Update (Jan 3): Here's a transcript of yesterday's Google Hangout.
Marc: Hey this is Marc Perton, Executive Editor of Engadget and for those of you tuning in now, I am with Gary Shapiro, the head of the Consumer Electronics Association. We're here to talk about CES, which is just a couple of days away.
People are already flocking to Vegas. Some people are rushing to Vegas ahead of the snowstorm to make sure that their flights don't get canceled and they get there in time. We are here to answer your questions and talk about what you should expect from CES when it starts in just a couple days from now. If you'd like to ask questions, you can tweet them at Engadget and later in this discussion, we will do our best to answer any questions people have.
I would just like to start. A lot of you probably have been to CES or have been following CES for years, but I think there are a fair number of people out there who aren't quite sure what CES is and what it's about. If you had to sum up what CES is to somebody who has just heard about it a little and is curious, Gary, what would you say?
Gary: Well thanks, Marc. And thanks for having me. That's like being asked to describe ice cream to someone who's never tasted it before. It's cold and it's wonderful, and it's exciting and you want to do it all the time, but CES is a trade show where it's one of the world's biggest and certainly the biggest focus on innovation. But it is where people get together who are in the business of innovation and technology and they bring new products, services and software apps to Marcet.
We have about 150,000 people, business-only. You have to have a business interest in being there -- a journalist, an investor, a retailer, an innovator. We have over 3,000 different companies showing something. We have over 850 people speaking in a few hundred sessions. And what you see is you are just hit with the magic and the promise of all these phenomenal products that are coming because what we've seen is we're at the, I think, at the beginning phase of this tremendous spurt of innovation. It's brought about primarily by wireless and the internet, but by the miniaturizations of these components called microelectromechanical sensors, MEMS, which are the accelerometers, the sensing devices, the things that when we were growing up you could only sense temperature or barometric pressure.
Now, it's going to be on smoke detectors to all sorts of things. Where we are, what our position is, what are blood looks like, how our bodies react, all these different things and they're being created in clever devices. They're being connected together. Cisco will be there with the internet of everything. There are going to be so many different things there that are being shown. Companies are showing their vision of the future. They're the big companies like the Sonys and the Intels and the Googles and the Yahoos and others. But there are also many other companies that are smaller startups and companies from all around the world. It is just very, very exciting.
Marc: That's really interesting what you just said about the sensors and internet of everything because I think that when a lot of people think of CES that they tend to put it in terms of some of the big, splashy things like 110-inch TVs. Obviously those things happen at CES and I think we want to talk about those things as well.
But, I think a lot of the things that you're describing are things like fitness devices, smart home devices, things that in a way start to permeate people's lives in ways that they don't even expect. That suddenly becomes something they take for granted a couple of years later, but now are the kinds of things that people look at and say, "Wow, I never thought of that."
What kind of innovations and what devices do you see coming up at CES or coming down the pipe in general to take advantage of these types of innovations and sensor technology and the related technologies that are around those?
Gary: Well, there are so many different areas. The innovations are making us healthier, safer, more connected, smarter, more aware, more responsive to our needs. Some quick examples: The automobile industry; nine out of 10 largest car companies are there with big exhibits, as well as many people in the ecosystem there. They're showing a lot of products, which not only make us safer, they park your car. We have a whole area of the show actually for driverless cars with three companies showing different ways of doing that and their visions of the future.
There are things that I have in my car that is a relatively inexpensive lease now that didn't exist a few years ago on the most expensive cars. It's a rapid transition, which makes it safer just in driving.
Then, of course, there's robotics. There's 3D printing. That's a revolution all in itself. We had a couple of companies last year exhibiting. This year, there are over 30 companies that are showing products and we had to cut them off. We have a waiting list to get in because we're sold out. This is a technology which will take over the world and allow you to do things in your own house and make things and it's getting inexpensive very quickly.
Robotics is, of course, big. The whole wireless health area of self-monitored, the measured self everyone talks about. There are so many different ways of doing that now, providing access for any information. We talk about Obamacare, we debate it, but the reality is technology is going to solve a lot of these big problems. They'll provide it so the doctors are only used when you really need them and you'll be able to do diagnosis in a way remotely.
There are so many things being shown and they're all being shown at CES, which is really exciting. And of course there's the big TVs; there's the ultra 4K television, which you'll have major companies like Sony and Samsung and LG and they'll be beautiful, spectacular, experiential screens with curves in them and they're thin and they're lightweight and they're big and they'll change the way we view walls in the future.
