A war of words
You know something fishy is going on when Pizza Hut is touting itself as a technological tastemaker. The fast food chain was at a pre-show event celebrating the 20th anniversary of "the first physical good ever purchased over the internet." It's a mouthful, but that's the sort of subtle phrasing that's necessary to set yourself apart in a sea of "world's firsts." Samsung and LG are the kings of this sort of nuance. The Korean tech giants both claimed a slew of ultimate achievements, but the devil is in the details. Samsung's booth featured the "world's thinnest ultra narrow bezel," while LG had the "world's narrowest bezel 3.5mm video wall." We didn't bust out the measuring tape, but as you can see, there's a fine line when it comes to promoting even the tiniest of things.
Believe it or not, bezels weren't the main attraction at CES. The real confusion came in the 4K TV space. While LG presented its "world's first 4K flexible OLED TV," Samsung was just a few doors down showing off its own flexible 4K display. This one, however, was of the LED variety. The outfit didn't publicly promote the TV as a first, but a Samsung rep told us it was the "world's only one." Both companies had a number of other claims scattered about their booths, with LG touting firsts with HD portable projectors, an Ultra HD 3D wall, an ultrawide QHD monitor and the world's largest Ultra HD display at 105 inches. Nearby, Samsung staked claim to the first curved UHD TV and the world's largest Ultra HD TV at 110 inches. It even carried the hyperbole over to its household appliances with the "world's largest washer and dryer" and the "world's only sparkling water refrigerator," serving up SodaStream bubbles from its door.
Samsung's and LG's were among the biggest booths on the show floor both in terms of size and bombast. However, one of their biggest competitors for show floor real estate took a subtler approach to pushing its products. Sony's booth relied more on its products than marketing jargon to set itself apart. The booth, which covered a massive corner of the LVCC, featured a number of new and impressive devices like its diminutive $2,000 4K camcorder, but there wasn't a single proclamation of a world's first, smallest, biggest or thinnest. Instead, three slogans featured relatively subtly above a series of the Japanese manufacturer's new wedge-shaped 4K TVs, promoting the best brightness, color and picture ever.
World's firsts you didn't know you didn't need
When it comes to hype, size doesn't matter.
When it comes to hype, size doesn't matter. The big brands often dominate CES coverage, but there are hundreds of smaller companies jockeying for headlines on the show floor and they're often just as quick to yell: FIRST! This year's show played host to an enormous amount of "revolutionary" innovations that claimed to do something no one else had. More often than not, these devices fill a gap that no one knew existed, like iToy's "first connected fighting mini robots" or the Phantom 2 Vision, the "world's first consumer quadcopter with a built-in high-performance camera capable of high-quality photography out of the box." Also on display this year: Nymi's "world's first cardiac ID technology" that aims to replace passwords and PINs by using the wearer's ECG as a biometric for authentication and RJ Reynolds' "world's first digital vapor cigarette." Unfortunately, neither Stephen Dorff nor Courtney Love was on hand to provide a celebrity endorsement.
The Official Hype Machine of CES 2014
It wouldn't be CES without a few grandiose statements from the CEA itself. In years past, the organization has sent out a press release just days after saying attendance has reached an all-time high. That may not be the case this year, but that hasn't stopped the wheels of hyperbolic sentiment from turning. The CEA claimed a "record amount of innovation" in 2014 (something that's clearly hard to measure) with 3,200 exhibitors covering 2 million square feet. In an email, it also touted itself as "the world's largest mobile technology event." That's not a distinction we would have bestowed ourselves. The big brands are abandoning the trade show circuit for their own launch events, and Sony was the only major player to launch a phone at CES this year. One area where we're more than willing to give the CEA credit is in the growth of autos. In a November 18th press release, it proclaimed a record number of automotive exhibitors. Given, that number is nine, but they came correct, so we'll let that one slide.
If you ask the CEA, it will tell you this is the greatest show on Earth, and given the media circus surrounding it, we'd have to agree.
Lead image by Will Lipman