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A startup’s guide to CES – TechCrunch

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The Consumer Electronics Show, like Burning Man, is a massive event in the middle of the desert. Also like Burning Man it is populated by some of the greatest minds in technology. But, unlike Burning Man, these people are all dressed and only a few of them are on hard psychotropic drugs. Also CES is mostly inside.

Here are some tips and tricks I’ve collected over a long career spent staying in awful hotels and wandering around massive conference halls full of things that won’t be released for another year. Hopefully they can be of some use.

Why should you go?

CES is not about innovation. It is about networking with potential buyers. The show is massive and it is popular primarily because it is in Las Vegas, a city so nice they made the movie Casino about it. But the days of you and your brother being dragged out into the corn and beaten to death are gone and what’s left is an adult playground of 24-hour craps and bad drinks.

You are not going to CES to drink and gamble, however. As a startup you are going there to find customers or get press. If you have the hustle and the will you can easily meet hundreds of potential buyers for your technology, including some big names who usually buy massive booths to show off their “innovative” systems. When you go, bypass the armed booth guards who stand at the front directing traffic and go talk to the most bored person at the booth. This is usually some middle manager who was wrangled into telling people about his company’s most boring innovation. Talk to him or her like a human being, offer to take them out for a coffee, do whatever it takes to get a warm lead inside that massive company. Repeat this hundreds of times.

CES costs $300 and the tickets to LV and the hotel will cost far more. Be sure you’re not cash-poor before you go. This isn’t a Hail Mary for your startup, it’s a step along the way.

If you don’t think you can pull off this sort of social engineering I describe, please don’t go to CES, or instead send the most personable member of the team. It’s too big and there are already enough nervous nerds walking around.

You haven’t planned yet?

So you’ve decided to go. Do you have tickets? A hotel? At least an Airbnb? It’s pretty much too late right now to get any of those things in time for January 8th, but you can try.

Further, if you have a friend who lives there, go stay with them. The hotels gouge you during this week. Check out the Excalibur, arguably one of the worst on the strip. Right now, you can stay at this illustrious medieval-themed hotel for $25:

Need a smoke-smelling room abutting a flying buttress topped with an animatronic Merlin around January 9? Fear not, my liege!

The best time to book for CES is a year before CES. The second best time is never.

Maybe you’re going to buy a booth. I wouldn’t, but go ahead and give it a try. I like what my friend Tommy here did. Instead of going through one of the countless staffing agencies in Las Vegas he put out a general call for help and he got plenty of responses. Lots of people would be willing to go to Las Vegas to help out for not much cash.

Do everything in your power to stay as close to the Convention Center or Sands (the hall with all the startups) as possible. It is a living hell trying to get around Las Vegas and you’ll thank me later for every hour in a cab line you save for yourself.

Go to where the action is

If you are trying to get press for your product launch then you came to the wrong place. First, if you’re going to CES to launch then you MUST LAUNCH AT CES. I’ve seen too many idiotic startups who flew in, paid for everything and then told the world they’d launch in like two months or whenever Sven back at the main office in Oslo was done putting the finishing touches on the device driver. If you’re not ready to ship don’t go.

Do not spam journos about your product unless you know them. Your emails will fall into a black hole.

Further, instead of getting a booth at the show I recommend getting a booth at Showstoppers or Digital Experience. The events cost about $8,000 for a booth and are approximately the same. They are held before the main event and they’re where all the journalists go to get free prime rib and ignore you. It’s also where all of the small market journalists and the weird freelancers who wear fishing vests and live in Scranton wander around, so be ready to do a little target acquisition.

Want my advice? Put one person at your booth who can tell your story in two minutes exactly. That person must tell that story as many times as possible and give the odd journalist who will stand there asking dumb questions for an hour the stiff arm whenever someone else comes up. Maximize your message dispersal. Also, if you have product, then have about 20 pieces there ready to give away to Engadget, Gizmodo, The New York Times, The Verge and the like. Don’t give anything to me if I see you. I don’t want that crap in my suitcase.

