Attending the 2006 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is like spending the week with 130,000 former college roommates. It's great on the first day, reliving old times and laughing about mutual acquaintances. But by the weekend, you start remembering all the times they stiffed you for beer, and the time they promised to get you a job at their company but gave it to the pretty girl down the hall.
Most years, it's a social-networking show, short on news and facts and long on celebrity appearances and fuzzy marketing promises. But this year's CES provided a satisfying mix of news and fun, with content providers, PC vendors and Internet companies coming up with new products to discuss, and trotting out A-list celebrities to make sure exhausted attendees were paying attention.
Page down, but Google up
In a new development, Internet search engines have become consumer electronics devices. There's no other way to explain Google Inc.'s heavy presence at CES. The company purchased substantial booth space filled with yellow, blue and red-shirted Googlelistas, and co-founder Larry Page delivered his first big keynote to a major trade show audience.
Page and Google got a few things right. Dramatic entrance? Page rolled on stage in a robot-controlled Volkswagen Touareg used by students at his alma mater, Stanford University, to win this year's robotic car race across the nearby Mojave Desert. Show-stealing celebrity? Robin Williams delighted the crowd and made the public-relations folk squirm with off-color jokes and his usual brand of zaniness. Actual real news? Page unveiled a Google Video Search application as well as the Google Pack, a collection of basic software available for downloading.
But Page read his speech from pieces of paper he held in his hand, and appeared a little nervous in the CES spotlight. Stanford's public-speaking professors might want to sit down with him for a basic refresher course.
Wi-Fi is everywhere if you're a high roller
The Sands Convention Center was king of the markup last week. Reporters who descended on the Sands for Wednesday's heavy schedule of press conferences had three choices if they wanted to get their stories out quickly. They could wait in line for a PC or Ethernet line, they could call in their stories with that old-fashioned telecommunications device or they could blow their expense accounts on the Sands' Wi-Fi service.
For US$9.95 in Las Vegas, you can take a cab from the Las Vegas Convention Center to The Bellagio, enjoy a prime rib dinner at several casinos or get halfway to entering the infamous Spearmint Rhino "gentlemen's club." At the Sands, however, $9.95 will buy you 10 minutes of wireless connectivity.
Can't type that fast? For $39.95, you get the luxury of 30 minutes of connectivity. At those rates, the advertised $399.95 charge for two days of the Internet seems like a bargain. But the ultimate in Sands value, $899.95 for the entire show from Wednesday to Sunday, made me wonder yet again if I'm in the wrong business. A free press access point was in place by Thursday.
That's a nice, um, hard drive