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How Kickstarter became a buzz word at CES 2013

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At CES, tech journalists talk to each other. We share our opinions on stories, give each other a heads up if there’s something particularly interesting on the show floor and we make incredibly geeky jokes in an attempt to solicit the largest groan from the other people in the area. One discussion I found interesting was about how many journalists felt let down by the tech on display this year. It’s not that the technologies aren’t impressive. It’s more about how big companies are involved in so many lines of business they have little opportunity to stretch beyond their already massive product lines.

That’s where Kickstarter comes in. While enormous, established corporations may be focused on maintaining existing product lines, smaller projects can now get a space to exhibit at CES thanks to things like crowdfunding. Kickstarter played a part in several teams being present at CES. The products and prototypes we saw this year from these tiny startup companies were amazing.

Take Pebble, for instance. The smart watch met with a phenomenal response when the project launched on Kickstarter. The original funding goal was for $100,000. By the end of the campaign, the project had raised over $10 million. The enthusiasm surprised Eric Migocovsky, CEO and designer of Pebble. The company’s original plan to produce a few thousand watches in the United States suddenly shifted to a much more complex operation involving overseas manufacturing and complicated shipping dates. The complications caused Pebble to miss its estimated delivery date for the first watches (late 2012). But now, Migocovsky says the watches will start shipping to Kickstarter backers on January 23, 2013. It will take six to eight weeks to honor the Kickstarter orders before Pebble can turn to pre orders.

I got to see a live demo of the Pebble watch at CES. While I was on the fence about the device before I attended the show, that one demo convinced me I had to order a watch. I went with cherry red. I hope I’ll have it on my wrist sometime in the spring — I didn’t move fast enough to get it earlier.

Another big success story is the Oculus Rift. It’s a virtual reality headset that uses DVI input to supply video to two screens that line up with your eyes, giving you a three-dimensional view of a simulated world. You can use a game controller to move around the environment and play games. The Oculus crew at CES showed off Unreal Tournament and several tech journalists raved about how much fun it was to use your eyes to aim at opponents. Right now, the plan is to create developer kits of the Rift. Presumably a consumer model will follow at some future point. It’s designed to work with PCs with no current plans to adapt it for use with consoles.

These are just two examples of the products coming from small companies or organizations. It might seem counter intuitive but these companies are able to create such innovative hardware in part because they are small and nimble. They don’t have to manage two dozen product lines across multiple categories of consumer electronics. They can focus on bringing the next new thing to us and that’s what excites journalists.

What do you think? Are you happy to see projects from Kickstarter compete with the big boys at CES?

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