Now for the ingenious part. Find the most popular food item at the buffets and stand next to it. When a hungry journo comes up to grab a spaghetti taco or whatever, scope out their badge and offer to walk them over to your booth. They’ll harrumph a little but unless they are one of the countless millennial reporters who believe they have to live-blog these events they have nothing else to do that night except get drunk on gin and tonics. Drag them over to your booth and give them the two-minute pitch. They’ll be so busy eating they won’t be able to ask questions. Write down their email address — don’t ask them for a card — and give them yours. Then email the heck out of them for the next few days to remind them about your launch.

Further, never rent a suite and invite journos to come to you. They have enough trouble getting out of bed, let alone getting a cab to your dumb room. If a journo wants to meet, you MUST go to them. Don’t make them come to you.

Manage expectations

Like Burning Man, CES is the worst show on the planet held in one of the most unforgiving habitats known to man. As long as you accept these two points you will be fine. You will not “win” CES. At best, CES will give you a kick in the pants in regard to your competition and actual value to the world. Want to know if you have customer fit? Go to CES and meet your customers. Want to see if journalists care about your idea? Pitch them when they are fat and sassy at CES and feeling powerful. That experience will humble even the biggest ego.

Remember: The world is a cold, uncaring place and this is doubly true at CES.

Be careful with PR people

See that animated GIF above? That’s how I manage my CES email. I scroll through the subject lines, look for people I know, then select all unread and delete them. One of the worst things about CES is that the letters “CES” show up in multiple words and, barring writing a regular expression, it is very difficult to filter them out; 99 percent of your CES emails will go unread.

So should you hire a PR person? Yes and no. If you hire them to just send emails then you might as well burn your money. However, if that PR person can lead you around the show and introduce you to folks who can help you get your story out then it might be worth it. Sadly, there is no way to tell how incompetent a PR person is until you get on the ground with them. I know a few I can recommend. Email me. Otherwise be very careful.

Don’t go

Look, CES sucks. I’m not going to lie to you. It’s too big, everyone there is distracted by potential blackjack winnings, and trying to get noticed or launch at CES is akin to holding a poetry reading in the middle of a rock concert: nobody is paying attention and you actually may annoy more people than you reach. It’s your call whether or not you want to give it a try, but be ready to hustle. Besides, there’s always next year.

Bonus Tip: Buy a humidifier

I learned this trick from Brian Lam, formerly of Gizmodo: when you land go to Walgreens and buy a very cheap humidifier. Put it in your room and leave it on all day. Las Vegas air is very dry and you’re almost guaranteed to get chapped lips and a cough if you don’t have at least one spot where it doesn’t feel like you’re on the surface of Mars.

This was us at CES 2008 or so. We were such sweet summer children.

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Apple just had the biggest holiday quarter in its history

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Enlarge / The back of the iPhone 13.

Samuel Axon

Neither a global pandemic nor a supply chain crunch can stop Apple, based on the company’s Q1 2022 earnings report. Released today, the report showed Apple smashing many of its sales records once again, with $123.9 billion in overall revenue and $34.6 billion in profit.

A lot of that money was driven by the iPhone 13, as this was the first full quarter since that product line’s launch. When we reviewed the iPhone 13 lineup, we wrote that it doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel with flashy new features, but it does give the people what they say they want: better cameras and more battery life.

Cameras and battery life seemed to resonate with buyers. iPhone revenue for the quarter was $71.63 billion, up 9 percent year-over-year. Also, Apple achieved a new record for smartphone market share in the critical China market: 23 percent. That made the company the top-selling smartphone brand in the country for the first time in years.

Apple’s services businesses (like Apple Music, Apple TV+, and iCloud) have been a major focus of expansion in recent years, and that expansion continues to pay off. Services revenue was up 24 percent to $19.52 billion during Q1. Apple reports that it has 785 million paying subscribers in total across all the services it offers. That’s 165 million more than last year.

