piece of film you place over your television that makes it display trippy lights instead of plain-old images.
Rather than just getting some pretty girl to stand around, Canon got themselves some acrobats to stand on chairs. We're not entirely clear on what this has to do with digital photography, but it seemed to make sense at the time.
Casio wins the award for having the most shameless booth babe display. Yes, that's a mechanical bull there. No, we're not going to show you any photos of the bull being ridden. Supposedly the idea here is that Casio's new ultra-rugged G'zOne3 Type-V phone (pictured here) could survive being tossed from said contraption.

What do you do after a long day of walking the show floor, being both attracted and repelled by the spectacle of CES? You take advantage of one of those fancy "massage chairs," as Chris Kingree does here. If you ever have opportunity to sit in one of these, Chris highly recommends them - just remember to grab the remote before you put your arms through those sleeves. It took Dieter 5 minutes to figure out how to extricate Chris from the chair, locked-in as he was by those arm cuffs. The booth rep here actually did know his stuff, though. He claimed that the chair's arm-massage manacles cuffs could somehow improve your golf game.

That's the last of our CES coverage, hope you enjoyed it. Our previous roundups include day 1, day 2, and days 3 and 4. We'll be at CTIA in March too, hopefully there will be more Treo-specific news to talk about then!

1: This isn't the place to get into post-modern architectural theory about Las Vegas and applying it to the experience of CES, but Dieter's been thinking about it.

2: One technical issue that may be involved: Sprint specifically has the screwiest and worst implementation of SMS known to man - not to mention their utter lack of real MMS. Palm's threaded SMS app in WM5 integrates MMS (and rather nicely, at that), so one can only imagine what a pain it would be to either write that out or otherwise deal with Sprint's horrible MMS implementation.

3: In addition to the "shameless" award, Casio also wins the "worst product name" award.

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