Confessions of a CES Newbie

This CES greenhorn discovered that what makes the IoT so exciting is not just the sensors and networks. Rather, it's the spark of creativity and new methods of interaction that those devices support.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jan 12, 2016

I've been covering technology for more than a decade, but until last week I had never attended the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the annual consumer tech extravaganza in Las Vegas. Luckily for me, I caught the show during its record-breaking year; I was one of 170,000 attendees. It was a sea of humanity, electronics and flashy exhibit booths—3,631 of them, to be exact.

A single human reporter, no matter how early she rises or how quickly she walks, simply cannot take it all in. I tried, and I failed gloriously.

I made mostly rookie mistakes: not booking an optimally located hotel, not realizing I could efficiently move between the many convention centers and hotels I wanted to visit only if I were a bird (or, more likely, a drone), and not replicating myself so I could double my meetings schedule (granted, that would have been tough).

But the biggest blunder I made (due simply to a scheduling conflict) was missing Intel's keynote. Fortunately, we can all watch the replay here.

I find the keynote, from Brian Krzanich's, Intel's CEO, to be very interesting, because he shows the wide breadth of the Internet of Things' applicability in consumer products. The keynote was designed to promote Intel and its chip technology—specifically, the Curie, a button-size system-on-a-chip that Intel debuted at last year's CES. With a three-axis accelerometer and a three-axis gyroscope (what Intel refers to as six-axis combo sensor), as well as a Bluetooth Low Energy communications module, Curie was designed to be a building block for wearables.

During the keynote, Krzanich illustrated how consumer brands, including New Balance and Oakley, are building Curie into wearable products focused on helping people monitor and improve their workouts. What I find even more interesting, however, is the news that ESPN is going to use Curie, via sensors attached to competitors' snowboards, to broadcast real-time statistics about their tricks during the X Games in Aspen, Colo., later this month.

This means anyone will be able to instantly know the speed, height, distance, airtime, number of flips and degrees of rotation that a rider attains while whizzing past the cameras. Why do I think this is important? Because it's a great illustration of how the value of IoT technology extends well beyond consumer products and into the realms of entertainment and news.

The Intel keynote also included demonstrations of artists using Curie-based devices to draw, compose and play music, and even dance. For example, Lady Gaga made a (virtual) appearance to tease the crowd about a collaboration with Intel that she will debut at next month's Grammy Awards.

That's not to say that the march of IoT capabilities into consumer products is waning. To be sure, as I walked the show floor I saw that the IoT was woven through every product category, from automotive electronics to health and wellness, beauty, sports, home goods, security and gaming. If you work for a company that designs or manufactures virtually any consumer product, or if you're a service provider that intersects with the consumer goods market, the opportunity around IoT integration is bigger than ever.

But my first time at CES made me realize that what is so compelling about IoT technology is not the falling price of sensors or the growth of wireless networks. It's the creativity, interaction and fun that the Internet of Things enables for end users. Because, like Krzanich remarked during his keynote, "Consumers are choosing experiences over products."

Mary Catherine O'Connor is the editor of Internet of Things Journal and a former staff reporter for RFID Journal. She also writes about technology, as it relates to business and the environment, for a range of consumer magazines and newspapers.

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