Mac revenue grew 25 percent since last year to $10.85 billion. That growth is thanks mainly to consumer interest in the M1-driven models that offer notably better performance and power efficiency than previous Macs with Intel processors. On the other hand, the iPad slipped 14 percent compared to the same quarter last year.

The company’s catch-all category that includes other products like wearables and accessories grew to $14.7 billion, mostly on Apple Watch and AirPods sales.

All of these gains came despite an ongoing pandemic and, perhaps more critically in this instance, major supply issues. Supply chain constraints have led to exceptionally long wait times to receive a new MacBook Pro, for example. But Apple wasn’t as adversely affected by these problems as many other companies, in part because it was able to leverage its size and success to ensure that suppliers prioritized the components needed for its products.

Still, Apple estimates that it lost out on $6 billion in sales because of supply constraints. Speaking to The Wall Street Journal, Apple CEO Tim Cook said that Apple expects supply to be less of an issue in the next quarter.

Apple still isn’t providing guidance to investors as to how it expects the next quarter to go, in contrast to Wall Street norms. The company stopped doing that in spring 2020, citing various pandemic-related uncertainties, and hasn’t said anything yet about when it might return to that practice.

As Apple continues to ship more and more iPhones, Macs, and wearables, its chief concern in the immediate future will be regulation. From right-to-repair to app store fairness movements, Apple is facing a great deal of criticism and government scrutiny, like many other big tech companies.

The company largely emerged victorious over Epic Games in a highly publicized legal battle over the future of the App Store. That wasn’t the only threat, however, and even that victory is not yet final as appeals move through the courts.

But barring a hypothetical court defeat or new regulations, it’s mostly business as usual at Apple despite the pandemic and supply chain woes—and business remains good.

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macOS 12.3 will break cloud-storage features used by Dropbox and OneDrive

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If you’re using either Dropbox or Microsoft OneDrive to sync files on a Mac, you’ll want to pay attention to the release notes for today’s macOS 12.3 beta: the update is deprecating a kernel extension used by both apps to download files on demand. The extension means that files are available when you need them but don’t take up space on your disk when you don’t. Apple says that “both service providers have replacements for this functionality currently in beta.”

Both Microsoft and Dropbox started alerting users to this change before the macOS beta even dropped. Dropbox’s page is relatively sparse. The page notifies users that Dropbox’s online-only file functionality will break in macOS 12.3 and that a beta version of the Dropbox client with a fix will be released in March.

Microsoft’s documentation for OneDrive’s Files On-Demand feature is more detailed. It explains that Microsoft will be using Apple’s File Provider extensions for future Dropbox versions, that the new Files On-Demand feature will be on by default, and that Files On-Demand will be supported in macOS 12.1 and later.

The warning email that Dropbox sent to Mac users earlier this week.
Enlarge / The warning email that Dropbox sent to Mac users earlier this week.

Dropbox

In addition to integrating better with the Finder (also explained by Microsoft here), using modern Apple extensions should reduce the number of obnoxious permission requests each app generates. The extensions should also reduce the likelihood that a buggy or compromised kernel extension can expose your data or damage your system. But the move will also make those apps a bit less flexible—Microsoft says that the new version of Files On-Demand can’t be disabled. That might be confusing if you expect to have a full copy of your data saved to your disk even when you’re offline.

This isn’t the only time Dropbox and OneDrive have been behind the curve in supporting new macOS features. Both companies only released Apple Silicon versions of their clients within the last couple of months.

