A startup’s guide to CES

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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 then 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 hotel, arguably one 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 then 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 costs 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 you 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 liveblog these events they have nothing else to do that night except for 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, and 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% 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 is us at CES 2008. We were such sweet summer children.

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The 24 Coolest Gadgets of 2018

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No matter how jaded we become, each year the fine gadget purveyors of the world manage to find new ways to delight and surprise us with gear that’s inventive, exciting, and just plain cool. We put our heads together and collected the very best and most interesting products we were lucky enough to try this year. Here’s to more in the year ahead.


Microsoft Surface Go

Using a $500 laptop is normally an exercise in severe compromise. It will be powerful, but huge and heavy, or light but so slow as to not be worth it. The Surface Go has the best build quality we’ve seen in a $500 laptop in quite some time, a lovely design, and it’s fast enough for the applications that matter.


Nikon Z7 and Canon EOS R

While the standalone camera might be in decline from a market perspective, there’s never been a more exciting time to be a camera nerd. The full-frame mirrorless camera arms race is in full effect these days. With its five-year headstart on the competition, Sony wins the year with the A7R III. But maybe the most exciting news was that Nikon and Canon finally got their act together and released mirrorless full framers of their own.


Jabra Elite 65t

Lots of companies have tried to make truly wireless headphones that actually work well, but Jabra is one of the few that’s totally succeeded. Aside from sounding great, the Jabra Elite 65t earbuds nail the three tough challenges of such a tiny gadget: fit, connectivity, and battery life. You can even buy an active version that’s water and sweat resistant. After spending a week with these earbuds—each of which is the size of a large piece of popcorn—you’ll wonder why wires ever existed.


Sony 1000XM3

The Sony 1000X series wireless headphones blew us away when the first set of hit the market three years ago because they produced terrific audio fidelity and had impressive noise canceling. This third generation model is undeniably the best yet. Aside from offering best-in-class noise canceling, the newest Sony headphones are remarkably comfortable and sleek with neat features like touch-sensitive earcups that let you control your music without fetching your phone. Sorry Bose. Sony makes the best noise-canceling headphones now.


Palm

The Palm’s performance is bad, its battery life is even worse, and its screen is so small you may have to squint just to read normal text. So why is it on our list of the best gadgets of 2018? Because it put a smile on the face of pretty much anyone that touched it. By this point, smartphones have become notched Quasimodo looking things that are as boring as toasters, but the Palm is downright adorable. You might even call it cheery.

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But even more important than its appearance is that in a time when people are growing more concerned with digital wellbeing, this tiny phone takes a different approach to fighting internet addiction. Running a full version of Android, the Palm offers just enough horsepower to perform all the basic smartphones duties and run your favorite apps, while its size and hands-off design encourages you to spend less time looking at a screen and more time enjoying life, which if you think about it, is sort of the whole point behind tech in the first place.


SCUF Vantage

Xbox One players have had a wide array of easily customizable controllers to choose from, but PS4 gamers have been stuck. The Scuf Vantage is the first PS4 controller designed from the ground up to be as adaptable as the ones from Microsoft, and it shows. You can tweak almost every single aspect of the controller without any tools and finally build something perfect just for you.


Lenovo Yoga Book C930

Most smartphones ditched physical keyboards ages ago, but when it comes to laptops, most people would rather wrestle naked with a porcupine than give up their typing buttons. But with its second-gen Yoga Book, Lenovo has given the world the best showcase for a lack of a keyboard doesn’t have to be that scary. Not only is the Yoga Book C930 a much more capable laptop replacement than its predecessor, thanks to the e-ink screen where its keyboard would normally be, but you can also use Yoga Book as an e-reader or a sketch pad, even when the main display is off. If dual-screen laptops really are on their way, the Yoga Book C930 is our best peek into the future yet.


Lego Voltron

It’s not the largest Lego set currently available, but the Voltron set might be the most ambitious one. The 2,321 piece set is part of Lego’s new Ideas program, where designers can submit their own ideas for Lego sets. Created by Leandro Teyag, it’s actually five Lego sets in one. You can build the five lions from the popular cartoon, or you can combine them into a 15-inch tall Voltron.


Google Home Hub

Google wasn’t the first company to make a smart speaker with a display, which is probably why the Home Hub is actually useful. Taking notes from its competitor’s failures, this Google Home-plus-a-screen puts an emphasis on home control and brings a visual element to its voice assistant. There’s no camera on it, so you don’t have to worry about the gadget watching you, and it’s specifically designed to be good at showing you recipes while cooking. The Google Home Hub is also pretty cheap at $150.


Huawei MateBook X Pro

Since 2015, it seems like for every new “innovation” Apple added to the MacBook Pro, it also jammed in something else that annoyed the living hell out of people. Is making a well-designed laptop with up-to-date specs, a decent keyboard, and a great screen really that difficult? Turns out the answer is no, it just took someone besides Apple to do it. Sporting both types of USB ports, a gorgeous aluminum chassis, brilliant 14-inch touchscreen, and a nifty webcam that disappears into a comfy keyboard, Huawei’s MateBook X Pro is exactly the kind of laptop people wanted Apple to make for years, except it runs Windows 10 instead of macOS. Which depending on your preferences, might make it just that much better.


GoPro Hero7

GoPro invented the action camera as we know it, and for a while, that propelled the company to fortunes. The problem is that from one generation to the next new GoPros don’t offer that much improvement that might lead someone to upgrade. While the Hero7’s incredible stabilization might not be the killer feature that makes the gadget essential, it’s very damn impressive.


Oppo Find X

If 2018 was the year of the notch, then the Oppo Find X was the phone that killed them. That’s because while almost every other phone maker was trying to figure out how to implement different types of cutouts, the Find X axed the notch altogether. This leaves you with a device offering an incredible screen-to-body ratio of 93.8 percent, and no buttons, bezels, or any other distractions to get in the way. And when you want to take a selfie, all you have to tap the camera app. Then, like a gadget inspired more by James Bond films than lame ass consumer devices, the Find X’s hidden cam rises up like a secret weapon. While Oppo’s phone isn’t without its flaws, by reviving the slider phone and killing the notch with a little imagination and some old-school gadgetry, the Find X has more than earned its spot as one of the most interesting gadgets this year.


Dyson Cyclone V10

Dyson has always made very nice rechargeable handheld vacuum cleaners, but the V10 is the first one Dyson insisted could replace the corded vac. In fact, Dyson was so sure of the V10's prowess it actually discontinued its corded vacuums. While we don’t think it quite replaces the corded vac if you live in a giant house, it will absolutely be a good solution for people in smaller homes and apartments. It might start at $500 and only last 10-minutes on a charge, but it gets the house clean.


iRobot Roomba i7+

Image: iRobot

Robot vacuums can be hit or miss at cleaning, but iRobot’s Roomba i7+ gets nearly everything right. Instead of crashing into walls, it can automatically recognize rooms and its intelligent camera-based system means you don’t have to worry about it getting lost. It can also memorize multiple floor plans, and best of all empties its own dustbin. Plus, you get Alexa and Google Assistant compatibility. It’s a little loud, but all vacuums are. The only thing we don’t love is the price at $950, but at least you get what you pay for with the most advanced robot vacuum currently out there.


Vizio Dolby Atmos Soundbar

Dolby Atmos is a futuristic audio technology that adds a dimension of height to surround sound. It used to be confined to high-end theaters, but recently, a number of companies have started introducing Atmos-ready soundbar. At $500 this Vizio system is the cheapest way to get Atmos in your living room. That doesn’t mean it skimps on quality either. Upward-firing speakers bounce audio off your ceiling, while a subwoofer and two satellite speakers surround you with sound. It must be heard to be believed.


Canon 470EX-AI

Taking the next step in photography means learning how to light your photos yourself, and that requires a flash. But flashes are hard to use and most people use them wrong, resulting in ugly photos. The Canon 470EX-AI is trying to make it a little easier by actually helping you find the right place to bounce your flash with nothing more than the press of a button.


Fossil Sport

Wear OS finally has a good smartwatch in the form of the Fossil Sport. On top of a zillion color options, it’s got the upgraded Snapdragon Wear 3100 chip. That means less lag when you swipe between screens, and rapid charging takes some of the inconvenience out of its roughly 20-24 hour battery life. On top of being swimproof, it also has accurate tracking, built-in GPS, heart rate monitoring, and NFC payments via Google Pay for an affordable $255.


Hisense 100-inch Ultra HD Laser TV

A 100-inches is a whole lot of TV. A whole lot of TV, and for most people, it’s simply too much TV. Hisense sells this projector and screen for $10,000, which could get you something a little smaller and much, much nicer, but it wouldn’t be nearly as fun at parties.


Grado Labs GW100 Wireless Headphones

Headphones from legendary Brooklyn producer Grado have a reputation for uncompromising quality, so there was always some question about whether the company would ever build a wireless headphone. At long last they have, and it was worth the wait.


Xperia Ear Duo Headphones

Most headphones are built to shut out the rest of the world, and while some have microphones with pass-through audio, that never sounds quite right. So instead of cramming tiny speakers in your ear canals, Sony’s wireless headphones have earbuds with holes in the middle that let noises from the outside world blend with your favorite tunes naturally, like the best soundtrack in the world. And while the Xperia Ear Duos still suffer a bit when faced with things like a screeching train or roaring jackhammer, Sony’s earbuds are an amazing tool for the enlightened commuter.


Analogue Super NT

Retro gaming is especially popular right now, but instead of just slapping 21 games in a tiny nostalgia-wringing box like Nintendo did, Analogue re-engineered the original Super Nintendo from the ground up with its Super Nt that makes your favorite 16-bit games look absolutely gorgeous on a modern hi-def TV. It can be easily upgraded with wireless controllers, and there’s a slot on top for playing the same cartridges you grew up with. But here’s a secret: it can also be easily hacked to play all those SNES ROMs you’ve been secretly collecting for years.


Audeze Mobius

Audeze, best known as the maker of audiophile headphones that cost a bundle, did something totally different this year by introducing a new set of headphones designed to deliver a realistic 3D audio experience for gamers, movie buffs, and yes, even music fans. There’s a lot of tech in these things. In addition to generally doing a great job reproducing cinematic surround sound, they’ve also got head tracking technology inside that slightly adjusts the audio as you move your head around, keeping the origin of sound sources at the same point as if they were actually in the room with you. Some of the tech in this gadget is borderline gimmicky but taken as a whole, the great-sounding cans are ambitious, exciting, and a hell of a lot of fun to use.


Google Titan Key

Image: Google

By now, everyone should be familiar with two-factor authentication. After entering your password to access your email or another account, 2FA requires that you enter a code generated by an app or sent to you via SMS. Physical security keys have long been the more secure version of this technology, requiring that you have a physical object in your possession to work. By making its version of the technology available to anyone, Google is helping to mainstream a super secure technology that could help keep you from getting phished.

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To reboot GoPro, CEO Nick Woodman went back to basics

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Things are looking up for GoPro.

After a tumultuous couple of years — which saw the action-camera company enter and then leave the drone business, get squeezed harder by increasingly competitive smartphone cameras, and ride a steady wave of criticism of its product line — GoPro appears to have found its footing with the well-received Hero 7 Black camera and a return to profitability.

At the center of the company’s renewal is founder Nick Woodman. Woodman joined MashTalk to discuss what it’s been like to be CEO during such a roller coaster of a time. After promising expeditions into media, drones, and 360 video didn’t work out as planned, he’s discarded unrealistic visions for tighter focus. The new GoPro may be less ambitious, but it’s much more confident about what it can offer: high-quality action cameras with a compelling mix of features, value, and usability.

Follow MashTalk on Twitter.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Mashable: I feel like founder-CEOs get kind of a bad rap.