If I was in the wallpaper industry, I'd be a little concerned right now. But, I'm not thankfully. I'm the technology and innovation world and there are a lot of things coming. There are things that are just fun. Fun toys. There's connectivity. There's home control products.
When we flew into Atlanta last night heading for snowy Detroit, my wife was able to basically turn on the heat in our house before we got here late last night, thankfully, which is a great thing because we have technology, which is allowing us to do that. It's getting better. It's getting easier to use. It's wirelessly connected and it's making a difference.
So literally, when you have over 3,000 companies showing over, some estimated, 20,000 new products in different categories and categories we haven't even named yet, it's a pretty exciting event where virtually everyone connected with the business innovation comes.
Marc: Yes, I agree and I think just a couple of things you named are things that we cover every day and we're excited about. Certainly a lot of the fitness technologies we've seen already become available to consumers through things like Fitbit and similar health and fitness-tracking products. We've seen things like some of the newer TV technologies become available to consumers.
Some of the things you're describing are things that may have a longer trek before they're available to your average consumer. When you think about CES, obviously it is something that as an event is only open to the industry, but worldwide is viewed eagerly by consumers.
In terms of things that you think will be available to consumers this year, what do you think are some of the most exciting things that you're going to be showing with CES?
Gary: Well, clearly 3D technology is available to consumers now and it has a rapid transformation curve and you'll see that there. There are increasingly robotic devices, I know there will be some introduced at CES, which will be available to consumers in different ways.
Marc: Things like the Roomba or multi-purpose robot?
Gary: Oh way beyond that. I mean certainly, in prior years we saw Parrot products; Parrot's a French company, which is rather interesting and they're doing some really cool stuff in the robotics area. But other types of robotics. We have a whole robotic section. And of course the Ultra 4K is being sold today very effectively. About one-third of the sales being reported by retailers are people that are coming back because they already have one.
Just like the introduction of HDTV, we hadn't gotten everything right, but one thing we're totally wrong about is that we thought the broadcasting would drive HDTV sales. We didn't realize that DVD actually would, even though DVD, at the time, was an inferior mechanism; it didn't show the beautiful HDTV picture.
I think the same thing can happen here with Ultra HD, 4K. You will be able to see everything look better. So once you get one, you want more. And of course there's limited Ultra HD content, but Netflix and others have announced this is the wave of the future and that's what will be there.
The trend now towards these big screens that are thin and lightweight that people have, that portends a real rapid growth in Ultra 4K sales and we expect to see in 2014 and beyond certainly very, very, almost triple-digit increases in sales.
There are many features of the car, of course, which are changing rather rapidly. The whole exercise in the measured-self concept used to be people wore different-colored wristbands focused on their political views or what cause they were affiliated with. It's rapidly changed to the fact that the cause is themselves and what their health is. We're seeing a lot of that. When I speak around the country, I just ask how many people wear these devices and surprisingly: a lot. We're seeing rapid development in that area as well.
Marc: Yes, I agree and I think those are really exciting innovations. You mentioned 3D printing and that's something we cover a lot and it's one of those areas, just as journalists covering the tech industry, we can't get enough of it and our readers are fascinated by it. Do you think 2014 is going to be the year where 3D printing becomes accessible to typical consumers? Right now, it's obviously something that small businesses couldn't afford in the past, can afford now. It's something that curious, creative people can afford when they want to do more innovative things and create things and create products and prototype new things. Do you think 2014 is the year when a consumer can say, "Wow, I want a 3D printer. I want it so that my kid can use this for his school project. I want it so that I can build things in my garage and it becomes part of the home workshop"?
Gary: It used to be that technology would deploy more slowly from the business to the consumer. In fact, that's what COMDEX was about. But now it seems sometimes it starts out with consumers and deploys to businesses. I think 3D printing will still be a quick deployment, not like the PC or the cellphone, which started out very expensive and took a while. I think you're looking a product which will still cost a couple thousand dollars. But there are so many companies out there; there are so many opportunities there. I think relatively well-to-do parents that want to give their kid something different or have a science project that's going to create things or bring out the creativity in their kids will be out there looking at these products for the home. At a couple thousand dollars a pop, they're certainly within reach of some people.
