CES 2012: The Mobile Experience

If you want to see the latest, coolest, shiniest, most exciting technology in the world, and you can’t get into DARPA headquarters, your best bet is to attend the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. I spent a week in the desert and brought back some exciting news from the frontlines of the tech battleground that I’m excited to share with you today.

The “mobile experience” at CES came down to two things – what kind of new mobile technologies were on display and how were people actually using mobile at CES.

I saw A LOT of cool phones, but in my opinion the Nokia Lumia 900 was best in show. The design is gorgeous. It has clean lines, a big, bright screen, and runs the very impressive Windows Phone OS. And let’s not forget that it’s scary fast. Nokias were some of the first phones I remember drooling over in the late 90’s. The 8810, with its chrome exterior and sliding keyboard cover, was one of the coolest things I had ever seen at that time. So needless to say, I was happy to see that they are getting back in the game, even though I hear they are being heavily subsidized by Microsoft.

Nokia Lumia 900 CES 2012

The other mobile phone that really impressed me was the Sony Ericsson Xperia ion phone. Aside from a beautiful design, it features a “fast capture” mode that allows you to go from zero to a picture of your friend falling down the stairs fasters than with any other phone. This seems like a minor feature, but how often have you reached for your phone, unlocked it, exited whatever app was open when you last closed it, opened the camera app, and then realized that you missed the shot? Apple felt this was important enough to include an upgrade in the latest iOS to allow you to go right to the camera feature. But it’s still not that fast. This is.

Sony Ericsson Xperia ion CES 2012

While getting to see these new phones up close was very cool, none of them were groundbreaking. Holding a phone on an exhibit hall floor really doesn’t give you the sense of what it will be like to use it every day. They’re phones, they look remarkably similar to the iPhone 4S I was using to take pictures, and they do offer incremental improvements (fast speed, bigger/brighter screens, etc.) that are difficult to perceive. I saw Droids, Nokias, and about a billion cases, screen protectors, battery packs, chargers, and other phone accessories. Almost half of the North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center was filled with representatives from companies hawking the latest biodegradable iPad case or wood-based iPhone cover.

Those were my favorite devices at the show, but what about how people were actually using mobile devices at the show? The short answer is, they weren’t. Just kidding, sort of. The one thing they weren’t doing much of was texting or making calls. That’s what happens when you cram 150,000 people into a convention center with no wifi. Or try to fit that many people into giant hotels that look like pyramids or Venetian palaces. While they may be imposing monuments to capitalism and gambling, they don’t do a lot for mobile phone reception. Most of what I saw people doing was looking at their phone and wondering why it said they had five bars but couldn’t download an email. Or maybe it was just me.

What I did see what a lot of people using their phones as video cameras, digital cameras, and voice recorders. I brought a Flip cam, a Canon point & shoot, and my iPhone 4S and never even took the Canon out of my pocket. I saw a lot of my friends checking-in on Foursquare to manage the constant shuffled between locations (hotel to convention center, convention center to the first part, first party to the second party, and on and on, using ending up late-night at In-N-Out).

The other app that got a lot of usage, by me, was the CES app. When I first got there I used the scheduling feature to map out every panel discussion I wanted to attend and organize my days there. Once I found out that I had purchased the wrong pass and wasn’t able to attend any of the presentations, I definitely needed the app a little less (side note: if you attend next year, spring for the $1499 all-access pass, there’s a ton of awesome presentations you don’t want to miss, in addition to the exhibitions). The mobile app had another great feature, a full directory of every vendor at the show, along with the location of their booth. The only thing that would have made it better is if it had an interactive map of the showrooms so you could “GPS” yourself to a specific booth. I spent 30 minutes hunting down the Nest booth, only to find out it was a room in the LV Hilton and the guys weren’t even there.

The last mobile-related thing I can leave you with is that being at CES is a major drain on your battery. Between bad service, searching for signals, multiple attempts to do everything (picture-taking, tweeting, and checking your phone constantly), you’d be lucky to have any juice left by lunch time. I made sure to carry my Duracell Instant Charger with me every day, as well as my wall charger. Even with these, I found myself running out of juice by the time I left the convention center. And that’s really only half the day at CES.


Ezra Englebardt

Ezra Englebardt is the creator of Hot Tub Crime Machine, a senior brand strategist at SapientNitro, and an avid student of digital & social media, technology, culture, and consumers. He tweets, probably too much, from @Ezra802. He has written previously about his experiences at CES 2012 here.