Nick Woodman: Uh-oh, this sounds like a setup.

There’s been some issues, but you seem to have weathered that storm. Have you felt pressures?

I’d like to think that I’m through the storm. GoPro is now 16 years old. I started it in 2002. I took the company public in 2014 and we’ve had a challenging past couple of years.

It’s been a roller coaster.

It’s been a roller coaster, but now that we’re more focused, we’re growing the business again. We can talk about that, and we’re looking forward to profitability for the second half of the year and for the fourth quarter. We’re still tracking towards that goal. And we just launched the best-selling new GoPro ever, the Hero 7 Black.

I tried it myself.

What do you think?

We like it a lot, actually. We had the unit — we were testing for the Apple event, the iPhone event. So this was early September and ordinarily, we would’ve brought something sorta bigger or like a gimbal for an iPhone. The video was so smooth. We were so impressed by the stabilization, we said, ‘We’ll just use the GoPro.’

You just did my sales pitch for me. Thanks for that.

It was such a nice compact form factor, I can definitely see how that has been a success. It was, from our reckoning, a very good product

But let’s rewind a bit. You guys were flyin’ high. Let’s be real. You guys had the high stock price, successful IPO… GoPro still was — still is — synonymous with that action camera category. But then sorta things started to sort of go wrong a little bit. Can you tell us what went wrong, some of the reasons why, and what you’ve done to right the ship?

Sure, well that’s a big part of the founder’s journey, I think, how you go from successfully founding and scaling a business and then navigating that growth and getting through your teenage years, as it were, which ironically have been our teenage years at GoPro, to then mature into whatever the future of your business is.

Taking the company public and with as much success and growth as we were having, I think we lost a little bit of sight and focus as to what our role in the world is, and what our customers wanted most from us. I think that at the time, we were so successful, so popular, and growing so quickly that many, ourselves included, believed that we could be successful at anything.

That’s a risk for entrepreneurs. That’s a risk for any businessperson to think that your success in one area of business will translate into success in another area, and if you study other businesses and other big brands, you recognize that very few of them are able to translate success in one area of business into others. Just because you’re a great pitcher doesn’t mean you can go and be a great quarterback, right? 

Now that it’s 2018, we’re a much more focused company. We’re not trying to be all things to everybody. We’re doing a much better job of identifying who our core customer is, and we’re very focused on super-serving that customer and by more narrow in our focus in what we’re trying to solve and who we’re trying to solve for. It allows us to build a better product for that customer, do a better job of marketing that product globally, and the result this year is that we’re growing again.

It’s terrific to have launched Hero 7 Black, the best-selling new GoPro in the company’s history. It makes us really excited about the future, but we went through a period of trying new things and not getting a very good return on that investment. So it feels really good to see such strength in our core business now that we’re focused on it again.

So among those new things was a drone. When was the initial release of the drone?

That would’ve been 2016.

There were some issues with it that you seemed to address, and it seemed like there was some potential there to be had until, it just looked like the main competitor in the field, which is DJI, was just suddenly so dominant. And it used that position to knock out not just you guys, but a ton of other people. Was the failure of the drone more about the product or was it just that the competition was suddenly too hard to overcome?

The primary factor for us exiting the drone business was the cost of development, relative to total demand for consumer drones. At least for us, it didn’t make for a good investment, and if we’re gonna be in a product category, we’re in it to win it. We want to bring a Formula One approach from an innovation standpoint.

When we researched what customers wanted most from us, it wasn’t a drone. It was actually very specific things in camera technology and capability and software, namely our app. We are selling a lot more cameras and there’s a much bigger market for GoPro in cameras than there is in drones. 

That also freed up marketing dollars to grow awareness of GoPro internationally. GoPro is quite well known in North America, to a lesser degree in Europe and the Middle East, and to an even lesser degree in the Asia Pacific region. We’ve seen a really good return on our investment there.

There was also some criticism of the product lineup over a couple of years — that there were too many different cameras. I think there was a camera, the Hero Session, that didn’t have a screen and maybe wasn’t that well received. What was going on during that era? Was there some experimentation?