But, also as a small-business item, as a novelty and definitely for prototyping in businesses for creating products, it's a no-brainer. What was very expensive and took six months to a year, you can get down to hours now to build your prototype products. There are over 100,000 free applications already or free 3D modelling templates that are out on the web now. There will be new business opportunities for people to create paid things or basically have their designer logos put on things at a cost. This is just the baby steps right now. We're talking about things where what goes into 3D, for example, the different materials, right now, the cheapest way is some plastics.
There are other opportunities for other components to be figured out and soon, maybe five years from now, we'll have 3D food printers in our home. Certainly in the medical field, it will be big. There are so many applications that are huge, but definitely consumers, especially the type of people that are Engadget people – why not. It's fun; it's interesting; it's cool; it's experimental; it is the future.
Marc: That's great. I can't get enough of it and I can't wait to be able to afford one. I'd love to have one at home.
Some other things, you had talked about some of the fitness technology and things that people can wear to track their fitness and that leads into one of the things that people have been talking about in terms of wearable technology, which is everything from Google Glass-type devices to smartwatches. Those are things that have captured the public imagination. People are fascinated by them, but they have not become huge mainstream products. You certainly don't see your typical person walking around with Google Glass hooked up. You don't see a lot of people outside of early adopters with smartwatches. What do you see coming next with wearable technology?
Gary: Oh, I see a lot in that area. First of all, we have a whole portion show focused on just the part of the body called the wrist, because there's a lot coming out there. Of course the Marcetplace will determine which of these concepts succeed or not, but I think Google Glass is just the first of many in a new category. Yes, it'll change and it will evolve, but think of what's really been the hot sellers of 2013. You have three categories. You have tablets, smartphones and headphones. All of those are essentially portable products. Some of them are status products. You can display your own personality with those. Your own colors, accoutrements, everything that goes with it. There's matching cases.
Of course, there are products coming out that allow you to customize those products in the way you want -- so how they look. They're portable. You can wear them on trains and airplanes and through cities. You're making a statement. It's kind of like a car. There's a statement in what you have or the fashion or the clothes you have. But, they're also very useful and they're fun.
It's called Google Glass of course, but there will be other companies coming out with products and I think it'll be successful for someone like me, who can't remember people's names. I can't wait to have that app.
Marc: I can certainly see the value in something like that. So there's an entire section of CES devoted to devices that people wear on their wrists.
Gary: Yes and there's also fashion technology and wearable technology. There's different parts of the body and they all have the right to be accessorized. And even the clothing itself will of course have various features, whether it's connected to the internet of things or it's indicating when it was worn and who was there. There's all sorts of applications which will be developed in the future as we embed in various things that we wear and, of course, around our homes, with just a little bit of connectivity to the internet.
I know that my life would be simpler if my wife and I could remember where we put things. Certainly it would save a lot of my time in life so I wouldn't be looking for things if I could have instant access to where they are.
One of the trends, for example, like that specific problem, which I know that I'm not the only that has a losing-key problem. Ten years ago, there are devices which have been around and allowed you to locate those things, but you have to build all the technology to essentially recreate a smartphone and put it on your keys so that you could find them and it was very expensive.
What we've seen dramatically change is now the technology's down so it's just that you have to be able to receive a tiny signal, a mini WiFi signal and get it for literally pennies or quarters and then you can put it in a whole bunch of devices. Some of the changes in technology are simply the miniaturization and coming down in cost, which allows very, very bright people to create all sorts of new products. There's so many categories that that will apply to and that's what I think is changing our lives and we'll see for the next few years lots of new product introductions. We're just at the wave of this very, very big change in technology.
Marc: I agree and that's actually something that really excites me and it's something that we've covered a lot of. It's the migration of innovation from large companies that can afford massive R&D departments down to individual entrepreneurs and small business. The combination of things like crowdfunding and the ready availability of contract manufacturing around the world has created a new class of entrepreneurs [where] anybody can be a manufacturer. That certainly wasn't the case even as recently as five years ago. We've seen so much innovation in that sector. How much of that can expect to see at CES?
Gary: First of all, I agree with everything you just said 1,000 percent. It is true. Things have changed dramatically and quickly so that anyone can become an entrepreneur. Anyone in the world who has broadband access and a device can start an international business. And they can do so in competition with some of the larger companies who are frankly, a little slow-moving and structured in a way where risk-taking is not that encouraged because of the hierarchy and because of the slowness of the bureaucracy.
There's great opportunities for entrepreneurs now. In fact, at CES we have something called Eureka Park. We just started a few years ago and we expected 30 companies and it just blossomed. Now we have over 200 companies. They're startups. It's curated. They have to meet all sorts of requirements and it's subsidized.
