For tech companies big and small, including a number from the Seattle area, the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas can be a wild ride, but an essential one, to get their products and message into the market.
For Davide Vigano, an “outrageously expensive” January pilgrimage to Las Vegas and the Consumer Electronics Show is a must.
“It makes us go wild for a month and a half before and probably two weeks after,” said Vigano, the chief executive of Sensoria, a Redmond startup. “But the amazing thing is the amount of exposure.”
Sensoria, which makes “smart” socks for runners, is one of about 3,600 exhibiting companies making their way to CES 2016 in a bid to draw notice in a crowded and booming technology industry. The show kicks off with media events Tuesday. Exhibit floors open Wednesday.
CES 2016 at a glance
When: Jan. 6-9, Las Vegas
Exhibit space: 2.4 million square feet
Exhibitors: 3,600 companies
Attendees: 150,000 to 175,000, from 150 countries
Keynotes: Executives from Intel, Samsung, GM, Netflix, among others.
Celebrities expected: Ryan Seacrest, Mark Cuban, Shaquille O’Neal, Jenny McCarthy, among others.
Source: Consumer Technology Association
The company will occupy a slice of a mammoth network of convention-center floors and casino ballrooms full of eye-catching displays, booming bass lines and wall-to-wall gadgets, from televisions to cameras and self-driving cars. If the technology displays weren’t chaotic enough, the audience crowding in for a look at the latest and greatest is expected to number more than 150,000 people.
The technology trade show has loomed large on the industry’s calendar for decades, a forum for companies large and small to introduce new products and gauge the reaction of competitors, customers and press.
The Consumer Electronics Association, the trade group that sponsors the show, in November changed its name to the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), reflecting the increased role electronic gadgetry plays for companies that build cars or home appliances, or which manage services from hotels to taxis.
The CTA has a record 2.4 million square feet of exhibit space spread across Las Vegas. Automakers, a presence at the show for years, will again be out in force. So will familiar consumer-electronics names like Sony, Samsung and LG.
This year, technology watchers are expecting gradual improvements to devices already on the market or nearly there, rather than a show-stealing newcomer like 3D TV was a few years ago, or like new music and video-player formats were in decades past.
“If you look at where CES has been the last couple of years, it’s really rolling out the first generation of devices,” said Brian Blau, an analyst with technology researcher Gartner. “This year, I think you’re going to see evolution, not revolution.”
Analysts expect to see TVs with better displays, a generation of lighter, cooler laptops that can more readily function as tablets, and wearable fitness devices with better battery life and more accurate sensors, among other things.
Here are some of the Seattle-area companies, from giants to newcomers, that are taking part in the show in one form or another.
What it’s showing: The maker of Surface tablets, Xbox game consoles, a fitness band, and other gadgets will likely have those products on display at its behind-closed-doors presence at the conference. The company will also tout hardware from Lenovo, Hewlett-Packard, Dell and other partners. Microsoft is counting on new PCs from those companies to boost sales of the Office productivity suite and new Windows 10 operating system.
Why CES?: Microsoft, which during the Bill Gates era kicked off the show with a Gates keynote speech to attendees, has occupied a behind-the-scenes role since 2013. The official reason is the company prefers to make big announcements, Apple-style, at its own events and on its own schedule.
But with Microsoft making a renewed push for partnerships (particularly in the smartphone market), a conference that brings out the entire industry is hard to ignore. Microsoft doesn’t occupy space on the main exhibit floors, and instead invites partners and customers to closed-door demonstrations and events.
What it’s showing: Sensoria is best known for its smart socks, which track things such as runners’ stride, heel striking and step rhythm. It plans to use CES as a stage to introduce a new product, Sensoria Core — a small electronic device that can be embedded into shoes, shirts or other garments. That device, to be sold to businesses, will communicate with a smartphone via Bluetooth and track useful health and other data.
Why CES: Sensoria locked in two CES innovation awards last year, and is using the momentum to double its booth size this year. The company is using the event mainly for the exposure and to connect with possible business partners, CEO Davide Vigano said. Inside Sensoria’s own booth will be new partner Renault Sports; the two companies are pairing to track heart rates of race-car drivers.
What it’s showing: PicoBrew raised $1.4 million in a Kickstarter campaign that ended in December for its third product, the Pico, its smallest home beer-brewing device. “Most (Kickstarter) backers will get the Pico in April,” CEO Bill Mitchell said. “But at CES, we want to be able to get everyone the ability to taste the beer and see the product.”
Why CES: Mitchell is a CES veteran — he went for years as a Microsoft executive. The experience with a small company is quite a bit different. The bigger companies have cool products, he said, but they aren’t gadgets most people can afford. In the packed world of startup booths, you can find pretty much anything for any price, Mitchell said.
Last year, PicoBrew was on several TV shows and packed the CES aisles with people lining up to see its original brewing device, Zymatic, which sells for $2,000. This year, the company is coming prepped with a beer truck, a liquid food truck of sorts, where employees will be serving Pico-brewed beer.
PicoBrew is paying $16,800 for its 20-by-20-foot booth this year, but Mitchell says it’s worth every cent. People will get to taste the beer, and the conference is the easiest way to meet a dozen suppliers within a single week.
Location: Capitol Hill
What it’s showing: Gemio makes techie friendship bracelets that can be programmed through an app and that light up in different colors when the wearer is around different friends. The bracelets even have a tiny microphone that detects nearby music and flashes with the beat. “The idea is that kids can express themselves through physically changing the bracelet,” co-founder and CEO Michael Bettua said.
Why CES: Gemio is just getting started and taking preorders for bracelets, starting at $80. The first bracelets are expected to ship in the spring, making CES a great place to demonstrate the jewelry to thousands, Bettua said. The 12-person team plans to meet with potential distribution partners, as well as fashion bloggers. Bettua especially wants to get exposure in Asian markets, where charm jewelry is popular.
Location: South Park
What it’s showing: Ram Mounts, which develops and manufactures gear for mounting phones and devices to any vehicle, has received a 2016 CES Innovation Award for its IntelliSkin, a thin sleeve for mobile devices that protects them and charges the battery.
Why CES: The company will be “investing quite a bit of our resources into CES,” said Aaron Hersey, vice president of marketing — just as it has been for the past 12 years. “The reason we continue to go is from our perspective, it’s a way to convene with a very large industry of both partners and customers of ours,” he said. “We find that a lot of our business partners go to CES to find the latest technology that they can bring to the enterprise space.”
Even Ram Mounts’ international partners travel to the conference, so CES provides two advantages: visibility and an easy way to have business meetings.
Location: Capitol Hill
What it’s showing: Glympse is joining with seven or eight of its business partners to show how the location-sharing app integrates with things like Samsung phones, Verizon’s messaging app and Ford cars. Its technology lets users share a quick look of where they are at any time so friends can track their location.
Why CES: CEO Bryan Trussel admits it is probably the most expensive week of the year for the company to bring nine employees to Vegas. But Glympse has been attending CES every year since the company formed in 2008, because, Trussel insists, the trip is cheaper than the cost of not attending.
At CES, Glympse can have 20 or more business meetings, rather than pay for 20 separate flights to meet with business partners, he said. Plus, the whole week is just fun. “It’s the best place to get the pulse of the industry,” he said. “You get to see what’s cool before anybody else does.”