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Like all great inventions showcased at CES, the ice sculpture pictured above is an exercise in functionality as much as aesthetics. Look closely at the object's top corners and you'll see two funnels into which bartenders poured a variety of liquors. Snaking through pathways embedded in the frosty block, the chilled booze emerged into martini glasses at the bottom, mixing into blue or green cocktails that -- like the neon lights outside on the Las Vegas strip -- glowed in the dim light.
The libation-dispensing creation was but one of many attractions vying for attention Sunday night at CES Unveiled, where more than 70 exhibitors were on hand to show off their latest and greatest. It's a testament to these vendors' salesmanship and ingenuity that their various gadgets consistently drew bigger crowds than the mixologists manning the ice block. The setting was the main drag of Sin City, after all, a place where yard-length margaritas are ubiquitous and almost every convenience store has a bottle opener at the counter, ideally placed so customers can begin imbibing their spirits before they reach the exit.
What sorts of products attracted the attention of the hundreds of journalists crammed into the Mandalay Bay ballroom? Literally too many to mention. Technically, CES doesn't start until Tuesday, but just as the world's biggest trade show has expanded beyond the Las Vegas Convention Center into other venues throughout the city, so too has its duration expanded beyond its official calendar dates. This early sneak peek included only a fraction of the companies participating in the show, but they brought along enough toys to keep a tech enthusiast busy for months.
The roster included several huge companies with household names, such as Lenovo, which took up four tables with a fleet of Ultrabooks. But there were also dozens of newcomers and startups.
Smartphone accessories were a common theme. So many companies were showing off speakers that their respective demonstrations often blended into the cacophony, making it difficult to untangle which ones offered a prize-winning sound. There were also enough cases to outfit an iPhone with a different look for not only every day of the week, but probably every day of the next decade.
Fitness products were a related trend, with several exhibitors bringing gadgets or apps that turn smartphones into portable assessors of a user's heart rate, blood pressure and overall wellbeing. Another push was devices that connect vehicles and household objects to the Internet. And of course there were big TVs, legions of novelty toys and more touchscreens than one pair of hands could hope to try out.
Luckily, what happens at CES doesn't stay in Vegas, and these gadgets, along with more that haven't yet been revealed, will be hitting the mass market soon. InformationWeek will be detailing more products as the show continues -- but here are seven that caught our eye at CES Unveiled.
3M has brought large touchscreen displays to CES before-- but those products look positively Lilliputian compared to the mammoth 84-inch model on display Sunday night.
The screen uses projective capacitive multi-touch technology -- just like what's found in smartphones and tablets, but on a much, much grander scale. Resolution has been increased alongside physical dimensions; with a 3840 x 2160-pixel resolution, the device qualifies as a 4K display.
David Henry, marketing manager for 3M's touch group, said the giant touchscreen, which increases on the company's existing 46-inch model by more than 80%, is a prototype that will be shipping by the end of the year. The demonstration was running an app slated to appear as an exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, one of many potential applications, he said. The retail space, for example, might harness the device to improve in-store experiences. Casinos have shown interest in the screen for table games. Henry said the plus-size touchscreen might even have a place in the enterprise, as many business intelligence units require methods for visualizing dense sets of data, such as layering demographics information, population density and sales figures over a map of all a store's locations.
LG is bringing lots of televisions to CES, including new Google-infused models that feature an improved user interface and are responsive to voice commands. Those sets weren't part of Sunday's festivities, but the company did haul in its gargantuan 84-inch Ultra HD TV. The company recently announced that the model would be complemented by 55-inch and 65-inch models, both of which will be part of LG's main CES exhibit.
Winner of the Video Display category at the 2013 International CES Innovations Awards, the TV boasts 3840 x 2160-pixel resolution, pushing 8 million pixels per frame for an image four times denser than those offered by 1080p sets. It also includes 3-D capabilities and access to LG's Smart TV ecosystem, which includes upwards of 1,400 apps. Not a lot of content is available for 4K -- a point that was perhaps unintentionally underscored by the fact that the CES Unveiled exhibit continuously looped a series of time-lapse videos. The chance to bask in a high-res Hollywood explosion or car chase was nowhere to be found. Even so, the imagery was arresting and vivid, if a bit oversaturated.
Despite a lot of hoopla, Ultra HD is still seen as a niche market -- and with a $20,000 price tag, LG's model illustrates the primary barrier to entry. Then again, at only 80% the cost of Sony's comparable 4K set, this TV might be -- at least to affluent home entertainment enthusiasts -- a bargain.
Many drones are controversial -- but not Parrot's AR Drone 2.0, a gravity-defying spectacle that puts yesteryear's remote-control helicopters to shame with its ability to dive, spin and whirl through the air. The $300 device itself isn't new, having made appearances at several recent trade shows. But the company is attending CES to debut several new accessories, including a GPS recorder that plugs into the drone's USB drive and an extended battery that improves the standard 1000 mAh battery by 50%.
Parrot project manager Yoni Benatar said the company will also be showing a new "Director's Mode" app for the camera's 720p, 30-frames-per-second video camera. Added capabilities include pre-programmed routes and fine controls for smooth rotations, tilts and pans. He also stated that the company has an SDK available. "We have a community of developers that we share a lot with," he remarked. "If they want to do their own application, we can help them."