What they do is: These are people who started up and basically some of them are scientists with great ideas and the stuff there is so exciting and so vibrant and so interesting, it's become one of the hottest, most crowded areas of the whole event and there are things there which are just amazing.
We also have an area for the first time ever for universities. We have great R&D labs in universities and they're really creative, bright people, but they're not great at business. And so we're giving them the opportunity to expose what they're doing at the show. Now, Eureka Park was so successful last year that we have a little graduate area now as well, for the first time, for companies that were there once before and they're still going and they have to meet certain criteria and they're showing the products.
In fact, last year Marc Cuban was walking around the Eureka Park and he saw a company he liked and he funded it to the tune of several million dollars. So we have and we run the entire CES actually for the tiniest entrepreneur. And this is a message I've been giving for 30 years. It's something I heard the very first time I was associated with this association. It's a nonprofit. It's a group of volunteers who are from the consumer electronics industry and there was a board discussion and a debate about whether to raise the cost of exhibit space at the show.
At that time, the largest exhibitor was the chairman of the board and I'll never forget what he said. He said, "We can afford this. It's a rounding error to us; we spend so much time and money in our exhibit and bringing people, but the most important thing is that we keep the CES so that any entrepreneur, any innovator with an idea can come here for almost nothing and exhibit." And we've kept it that way.
So for now, for a couple thousand dollars, you can expose your idea to literally 150,000 innovators, retailers, investors, great media, like yourself. We have 5,000 media; we have 35,000 that come from outside the United States and you create partnerships, you create businesses and you get feedback. You get four days of people telling you what they think about your product in a very honest way and the smartest people that come and show, they listen, they grasp, they adjust like any great entrepreneur.
Your first business idea isn't your final one and you learn so much in those four days at the event that there's nothing like it in the world. I'm so proud of it and I'm so proud to be associated at this time in history, because really innovation is making a difference. People are creating businesses who couldn't 30 years ago and they're from all over the world now.
Marc: I agree. That certainly makes this, I think, one of the most exciting times to be involved in consumer electronics because you never know what's coming next. If you look at what people might have thought of the linear progression of where technology's going a few years ago, some of the things that people expected have happened. TVs have gotten bigger, sharper, resolution is up, 3D, but certainly, so many of the other things that we've seen are things that nobody could have predicted because they're things that big companies were not taking risks on and weren't in the R&D labs. Small companies are taking chances on a lot of the areas that you mentioned -- things like a lot of the automotive technologies; things like wearable technologies, fitness technologies.
So many of those have originated with small companies that have said, "We know a lot about cars and we're going to create something like the Automatic Link." or the companies like Pebble and so many entrepreneurial companies that have said, "We're going to try something different."
Gary: Absolutely. And some of them obviously partner with big companies. For big companies, it's a great thing. They acquire, they partner, they realize that they have to look outside, but there are certain technologies which are inevitable.
The driverless car is inevitable. There's no question about that. We're seeing a lot of those companies showing at CES. We have three different test tracks there where there will be demonstrations and that's a very safe vehicle. Imagine a world where accidents go down to zero. That will transfer to society. We'll have fewer emergency rooms. We'll have fewer auto insurance companies. We'll have a whole different way of owning cars, perhaps. There's so many things that come out of that. What will happen to all the drivers? They'll be great for disabled people and older people, inebriated people. There's great opportunities there all around. But that's certain.
Another certainty is the flat wall TV. I've been saying that for 20 years. We're heading in that direction. We're almost there. Robotics is a certainty. Robots are doing more and more things for us. The internet of things is a certainty. But, at the same time and a lot of what I just talked about is big companies, small company niches, smart people, creative people from all over the world and the best ideas win.
But there are so many areas where small companies can jump in and out whether it's apps or new technology. Just remember, every big company started as a small company.
Marc: That's really great. I agree with you. We have just a few minutes left. We have a couple of questions that people have tweeted. The first one I got might be hard for you to answer since I think there's so many exciting things at CES, but we have someone who asked what your favorite part of CES is.
Gary: Honestly really it is Eureka Park because of the excitement of entrepreneurs, the great things that are there, but what I love about CES is that it's a five-sense experience. I am passionate about innovation and technology. You and I are not physically together or the people watching us, but we're connected through these miracles that have been created in the last few years almost and it's great. But still we want to get together and meet with other people and have a five-sense experience so that we can see, touch, feel, hear all about the different things that are out there. Whether we want to do business with someone, we want to evaluate them in a face-to-face encounter.
