What CES Is Really Like

Never attended Las Vegas's annual gadget orgy? Hang on tight for a warts-and-all tour including numerous examples of Pointless Excess, Booth Babe Abuse and Conventioneers Acting Foolishly.

CES -- The Dream

I talk to lots of people who aren’t in the technology industry who would love to go to CES. They imagine four days of seeing all the latest gadgets before anyone else. And they’re right -- CES can be great. I’m lucky to be able to go.

But there are some downsides to getting hundreds of thousands of geeks and nerds and all the people who want to sell them stuff in one place. It’s a superheated environment that’s just bound to create some strange, alien life forms. Read on to see just how strange.

Traffic Trauma

You start your day bright and early, optimistic and excited about seeing all the latest phones, TVs and laptops. Then you step outside your hotel and see the line for cabs snaking around the parking lot. There’s a line just to get onto the elevator to the monorail station. And forget about driving.

Thanks for the Help!

Once you finally get to the Las Vegas Convention Center, you’re eager to find your favorite company. You know they’re in booth number 8352. You gaze up at the ceiling to find one of these cryptic forms of navigation. Where’s 8352? Your guess is as good as mine.

Booth Babe Abuse

It’s not hard to figure out why companies employ Booth Babes. Geek + Attractive Female = Minutes of Mesmerized Attention. What is hard to figure is why some companies seem to go out of their way to put their Booth Babes in outfits that are silly, unattractive, or both.

The gimmick at this D-Link booth was about ice fishing, so the white parka and fur-lined boots make sense. But how do they explain the spandex short-shorts and blue wigs? Is it supposed to be so cold their hair turned blue?

It’s Alien

It’s tough to make a Las Vegas showgirl look bad, but marketing firm Pepcom managed at the Digital Experience party Wednesday night. Kind of makes you hope there are no other life forms out there.

Shake Your Tail Feather

Skull Candy, makers of high concept headphones, demanded a lot of their Booth Babes, requiring them to not only show up in skin tight microdresses but to shake their booties nearly continuously.

Part Man. Part Machine. All Product Shill.

It’s not only women who are forced to dress up in funny outfits. This fake RoboCop was somehow related to a company that makes skins for gaming consoles.

Polly Want an Airhole

I couldn’t even tell you whether there are men or women in these costumes, which are living embodiments of the Viewsonic logo.

What’s This? Class?

Even when the costumes aren’t completely ridiculous, most Booth Babes aren’t dressed like girls you’d take home to Mother. (I pity the women who worked for a company stressing how simple their backup software is. They had to wear t-shirts that read, “I’m Easy.”)

Hyundai was the exception, with the classiest booth outfit I saw. Their Booth Babes looked a bit like 1960’s flight attendants.

North Hall: Land of the Odd iPhone Accessories

From the media coverage, it’s easy to conclude that CES is all about big, important products like 3D TVs and 4G phones. But there are whole sections of the show dedicated to products whose existence you were blissfully unaware of, like teddy bear neck pillows/speakers that plug into your iPhone or iPod.

Bieber Fever!

Could there be any gathering of more than 10 people that does not include a Justin Bieber reference? Of course not.

Gaga over Celebrities

Another time-honored tradition for getting people to come to your booth is to bring in a celebrity. Polaroid took that to the extreme last year, naming Lady Gaga their creative director. This year, she showed the fruits of her labor: sunglasses with an embedded camera and display.

Four Bits

Our competitors, CNET, spared no expense to get technology insight. That’s rapper 50 Cent on the CNET stage.

Pointless Excess is the Point

Another way to get people to your booth is to build something, hopefully at least tangentially related to your product, that’s so big, outlandish or absurd that people just have to stop and look.

This point of view was perfectly expressed by one of the guys standing by this huge woofer produced by an automobile speaker company called Cadence. “It’s just one of those things -- you do it because you can.”

Mystery Mobile

Apparently auto speaker companies have a hard time getting people’s attention. The people at Arc Audio built this ... thing. I guess it’s a vehicle, though I have no idea what kind.

Booth Envy

Even a small booth at CES costs about $10,000, so most companies stick to the basics. But if you’re a huge company that wants to make a big impression, there’s a real competition to see who can design the splashiest, flashiest booth.

I really liked the design of Audi’s booth, which was all white and stainless steel and really made the cars stand out.

Wall of TVs

You probably heard that there were a lot of TVs at this year’s show. But you may not have realized that so many were at the LG booth. Looks cool, but that’s an awful lot of remotes to keep track of.

Wall of Lights

Motorola had another cool effect with these walls of lights that spelled out marketing slogans.

Taze Me ‘Bro

There are lots of opportunities for visitors to CES to do things that will make them look foolish in public. Perhaps one of the most foolish was done by our own Alex Wawro, who volunteered to be tazed.

In a Fish Bowl

I can see wanting to try out Microsoft’s Kinect, the XBox add-on that lets you control a game through movement. I’m not so sure I’d be interested in doing it while in a clear plastic booth surrounded by onlookers.

The Examined Life

Speaking of living in a fish bowl, Takuma Iwasa was live streaming his whole conference experience from his custom-built helmet rig. I’m guessing most of the footage shows people elbowing their companions and pointing at Takuma’s head.

Wrapping Up

Somehow it’s gotten to be six o’clock, the convention center is shutting down and the booth workers are wrapping up for the day, literally.

Oh, and all those people who made it impossible to get in a cab, bus or monorail this morning? They’re all in front of you in the lines to get back to your hotel.

You can get the latest news and video from the conference at our CES 2011 news center.

And for other views of CES, check out:

The Weird Gadgets of CES 2011

The Big Deal Products of CES 2011 (So Far)

CES Concept Tech: 16 Gizmos Worth Waiting For

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