It seems like there are more varieties of iPhone cases on the market than there are iPhones in consumers' hands. Despite the surplus of options, Sculpteo still managed to stand out, thanks to the customizable, three-dimensional designs of its 3DPCase. Clement Moreau, the company's CEO and co-founder, said the cases are built through 3-D printing. Customers can customize templates through either a Web app or a mobile app, he said, explaining that, "you don't need to be a technician or an engineer in 3-D" to navigate the Sculpteo design interface. The app can ingest a picture of the phone's user, for example, and create a modifiable case design featuring that person's profile. Customers can also select from over 45 different materials to choose a texture and look that suits their taste.
Once the design is finalized, it's sent to Sculpteo's factory for printing, after which the finished product is shipped back to the customer. The app is free and the cases range from $25 to $35. Moreau said cases are only available for the iPhone presently but that support for other phones will be arriving soon. "We're working on it," he stated, adding, "I mean it: we are really working on it. We have been doing 3-D printing for three years now, and we have been doing this focus on iPhone cases for three months. It's a brand new subject for us." Despite being a recent entrant to the field, Sculpteo won the 2013 CES Best of Innovations Award in the Software and Mobile Apps category.
If you've been reading InformationWeek for the last year, you're probably aware that the bring your own device (BYOD) movement has made businesses very concerned about mobile phone security. Many companies advertise enterprise-oriented solutions, but VenomTek and OC Shield were at CES Unveiled to debut an app designed to protect consumers: DataGard.
"This gives you a full system protection by invoking a VPN," said VenomTek CEO Bryan Davies. He and Henry Massey, software product manager for OC Shield, stated that traditional VPNs, by virtue of being designed for static PCs, aren't equipped for the hustle and bustle usage of today's smartphones -- moving from Wi-Fi at a cafe to 3G on the street, having the 3G signal fade in and out as the user moves from one block to the next, etc. "[DataGard] was developed to work on mobile phones," said Massey, who mentioned that the project has been in development for two years. "Unlike traditional VPN solutions that don't work on mobile phones, this one does."
Massey explained that DataGard, which will cost $49.99 per year, applies 256-bit AES encryption while transferring content in a secure tunnel between the user device and the company's server. At the server level, he said, DataGard applies anti-phishing and antivirus precautions, while also providing data compression that allows a user to milk his or her monthly plan for up to 25% more data.
When asked about enterprise ambitions, Davies said that DataGard is targeting consumers first to "get the name out there" but that "we'll be taking it more business to business." When asked how the app differs from similar tunneling technology offered by companies such as Zenrpise and MobileIron, he stated that many companies claim to offer mobile-optimized VPNs but that "none of them offer the stability" built into his product. This is a bold claim, to be sure -- but DataGard's creators were confident enough to hand out one-month trial subscriptions during the Sunday night showcase, suggesting the product could be one to watch if its performance lives up to marketing claims.
Chevrolet was pushing the connected car experience at CES Sunday, touting the capabilities of its MyLink Radio, which allows a motorist to dock his or her smartphone and mirror a variety of apps -- including Pandora and TuneIn, to the car radio. "It's about making the car's radio even smarter," said Brad Wolfe, a connected customer specialist with Chevrolet.
Wolfe explained that MyLink also allows iOS users to integrate Siri into the driving experience via a voice activation button on the steering wheel. "If you want Siri to tell you a joke or set a calendar date or tell you the latest General Motors stock price, you can do that with the touch of a button while your hands are on the wheel and your eyes are on the road," he remarked, adding that the vehicle puts a connected phone into accessory mode so that "there's no temptation to mess around while you drive." Icons for various mirrored apps and services will be accessible on the vehicle's GPS touchscreen and the car will automatically charge connected smartphones.
Wolfe said the features will initially be available only on the Chevrolet Spark and Sonic. "There's a base model [of each vehicle] that doesn't come with it, but the 1LT and 2LT models will have it standard," he said. "There's no fun in not being connected, right?"
To many road warriors, few things are as aggravating as a dead phone or tablet battery. Lilliputian Systems hopes its Nectar Mobile Power System will alleviate this frustration. Compact enough to fit easily in a user's hand, the device has enough power to keep any gadget that complies with the USB 2.0 standard juiced for up to two weeks. That means smartphones, tablets, eReaders, Bluetooth headsets -- you name it. Charging is facilitated via a Nectar Pod that fits into the larger unit; when one Pod has been exhausted, users can simply dispose of it and pop in a fresh cartridge.
The cost of entry and ongoing maintenance might dissuade some users; the device, which will be available exclusively through Brookstone's stores and website, will retail for $299.99 and includes one Nectar Pod. Additional cartridges will be available for $9.99 each. Despite the price, the device might appeal to on-the-go power users, as it's already been approved for airplane use by both the United Nations International Aviation Organization and U.S. Department of Transportation. Plus, those who order early through the Brookstone website can procure an extra Pod at no cost. Nectar is slated to start shipping this summer.
"Want more? Watch as EE Times reporter Sylvie Barak takes you on a quick video tour of some of the CES Unveiled gadgets. See the embedded video below: "