For anyone involved in the consumer tech industry, the 2013 International CES (formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show) is the holy grail of exposure and opportunity.
The largest such tradeshow in the world, CES attracts more than 150,000 attendees eager to see what's next in the world of tech and online content. The show is open to those with affiliation to the consumer electronics industry, such as engineers, buyers and industry analysts, as well as the press.
Many local companies were in attendance this year, including three from Irvine who made waves at the event.
"We've been coming to CES for seven years," said Nicole Kegley, who handles public relations for the Irvine mobile device accessory company Incipio. "We keep coming back because our innovative product line keeps building and building and building. Every year it gets bigger. Every time there's been an iPhone launch, we've doubled our business."
Kegley credits the company's location for its design sensibility.
"We just embrace the Southern California lifestyle feel in all of our products — the environment and atmosphere are what we're all about," she said.
Irvine-based Spider International designs cables, headphones and related audio accessories. Now in its second year at CES, the company has doubled its exhibit space to a 20-by-20-foot pad, and plans to double it again next year.
"Our first year, we had a couple of clients from Asia worth $200,000 in business," said Stephanie Edery, the company's marketing manager. "We knew that we had to come back. It gives us huge exposure. It allows us to demonstrate our new products to people who can appreciate the sound."
Spider's big launch this year was its Doby Pro Headphone Amp, which allows consumers to experience five-channel Dolby surround sound using their own headphones and laptop or phone.
"Everybody who's been coming by has said, 'That's what I'm looking for,'" Edery said.
Taking the industry's pulse
In addition to its booth on the CES floor, Irvine-based medical device company Masimo garnered a coveted spot at the annual CES Unveiled press event, where it launched its new iOS-compatible iSpO2 pulse oximeter.
Geared for athletes and pilots, the device allows consumers to measure their blood oxygen level and other factors using the same type of non-invasive device used in hospitals. The device plugs into an iPhone or other iOS device.
To attract crowds, Masimo brought in the Guinness world-record-holder for breath-holding, Stig "The Ultimate Superhuman" Severinsen. Severinsen, a diver, held his breath for 22 minutes to receive his world record title, but opted to hold his breath for roughly five minutes at a time at the press event, while the device measured his oxygen levels.
"We made iSpO2 for consumers interested in obtaining the accurate SpO2, pulse rate, and perfusion index readings that Masimo has been known for throughout the health-care industry," said Masimo founder and Chief Executive Joe Kiani. "At CES, consumers have an opportunity to see for themselves the quality and utility of iSpO2."
More than 3,500 exhibitors are spread out across 1.9 million square feet, roughly the size of 33 football fields, in multiple convention centers and hotels across Las Vegas. The event is seen as a savior for the area tourism industry, which takes a beating in the cold, windy winter months. Hotel prices skyrocket; otherwise-empty clubs fill up; and one brothel reported a 75% increase in business. A small army of shuttle bus companies from throughout the region is employed for the week to move crowds from one CES site to the next.
Organizers announced that this year's show broke records for both the number of exhibitors and the show's square footage; roughly 20,000 products from more than 3,250 exhibitors from around the globe were launched this week at CES. The common metaphor is that CES is its own small city, where both the good and the bad are unveiled; technologies like the VCR, DVD and Nintendo gaming system have debuted at CES, along with countless now-forgotten one-hit wonders.
The hot topics this year include Ultra HD and OLED televisions; connected home appliances that can be controlled through mobile phone apps; voice and facial recognition technology; and connectivity that allows consumers to view their television and film subscriber content on any television or device. Qualcomm Chairman Paul Jacobs, in his keynote address, made the point that all consumers are now "born mobile" — that connectivity is at the heart of everything in today's world.
Some of the more eye-raising products announced include a fork that will monitor your food consumption.
Since 2003, Microsoft had presented the event's signature keynote address, with either Bill Gates or Steve Ballmer making the presentation; their announcement that they would pull out from the show last year drew questions as to the future of CES. But other companies have filled the void, and attracted special guests ranging from Bill Clinton to Big Bird to make special appearances this year, along with a surprise appearance by Ballmer himself in what is being seen as a "passing of the torch."
Myriad conferences and related special events, such as the Emmy Awards for technology, are held concurrently both on- and off-site. Conference tracks range from emerging technologies to the future of digital health to a summit on the phenomenon of the "second screen," in which television viewers have become accustomed to using their mobile phones or tablet devices to Google questions or tweet their thoughts about whatever they are watching while an episode or movie plays.