We experimented with attracting new customers and we, with our marketing as well, tried to broaden the relevance of GoPro, make it a little more everyday and a little more approachable. What we found was and what we’ve learned ultimately is that not everybody needs a GoPro. We don’t need to make GoPro relevant to everybody to be successful.

We need to recognize that a GoPro is a tool for active doers in the world that are engaged in activities that create use-case challenges that can’t be solved conveniently with a phone or with a different type of camera. That’s what a GoPro is uniquely designed for. There are millions of people around the world that are a significant addressable market for us.

So the last couple of years, we’re trying new things and then this last year, which has been our most successful year in the past three, has been focused on super-serving our core customer, building them the best GoPro possible, focusing our marketing efforts on making them aware of how great our new lineup. 

What our fans can expect from GoPro going forward is that we’ll be aggressively advancing camera and app capabilities on their behalf. We have a better understanding of who you all are and what you want from us and we’re building that rather than trying too many new things that doesn’t allow us to do a really deep job of doing any one thing terrifically well.

Let’s talk mobile. I feel like every app has “stories” now. Every app emphasizes imagery. That would seem to really help you guys, but at the same time, smartphones are getting better and better in terms of their own built-in photography.

We live in an age where people are becoming more aware of their own creativity and their own interest in visual expression and sharing of their experiences. That obviously benefits GoPro. The easier it is to share and also the easier it is to discover cool experiences other people are having and watching their content, that helps us market the benefit of having a GoPro. Nobody sells a product or service better than your customer. We’ve seen that grow year after year.

Has there been any particular network or change in apps and networks that created a bump that was above anything else?

It started with YouTube and people’s interest shifted from photography to video. Then it grew with Facebook, as YouTube isn’t the most social of sites, but then when people were able to embed their YouTube video on Facebook, we saw a really significant lift from that. And then Instagram’s taken it even further, thanks to the efficiency of both sharing and consuming content.

Instagram has done a great job of training and teaching people that shorter is better. You can tell a two-minute story in 20 seconds, and it has more punch and then somebody is gonna actually wanna watch what you publish next because they know it’s not too big of a commitment. We have nearly 15 million followers on Instagram and I believe that we’re the No. 1 most engaging consumer electronics brand on Instagram.

How do you measure that?

Comments, likes, just overall engagement with our content. I believe we’re number two or three most engaging consumer product brand of any category on YouTube. So these platforms have been phenomenally helpful in us growing our brand globally.

As it relates to smartphones, yes, they continue to become more capable, but so does a GoPro. And people’s use cases continue to expand as people become more active. Travel is not what it used to be 10 years ago. People are far more adventurous and active when traveling and looking for new experiences. It’s less about sitting around the pool at the hotel and it’s more about getting out and being active.

Participation rates in sports are all up and that obviously is a really rich market for us. If you’re very active and you wanna capture that experience, just the form factor alone of a phone does not lend itself to self capture very well when you’re in motion. Even though phones are waterproof, and to a degree durable with Gorilla Glass and so forth, people don’t consider putting them in harm’s way because their lives revolve around this thing. If you have a problem, break your phone, that’s a big inconvenience

So our super customer is somebody who’s interested in activity on one side and capture on the other side as a hobby and where those two markets intersect, you’ve got a super-customer that we’re very focused on super-serving.

So, Snapchat. They started calling themselves a “camera company” a few years back. For you guys, it’s almost like that scene in Crocodile Dundee where the line is, “That’s not a camera company.” What do you think of how they regard themselves, and what are your thoughts on Spectacles?

I think that them coming out and defining themselves as a camera company is provocative. That’s a big part of their go-to-market strategy and their branding and culture, so I applaud them for being successful and being provocative. I do think that to some degree, it makes sense because they’re seeking to take further what you can do with a smartphone camera than you maybe otherwise could, and so by saying you’re a camera company doesn’t necessarily mean you’re gonna go and make cameras. It could mean that you’re gonna exploit the camera that everybody already has.

In terms of their other products and innovations, I think any company or individual who’s pushing the limits and inventing new things should be applauded.

With regard to smartphone cameras, big players like Google and Apple are doing interesting things, particularly with computational photography and AI. I feel like that’s a very big part of where image capture is going. Can you talk about sort of what you guys either are doing in that space or how you sort of see yourselves competing with that sort of approach?

We at GoPro understand how incredibly important it is to wow our customers. We always wanna exceed expectations and really grab people’s attention with something truly remarkable and so as a result of that, we built a very strong team of image scientists who are helping us invent the future of capture. They are how we designed our own chip, GP1, our own processor, which is in Hero 7 Black and has certain attributes that allowed us to make the breakthrough in innovation which is HyperSmooth video stabilization.

I knew there was a name for it.

It’s the gimbal-like video stabilization built into Hero 7 Black, built into the camera itself, and for most use cases, eliminates the need to use a separate three-axis gimbal to stabilize your video. HyperSmooth is better than a gimbal in many regards because the motion is more natural, and it’s windproof. Gimbals tend to fail at about 30 miles an hour of wind speed. HyperSmooth being built into a GoPro is waterproof, and, to date, there are no waterproof gimbals. We’re saving our customers $200-$300 because they don’t have to go buy a separate device, this gimbal to charge and keep with them and so forth.

When we came out with HyperSmooth and said gimbal-like stabilization, in one interview, somebody asked me, ‘Is it a gimbal killer?’ and I think I said, ‘Yes,’ and then the comments sphere went crazy that I had called it a gimbal killer…

You don’t wanna murder all gimbals.

No! We were having a conversation — I wasn’t like coming out with guns blazing saying it’s a gimbal killer, but people thought that we were just hyping it up. Then, once our customers started to buy and use Hero 7 Black, they said, ‘Son of a gun. This thing works as advertised.’ It’s been really satisfying to see our customers really appreciate HyperSmooth.

More of a gimbal incapacitator then. What’s your take on the state of VR and AR and 360 video? I feel like is quite a bit different than it was a couple years ago. I know you have a 360 camera… 

Fusion.

Can you give me a snapshot of that market?

It’s true that consumers don’t seem to be that interested in video for VR or 360 video. It’s a bit of a novelty. Some content is interesting, some content’s not. It’s a bit of work to view 360 video. It’s a little bit at odds with what somebody wants from an entertainment consumption experience.

In gaming, VR is terrific. It’s immersive, it’s interactive. It really makes you feel like you’re there if it’s done right and so it’s additive to the gaming experience, but when somebody’s gaming, they want to engage. They want to make decisions. They want it to be interactive and spend the mental cycles problem solving and so forth, right? Gaming is a sport.

When you’re watching a video or you’re watching a movie, often the motivation is very different. You’re not looking to engage. You’re not looking to interact and make decisions. You’re looking to relax and be entertained and I think that video VR is maybe at odds with what somebody is wanting to do when they wanna sit back and watch something.

That’s what I would always find: “Did I look in the right place?”

Fortunately, with our own camera, we had a sense for this before we launched it. In the spring, we debuted Fusion as a pilot program because we wanted to get customer feedback as to what they thought of the camera and how they were gonna want to use it.

We learned that our would-be customers were far more interested in Fusion’s ability to allow you to capture everything at once around you, but then later go back and just select the shots that you wanted and then use those to create a traditional fixed perspective video. They weren’t interested in creating 360 VR content with the camera. Learning this, we emphasized development of the what we call “overcapture,” where you recapture just the shots you want from the source 360 file and then you export that as a fixed perspective video clip. That’s what helped Fusion be successful. 

So it’s for the person who just doesn’t want to miss anything, and not necessarily the person who wants to put out 360 video.

Right. It’s the camera that you don’t have to aim. The stabilization is unbreakable. Your picture is floating in a sea of pixels and so as you move the camera around, you can have infinite stability in your image. So there’s a number of breakthroughs in the technology, and that we’re learning with Fusion that we’ll be able to apply to new cameras down the road, be they spherical or otherwise.

