It would be silly of me to try to cover CES in anything like the normal journalistic way. Entire armies of reporters from mainstream and specialty publications did an amazing job of capturing the insanity of the show in all its glory. Instead, let me give here only the highlights that struck me, my few moments of epiphany. There were three, maybe four.
Everyone at the show is trying to stand out one way or another, but it’s pretty difficult. There were 170,000 people all seeking attention — anybody’s, but preferably everybody’s. Certainly, the vendors are clear on this point. The non-stop geyser of spam in my mailbox — starting about a month before the show and continuing right up until the Monday after — is testament to their tenacity, even desperation. Of course, I deleted many of them without a glance, those with subject lines about smart smartphone cases and so on, but of those I did read, if I wasn’t able to understand the pitch in the first three paragraphs, it was gone!
The journos and analysts were also guilty of the same infraction, to greater or lesser degrees. A shout out goes to Don Clark of the Wall Street Journal for his amazing and extensive coverage, which mostly lacked irony, despite what I’m sure were many temptations. He seemed to be everywhere at once, although the Journal did have a team helping him out.
Some, however, in the spirit of too much is never enough, put out not-even-disguised humble brags like this:
My advice to David Pogue: learn moderation.
Wednesday evening, I attended a CEO briefing by Ericsson. After some salutary cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, Hans Vestberg held forth for an hour before about 20 analysts. His easy charisma was remarkable. He’s the kind of guy my envy drives me to want to hate. His energy and confidence put most people, certainly me, to shame. He looks like a movie star, dancer’s legs canted at a jaunty angle supporting a robust torso and an amazing head. But instead of the chiseled lines of a model, his features have an amiable softness that invites friendship: everything just right but understated in an incredibly likable way.
Ericsson is in the process of transforming itself from a telephony infrastructure supplier to a more strategic player with offerings higher up the stack in software and services. And in his easy manner, Vestberg talked almost blithely about a net change of personnel in the seven quarters through 3Q15 of only 3,000, a number masking the fact that 28,000 new employees had been taken on and 31,000 had been let go. New employees have joined through acquisitions, managed services deals, and a buildup of global services centers. Many of those leaving come from the old core businesses. It’s all part of the rapid transformation the company is undergoing — while continuing to innovate and make money.
I asked him after the talk how he managed to maintain his energy and loose-jointedness while being responsible for operations in 180 countries that generate $33 billion in revenue. He said, and I’m sure it’s not the first time, “I love it. It’s what I live for.”
His work invigorates him. Ericsson is the only company he has ever worked for. He started in the equivalent of the mail room and worked his way all the way up to the top.
Winning feeds on itself. Victory drives more victories. But behind that virtuous cycle lies the tenacity to stay with it long enough to win.
I awoke Thursday morning, the second official day of the show, with a debilitating sadness the likes of which I haven’t experienced in years. I was in my hotel room and could barely move. It was existential, nothing to be done about it really. Something about all the striving in the direction of crass materialism added to whatever personal dramas.
I emerged from my room onto an unusually and blessedly silent hallway (thank you, Treasure Island!), took the elevator down, and braved the eternally noisy casino floor to find a Starbucks. Once back in my room, I nursed my venti cappuccino until I felt I could face the world.
Those of you who know me may be aware that I always rent a bicycle to get around the traffic sclerosis of CES. Being outdoors between meetings — which take place in the hotels on Las Vegas Boulevard as well as at the convention center — is refreshing, and beating the livery cars and cabs is a positive jolt of its own.
Once the meetings started up, I began to pull it together, and by the mid-afternoon I was more or less back in shape — just in time to join a Techonomy round table at Aria. David Kirkpatrick and the W2O Group gathered quite a roomful of notables, including Robert Scoble, Brian Solis, and executives from Intel, HP, and a variety of other companies.
After all this philosophizing, a product discussion may seem out of place, but the monitors and TVs on the show floor this year were truly amazing.
Samsung, in particular, really blew it away with displays. On show were units even Donald Trump would call “Youge!” The 170″ SUHD TV could be a wall in your home. An 8K display contained four times the number of pixels in 4K, the resolution that’s just going mainstream now. As if that weren’t enough, the company showed large, curved, and incredibly thin TVs, transparent displays, and super-high-contrast monitors. It was a tour de force of technology.
Here are a few pictures of them: