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Electronics Show Highlights Startups Over Industry Giants


The Consumer Electronics Show took place this past week, in Las Vegas. More than 156,000 salespeople, electronics buyers, electronics enthusiasts, and a number of reporters descended on the city to gawk at acres and acres - at the latest shiny gadgets. NPR's Steve Henn was there to gawk, too. Thanks for joining us, Steve.

STEVE HENN, BYLINE: Oh, my pleasure.

SIMON: Now, I understand - for the first time in a decade, Microsoft didn't have a booth. Now, Apple - famously - doesn't attend this show; neither do Amazon or Google. Can you really have a consumer electronics show without those companies, after all, who pioneered so many products?

HENN: Yeah, I think you can. Obviously, there was a lot of talk before the show, about the fact that they wouldn't be there. But I think for most people, when we got there, they weren't really missed, you know. And actually, hundreds of executives from those firms were in Las Vegas; checking out the technologies that other little companies were building, and thinking about how they could incorporate them into their next gadget. Here's Jason Mendleson. He's a venture capitalist, based in Boulder, who I ran into on the show floor.

JASON MENDLESON: I've absolutely been amazed at - couple things. One, startups are here, finally. Five years ago, there were none. Now, there are companies here that are the next big companies, that folks like me - venture capitalists - can come see, meet.

HENN: So the most interesting stuff at CES - at least, for me - is almost never a new product that's being released by some big giant. You know, sometimes when a big firm gives you a peek inside what they're working on, in a lab, that can be fascinating. But I've always really loved finding the quirky, little firms that are doing new, interesting stuff. And I think the folks who organize CES have finally realized that those innovative, little firms are actually one of the big reasons people come.

SIMON: You have a favorite?

HENN: One that I saw - right before I left - was pretty great. It was called Lapka. And lapka is, apparently, the Russian word for rabbit food. And traditionally, I guess, you'd carry a little bit of this around in your pocket, for protection. Their product is a set of beautifully crafted environmental sensors. They're actually made from wood and an ivory-colored plastic. And they kind of reminded me of a high-tech set of worry beads. But the string on the beads is a plug you can connect to your iPhone. So one of the sensors is a tiny probe you can poke into food - like an apple - and it will measure the nitrates, and tell you whether or not that apple is organic.


HENN: Another sensor measures electromagnetic fields. There's one for radiation; one for temperature and humidity. So if you have a baby, there's a setting to tell you the ideal temperature for your child to take a nap.

SIMON: Steve, I guarantee you, that's not what parents do.

HENN: I'm thinking that their market is for the overprotected first parent. Your second child, not so much.


SIMON: Steve Henn, NPR's tech correspondent. Thanks so much.

HENN: Oh, my pleasure. Thank you, Scott.


SIMON: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.