How a company wants to present itself, because there are companies that are there, the major companies, with thousands of products and this is how they want to position themselves to the world and they show it rather than a quick ad or a banner ad or something else like that. This is how they are displaying themselves.
The live experience is the most exciting thing to me, honestly. I love the excitement I get when I walk into the exhibit hall and you see teams of people in technology and innovation and excitement and the promise and hope of the future. And the saddest moment is at 4:00 on Friday afternoon when we close the show down and everything is torn down. It's a sad moment, but hopefully a happy one as well.
Marc: I agree with you. I certainly love the idea of being able to have this face-to-face experience with not just the product, but the people and companies behind these products, which is something you don't get every day. And certainly for us, the ability to share that experience with our readers and our audience is a big part of why we want to be at CES. And want to tell people what it's like there and give them a feel for that, because there really is nothing in the world like CES and our readers can get a little bit of a taste of that.
Gary: And we're thrilled that you're there and we're entrusting you not only communicating with your readers what you think is interesting but also what you think is the best.
Marc: Well, that's true and we're definitely honored and excited about being able to do Best of CES for the first time this year. We have a lot of new product categories that we're looking at as part of Best of CES and already have gotten information about some products that are going to be coming up next week that we're really excited about that we can't talk about it, but are really excited about. And we're excited about having the Readers' Choice category. Obviously that's something that we are really interested in because it gives our readers a chance to look at some of the more innovative and exciting products that come out of CES and tell us what they think is going to be the best of what's coming down the pipe this year. Yes, we're absolutely thrilled and honored to be doing Best of CES this year.
Gary: I can't wait.
Marc: We have another minute. One last reader question, which was, someone wants to know how does the CEA team stay calm and deal with the craziness of CES while you're out there?
Gary: Well, we have a great, great group of people, based in the Washington, DC area and we share a mission, I think. We share a belief that this is really important what we're doing and we're exposing innovation to the world. Most importantly, we do a lot of surveys after the show and we're always getting feedback. What I'm listening for is how our staff is rated. We've gotten pretty high, close to 99 percent ratings in a lot of our surveys and that's because they understand that there are innovators and entrepreneurs risking or maxing out their credit cards. They're putting their life savings into their exhibit and it means so much that they impress people like you, frankly, and others out in the media and retailers and investors out there. There's a lot at stake.
It's very important work, because it really is changing the world. It's helping people get access to information, health care, entertainment, education that they've never been able to get before and it's really and quickly low cost. We want to make sure it's a seamless process and we empower our staff and we hire the best people.
We realize that there are things we can control or things we can't and we try to plan relentlessly. I'm already planning for 2015 in the last few weeks as well. We're planning out there with busses and carpets and signage and we want to make sure things go right.
Marc: I can imagine. I can only imagine what it's like to put something like that together. If there's time for one last question, we just have one last reader question and I think this is a really interesting one.
What do you see coming out of CES in terms of education-related technology?
Gary: There's a great debate going on in the education world whether customizable and learnable applications and software matters, capturing the best teachers. There's a lot coming out there and there's a lot of things I don't know what exhibitors are going to do because they announce it at the show and they want to surprise people.
I think there's a trend that's clearly going forward in the future where we're capturing some of the best teachers that are out there. Certainly I had a great discussion with the guy who was actually responsible for Google Glass and Google cars is now heading the online educational thing and they had some phenomenal success. I think it's called I -- help me out, it's I-something. There's a lot out there.
I think people learn differently whether some people learn visually, some people learn live, some people learn audio, and some people have to read it. But, the bottom line of it is we have a better future in education than we have now and we can capture some of the best tech out there and some of it's feedback-based, but we have to do a better job and technology is clearly a major part of the answer.
Marc: Yes, I agree. I think there are a lot of exciting things coming. I think technology alone can't do it, but I think there are a lot of dedicated educators who are seeing the value of what they can accomplish with technology. That's pretty exciting.
Okay. I just wanted to get that in because that was a last-minute reader question.
Gary: Thanks. Have a great trip to Vegas.
Marc: Thank you. I know you have a ton to do over the next day or so before you head out there. We'll see you in Vegas next week, or actually, just a day or two and I hope you don't get snowed in. I definitely want to see you out there so good luck with the weather.
Gary: Thank you. Thanks for the opportunity.