The betas for macOS 12.3 and iOS/iPadOS 15.4 add a handful of other notable features, after releases earlier this week that focused mostly on security improvements and bug-fixing. The macOS 12.3 beta adds support for Universal Control, the feature that allows you to seamlessly use multiple Macs or iPads together. Universal Control was announced back in June 2021 at WWDC and was briefly present in the initial run of Monterey betas before being removed almost entirely from the final release. The iOS and iPadOS 15.4 betas add support for FaceID that can be unlocked by users wearing a mask with no Apple Watch required. Two years into a pandemic is a bit late to be adding this feature, but late is better than never.

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Google relents: Legacy G Suite users will be able to migrate to free accounts

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There is hope for users of Google’s “legacy” free G Suite accounts. Last week, Google announced a brutal policy change—it would shut down the Google Apps accounts of users who signed up during the first several years when the service was available for free. Users who had a free G Suite account were given two options: start paying the per-user monthly fee by July 2022 or lose your account.

Naturally, this move led to a huge outcry outside (and apparently inside) Google, and now, the company seems to be backing down from most of the harsher terms of the initial announcement. First, Google is launching a survey of affected G Suite users—apparently, the company is surprised by how many people this change affected. Second, it’s promising a data-migration option (including your content purchases) to a consumer account before the shutdown hits.

Google Apps (today this service is called “G Suite or Google Workspace”) allows users to have a Google account with a custom domain, so your email ends in your website address rather than “@gmail.com.” It’s typically used for businesses. The basic tier of G Suite was free from 2006 to 2012—anyone could sign up for a Google account with a custom domain, and apparently, a lot of geeks did this for friends, families, and other non-business uses. Google stopped offering free G Suite accounts in 2012, but it was previously unthinkable that Google would go after its most enthusiastic, early-adopter users and kick them off the service. You trust Google and store a ton of data on a Google account, so the accounts are forever, right?

Users being hit by the shutdown faced two options: either suddenly start paying for their accounts, which had been free for years, or lose access to core Workspace apps like Gmail. Users who didn’t want to pay could only export data with Google Takeout, which would download some account data that would become a bunch of cumbersome, local files. Takeout was a terrible option because it makes it difficult to get your data back in the cloud, and you can’t export things like purchased content from Google Play or YouTube.

If you used your G Suite account like a regular consumer account and bought a bunch of digital content from Google, you could be out hundreds or thousands of dollars in purchases. With no way to get all the data out of a Google account in a seamless and easy way, Google’s “pay up or lose your account” options felt like data extortion.

The billing section of admin.google.com will tell you what kind of G Suite account you have.
Enlarge / The billing section of admin.google.com will tell you what kind of G Suite account you have.

Lee Hutchinson

The support page detailing the shutdown has quietly been updated (for some reason, Google is not making a big deal of the changes yet). First, if (and only if) you’re signed in with a free G Suite account, you’ll see a link to this survey, which is aimed at free G Suite admins with 10 users or fewer using the service for “non-business” purposes. Google says users filling out the survey will receive “updates on more options for your non-business legacy account in the coming months.” It’s a sign that Google had no idea how many people this change would affect, and now, the company wants to hear from you.

The ideal situation, if the custom domain option has to shut down, would be the option to port your free G Suite account to a consumer Google account, with all the purchases, data, email, and other features intact. You would naturally have to pick a new account name and email address, but minimal disruption to other services would seem like the least Google could do, and it sounds like the company is building something like that. There’s now a new section on the support page titled: “If I don’t want to upgrade to a paid subscription, can I transfer my data?”

It reads:

In the coming months, we’ll provide an option for you to move your non-Google Workspace paid content and most of your data to a no-cost option. This new option won’t include premium features like custom email or multi-account management. You’ll be able to evaluate this option prior to July 1, 2022 and prior to account suspension. We’ll update this article with details in the coming months.

This is the option everyone has been asking for, as it specifically references “non-Google Workspace paid content,” which presumably would mean all your app, game, and media purchases made through Google Play and YouTube. The support article doesn’t offer any additional details yet, only saying to wait for further updates, but Google promises the option will be ready before July, which is when the account disruptions start happening.

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