Electronics Show Helps Good Products Catch On

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Each year, thousands of companies converge on the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas hoping to generate buzz for their gadgets. Companies that succeed need luck, good PR and a product that seems cool or useful. HzO, a small company that makes waterproof coatings for phones and tablets, has broken through in a big way.


This year, more than 3,100 companies flocked to the Consumer Electronic Show to hawk their wares. Thousands of products are launched at the show and many fail, possibly most. Lots of small companies established just for this show will not be back next year.

But as NPR's Steve Henn reports, their hustle is infectious and some of them become tech stars.


STEVE HENN, BYLINE: Before I came out to Vegas for this year's show, a friend of mine told me about this tiny, little company who had a new way of waterproofing gadgets. It was this great little story no one else would have. But then my friend, (unintelligible), took ages to get back with me with the company's name. By the time I made my way into HzO's booth, this little company had become a media sensation.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Have you ever lost an iPhone in the commode?

LARA SPENCER: I admit I have.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You have? OK. Well, here we go. Watch this. This is a product that may be coming out soon...

HENN: "Good Morning America" recorded that spot at 2:45 in the morning on Monday. It ran the day before the show even started.

PAUL CLAYTON: It's fantastic for us. We've had such an outpouring of interest.

HENN: Those 22 seconds of TV time were like rocket fuel for Paul Clayton's little company. By Tuesday morning, every major electronic manufacturer was talking to him. By Thursday, a Google search for HzO and the Consumer Electronics Show turned up 199,000 hits.

JASON OXMAN: CES is really a launching pad.

HENN: Jason Oxman's with the show's host: the Consumer Electronics Association. He says each year, something like 20,000 new products debut at the show - 20,000. But with so many new products, not everything can be a hit.

What is that?


HENN: Pleo RB. And how much do they cost?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Four hundred and sixty-nine dollars.

HENN: Four hundred and sixty-nine dollars for a plastic dinosaur robot?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Well, actually it's like a real pet, without poo-poo and wee-wee.


HENN: That's right, a real pet. Poo-poo and wee-wee not included.

OXMAN: Among those 20,000 products, there are a lot of them that aren't going to make it. There's No question about that.

HENN: Jason Oxman, at the Consumer Electronics Association, wouldn't answer my next question. But it's one of my favorites, so I asked Bill Bain, out on the show floor, instead.

So, what's the worst thing you've seen?

BILL BAIN: Probably eight million versions of iPhone 4 cases.

HENN: But there is this one guy who is undaunted. He's completely convinced that what the world really needs is just one more special iPhone case.

DAVID BARNETT: I launched the Kickstarter video yesterday. I'm David Barnett. I'm a philosophy professor at the University of Colorado. And I invented a new cell phone case right here.

HENN: Barnett's business plan is to raise cash on the online site Kickstarter, and then start manufacturing his special case. He spells it all out in his video.


BARNETT: And while I don't know much about making Kickstarter videos, I do like to dance. Hit it.


HENN: Barnett didn't even have a booth. But there he was cruising up and down the aisles, with a prototype in one hand and a pile of business cards in the other. And yes, he really is a philosophy professor. You know, it informs this work.

BARNETT: Prototype rejections start again, so it's a Hegelian cycle.

HENN: And if Barnett's little business doesn't pan out, he'll survive. He's got tenure. But actually, his case is pretty cool.

Steve Henn, NPR News, Las Vegas.

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