I Covered CES with Nothing But My iPhone
All I needed was the iPhone X in my pocket.
It was a radical idea, and one that I initially rejected: Could I cover CES 2018, tell the story of this massive consumer electronics show without a laptop, a stand-alone camera or even a tablet?
I was so unsure I could do it that I kept filling my backpack with not one, but two laptops, a DLSR with a 200 mm lens, and charging cables and lugging it to the show floor. Suffice to say, the bag was heavy and uncomfortable to carry.
Initially, I used my laptop a bit and even wrote one post for Medium, but 99% of the time, I used Apple’s iPhone X.
This wasn’t a complete departure from how I’ve covered previous CES conferences in Las Vegas. I’ve been recognized as a top social media presence at the event in the past. However, I usually tried to write as much as possible, running from press conferences, meetings, and booths back to the press rooms and hallways where I’d find random chairs and power outlets (and WiFi, if I was lucky) to write a post or two for PCMag and, more recently, Mashable.
I thought I might fill Medium the same way, but I soon realized I could share my CES experience in real-time to a social media audience with nothing but the phone.
Apple’s iPhone X is a powerful computer in its own right, with a decent-sized, but not unwieldy, 5.8-inch screen. Its 12 MP camera is capable of taking good photos, even in the sometimes sketchy light of the Las Vegas Convention Center, and it has a built-in 2X optical zoom. And while it’s not practical to pull out my laptop or even tablet to write or tweet on the run, I could, with the phone, post on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram Stories with one hand. Plus, the iPhone X turned out to be the perfect, virtually-waterproof gadget for what will henceforth be known as the CES Deluge.
One reason I felt more comfortable using Twitter as my primary content delivery platform is the new character count limit. It’s the first time I’ve covered a tech trade show with the option of up to 280 characters per tweet.
I rarely, if ever worried about character count. It was not, however, about using all the available characters. Instead, I focused on telling a concise story in a handful of words, images and videos. To insure maximum visibility, I also made sure that every tweet included the hashtag #CES2018 and, where possible, a Twitter handle for the product or company.
The use of videos surely helped in that quest. A video, even one as short as 20 seconds can tell far more of the story than 280 characters. Twitter supports videos as long as 2 minutes, 20’seconds, but I assumed no one would watch for more than 1 minute 30 seconds. Most of my videos were considerably shorter.
Pretty much from my first CES meeting, I made it my goal to share what excited me as quickly and efficiently as possible. I wanted people to share my excitement.
When I saw LG’s roll-up 65-inch OLED TV, I knew I had to tell the story right away. Tweeting with a static image wouldn’t do it justice. So I shot video with the iPhone.
Turning stories around quickly meant that everything had to be done on the phone, including video production.
I’ve been editing 1080p video on the iPhone in iMovie for years. iMovie is fast, easy to use and more powerful than people think.
For my CES videos, I made sure to add text overlays for context (and because many people watch videos with the sound off). With the LG video, however, I wanted to take it up a notch. I connected my EarPods, found a quiet corner in the convention hall, and recorded a voice over in iMovie.
30 minutes after I first saw the LG rollable display, I’d posted the news on Twitter and Facebook.
This became my model for daily CES coverage: lots of short-burst tweets from press conferences and the show floor with occasional longer-form videos for more important or interesting products.
Virtually every CES tweet included photos or short videos. Some of the videos were under 30 seconds and so self-explanatory, especially with the accompanying tweet, that I didn’t bother with text or music. But for more interesting or newsworthy products, I would edit the video, add text and some theme music (please, Apple, add more theme music options).
I worked on them as I walked or sat for a few minutes and relied primarily on a surprisingly good LTE connection to upload them.
By Day 2, I cut down to carrying just one laptop and my DSLR. After another day of them never leaving my backpack, I finally left them behind in my hotel room.
On my last day at CES, my bag was filled with an 10.5-in. iPad (I never used it), a small tripod, an iPhone plug and charging cable, and a battery pack. The latter was easily my second most important piece of equipment.
When I Periscoped from the Eureka Park startup village for almost two hours, I also drained the iPhone batter to 50%, and the day was not even half over. My pocket-sized, 500 mAh Puku charger proved invaluable. By the end of each day, I had fully drained the Puku. I was also very careful to manage my iPhone X battery consumption buy putting it in Low Power Mode early in the day and keeping my screen brightness as low as possible.
It felt strange not churning out one 500-word CES post after another, but, ultimately, I think I told far more, albeit much shorter, stories to an audience anxious for the latest gadget news.
Instead of a dozen nuts and bolts pieces on the latest Intel or Samsung announcement, my audience got to see, through dozens of social media posts on Twitter, Instagram Stories and Facebook, what it’s really like to attend CES, sit in the press conferences, walk the floor, meet the people, and try the gadgets. What I saw and touched, they did, too.
Obviously, there were things I missed, places I never made it to, and details I couldn’t share.
Ultimately, though, I came away with a deep sense of satisfaction. I told the tale of CES my way, with nothing more than an iPhone X and a whole lot of caffeine.