Now that CES 2021 is over, I have had some time to reflect on how the virtual CES compared to the real live one. I have attended the last five CES conventions in Las Vegas together with about 150,000 people and over 4000 vendors showing off their gadget and technological wonders. This year there was none of that. Instead, I was in my living room, looking on my screen at various vendors’ offerings and listening to their marketing pitches.
While the CES organizers tried to re-create the Las Vegas convention’s atmosphere in previous years, I do not think it worked. At past Las Vegas conventions, vendors were organized by technology groupings (e.g. health, robotics, wearables). I could walk by the area I was interested in and stop at those vendors with products that piqued my interest. Often I would aim for a specific vendor and then discover that the booth next to it has a more interesting offering. This was not something I could do at the virtual CES. Instead, I was given a choice of products or companies to choose from, and the potential of finding random interesting products just was not there.
Yes, just like others, I am getting fed up with sitting in front of the screen for much of the day. I did enjoy the online conference part of the convention. The previous CES conventions had some of the sessions available online. This year every session was available online, which made the conference part of the convention more enjoyable.
My favourite part of CES was that exhibit area referred to as Eureka Park in the previous years. Last year there were over 1200 startups that had innovative and unusual technology products and services to dazzle attendees. Even knowing that most of the products would not be available until later in the year, it still gave a good idea of what to look forward to. I usually spent a full day in Eureka Park and covered some of the more unusual technology trends and products. I could not do that this year mainly because while there were opportunities to participate in programs such as Showstoppers that was modelled after Eureka Park, it presented five products at a time, a lot less to products to look at. I participated in several of those sessions as well as other announcements. In contrast to previous years, where I reviewed up to 30 different products, this time, I will only review five unusual items that other publications may not have covered. And IMHO, this set of reviews may not be as valuable as previous years as I have had to rely on the vendors’ description rather than base my review on my experience in using the product. Here are the five items that were interesting enough to me to warrant a more detailed review.
Mask phone (https://maskfone.com/) is the mask that claims to provide extra protection against airborne health risks while allowing the wearer to answer and take phone calls and listen to music. It has a built-in microphone and lightweight earbuds. It is touted to offer “exceptional comfort, it’s enjoyable to wear for hours at a time.” One of the photos shows a wearer while driving which I assume is proof of how comfortable it is since the driver didn’t really have to wear a mask while driving. At the cost of $50 US per mask, this was one of the least expensive masks.
Dfree from TripleW (https://www.dfreeus.biz/) touts itself as the first wearable device to predict when a person needs to go to the bathroom. It was targeted mainly for seniors who have bladder control challenges. Through a small sensor (about 2”x1.5”) that is attached to the abdomen, it continuously monitors the bladder. It sends a notification to the person’s phone when it is time to empty the bladder. There is a main unit (about 3.5” x 3”) that attaches to the waistband or can be carried in the pocket. The description uses safe and non-invasive ultrasound sensors to monitor the person’s bladder, which expands as urine accumulates and contracts after urinating. DFree uses ultrasound to measure the bladder’s size and indicates how full it is on a scale of 1-10. It is only available now in the US for $399.
While the next device (see picture above) is intriguing, finding information about it wasn’t easy. The Ettie video doorbell that measures the visitor’s temperature does image recording and provides real-time alerts. The doorbell uses a built-in infrared sensor to check a visitor’s temperature and then logs the data along with their image, date and time to an app. One must wonder what the privacy implications would be of such recordings. While Plott is the company marketing (https://www.letsplott.com/), the Ettie video doorbell is not mentioned on their website, and yet they were this year’s 2021 innovation honouree award recipients. Go figure! I sent an email to the company last week to get the cost. They advised me to be around $300 (which was less than I expected), and Ettie’s availability is targeted in Q4. Matt, who responded to my email, indicated that they are working on including Ettie on their website soon.
The Typewise app (https://typewise.app) is already available and comes free from the App Store or with a small charge for additional features. The predictive software is designed to make keying emails and other texts easier. It has a honeycomb keyboard that is supposed to reduce typos up to 80 per cent. When I loaded it on my iPhone, the keyboard showed up without the honeycomb format but had all of the features described in the tutorial. My main issue in using it was that I had to get used to different actions than the regular keyboard. For example, to capitalize a letter, I had to swipe up while displaying a special character. I had to hold the key longer and then swipe up. It also took me a while to discover that the delete function is achieved by swiping left on the keyboard. I could get used to it given more time. It did reduce my typos once I had a bit more practice, and considering it’s free (a small charge for extra functionality), it’s worth exploring it further.
MySizeID www.mysizeid.com is an app that gives you an easy way to figure out your size among the various clothing brands (about 100 or so) it supports. Its measurements are based on the company’s patented algorithms. The application helps figure out your size with different brands as many brands use different measurements for each size group. The app was set up to reduce the need for returns because of the wrong size. Yes, I did try the app (see picture above), found that it is easy to use, and the app guided me through taking the measurements. Once done, I just had to tap on the desired brand name. I tried out two vendors where I had shopped before: H&M and Columbia. The app indicated that I was a size medium at H&M, while I know that I tended to buy size large in the past. Tapping on Columbia showed that I’m an XL petite, which was the right size, based on past purchases. The app is free from the app store.
Overall the CES virtual experience was poor, but the organizers did not have a choice. Understandably, none of us were willing to travel to Las Vegas to be together with 110,000+ attendees. Hopefully, next year we will all be back together in Las Vegas, and we will again be able to try out the products and ask pertinent questions of the vendors.