Just one more question: I heard your salary is a dollar a year.

That is true.

Do you think you’re gonna ask your boss for a raise?

I’ve gotta earn it.


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The December solstice is here. Here’s how it works and why it starts winter and summer at the same time.

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earth winter summer solstice december 21 2018 illustration google earth pro

  • The December solstice of 2018 happens on Friday at 5:23 p.m. ET, marking the first day of winter for the northern hemisphere.
  • Winter solstice in the northern hemisphere also marks the arrival of summer in the southern hemisphere.
  • A solstice is either the shortest or longest day of the year, depending on where you live.
  • Earth‘s tilted axis and orbit around the sun — not the planet’s rotation — is the driving force behind a solstice.

The December solstice of 2018 happens at 5:23 p.m. ET on Friday.

To people who live in Earth’s northern hemisphere, it will be the shortest day of the year. It also signals the arrival of winter and a gradual advance toward the spring season, whose beginning is marked by an equinox.

For those in the southern hemisphere, it’s exactly the opposite: The December solstice marks the start of summer, when days have reached their longest and brightest. However, this means daylight hours will start to shrink and sunlight will weaken through the March equinox and up until the June solstice.

Two things drive this all-important seasonal shuffle: Earth’s tilted axis and the planet’s orbit around the sun.

How the December solstice works

Earth orbits the sun once every 365 days and six hours, and our planet rotates once per day around a tilted axis.

That tilt is about 23.45 degrees (for now), and it bathes different parts of the world with various intensities of light over the course of a year. Meanwhile, Earth’s rotation around its axis keeps the sun’s heat even, sort of like a 7,917-mile-wide rotisserie chicken made of rock and a little water.

From the view on the ground in the northern hemisphere, the December solstice is when the sun’s high point in the sky, called a zenith, reaches its minimum or low point close to the horizon. From space, it’s when the sun’s most direct rays creep the farthest south, to a line called the Tropic of Capricorn:

earth during december solstice summer winter tropic cancer capricorn tilt axis sunlight graphic insider shayanne gal

If you stand on the Tropic of Capricorn at midday on December 21, the sun will appear more or less directly overhead. Your shadow will also be at its absolute minimum. (Solstice literally means "sun-stopping," according to TimeAndDate.com.)

The length of daylight will be at its longest, too. This gets more extreme the more south you go, since there’s more of Earth’s atmosphere to refract sunlight the farther you are from the equator.

But this moment won’t last, since the Earth makes its way around the sun at a speed of roughly 66,600 mph.

How Earth’s axis and orbit drive the seasons

Our planet’s orbit is elliptical and its center of gravity slightly offset from the sun.

This means the time it takes to cycle through the seasons isn’t perfectly divvied up:

earth equinoxes solstices sun light axial tilt seasons diagram graphics insider shayanne gal

As the graphic above shows, it takes 89 days after the December solstice for Earth to reach the March equinox — that’s when the most direct rays of the sun have slipped back up to the equator. Another 92 days and 19 hours later, it will be the June solstice. At that point, the sun’s most direct rays reach the Tropic of Cancer, summer starts for the northern hemisphere, and winter begins for those south of the equator.

Then it takes 93 days and 14 hours for the sun’s zenith to get back to the equator and kick off the September equinox, followed by 89 days and 19 hours to complete the cycle with the December solstice.

During each of these phases, certain regions of Earth’s surface get more sunlight, and energy gets stored or sapped from water sources, leading to the creation of seasonal temperatures and weather variations.

What the seasons look like from space

Some satellites fly around Earth in a geosynchronous orbit, which means they move fast enough to hover above one spot on the planet.

This creates a great opportunity to photograph the Earth over the course of the year and see how the the angle of sun changes.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center created the animation below using geosynchronous satellite images taken over Africa, and it clearly shows the seasonal progression.


This story was adapted from a similar post about the June solstice.

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