The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is still worth watching.
While big tech names like Apple, Google, and Microsoft are noticeably absent from the week-long convention, the show continues to attract some companies like Samsung and Lenovo as well as thousands of smaller, and arguably more innovative, companies from around the globe. The show may be bigger and louder than ever, but hidden among the chaos is a handful of noteworthy products, some of which could end up changing the way we live, play, and work.
On Sunday evening, journalists were given a peek of some of the thousands of new consumer electronics debuting at CES 2015. The event, CES Unveiled, catered mostly to smaller companies that had enough bucks and cache to get a booth at the event but weren't big or important enough to hold their own flashy reveal at the convention.
They included companies like Erie, Pa.-based AcousticSheep, which makes a soft headband with speakers woven in the the fabric that allows people to comfortably listen to music in bed; Narrative, a Swedish company that makes a tiny square camera that clips on your clothing to record memories hands-free; and Seattle-based Drone Mobile, which makes hardware and software that allows people to use their smartphones to remotely control some of their cars' functions, like locking and starting.
Larger electronics makers, such as Panasonic, LG, Samsung, Monster, Ford, and Sony, will be holding individual shows on Monday to reveal their new products to the world. Expect lots of turtlenecks, B-list celebrities, and nauseating promotional videos of yuppies happily using their gadgets with xylophone music chiming in the background.
While the big reveals may be fun for tech geeks, they are usually boring and uninformative. Innovation, after all, seldom sprouts from the belly of a large corporation, so one needs to dig a bit deeper to find it, especially at CES. That means pounding the convention floor, which this year is the equivalent of 35 football fields, or around two miles long.
Luckily, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), which puts on CES, makes this endeavor a little easier by recognizing a few star products with its 2 015 CES Innovation Awards. The winners were put on display at Sunday's event to much fanfare.
Big winners this year included Samsung, which won for most innovative handset with their Galaxy Note Edge mobile phone. The device has a second screen that runs along the edge of the phone that flashes pertinent information to the user without the need to access the larger main screen. This not only simplifies messaging, it also saves battery life.
Dell pulled an upset by winning the 2015 innovation award in the tablet and e-reader category with its Dell Venue 8, which the company claims is the world's thinnest tablet, at around 6 millimeters. It is also the first tablet to be equipped with Intel's RealSense Snapshot Depth Camera, which has facial detection and tracking, emotion detection, 3D scanning, depth-sensing photography, background removal, and tracks 22 joints in each hand for accurate touch-free gesture recognition. This could change the way we use video conferencing forever and open the door to more lively and useful interaction through webcams.
But the big companies aren't the only ones to impress this year. In the portable media player category, Axxess CE, a small company with offices in New York, took the top prize in innovation for its AIR² levitating bluetooth speaker. The unit basically looks like a flying saucer hovering over a base. The company claims the floating speaker delivers a more powerful punch than traditional speakers, but that remains to be seen. (In other words, I need to hear it first.)
Another innovation winner was San Francisco-based Edyn, which won for its Edyn Garden Sensor and Water Valve in the "tech for a better role" category. The sensor serves as a digital soil monitor, giving people with black thumbs a fighting chance in the gardening world. Through the Edyn app, you can review plant soil and make smart recommendations about what to plant and when to water and fertilize.
There are dozens of products left to discover here at CES 2015. From new high-resolution TVs to devices that allow you to control your home from thousands of miles away, to new ways to organize all those wires and cords. There are thousands left to discover over the next week. If I see any, I'll let you know.