LAS VEGAS--At the crack of dawn (my dawn, not the world's), I was confronted by huge numbers of exhibitors rolling boxes, tubes, and what might have been weapon parts, towards the Las Vegas Convention Center.
Each, no doubt, feels they have the killer gadget. The one that will put, you know, that other killer gadget into the crematorium.
And yet, as the tablets, phones and, so I am told, mice you can wear like a ring, are put in place, so many of the attendees still wonder "What will Apple do?"
The shadow of the black mock turtleneck looms over CES like Tim Robbins over Tom Cruise, even if the turtle neck itself will not be seen. Yet if you're missing some of the mock turtleneck's more cherished beliefs, if you want to see them live, in action, every night and all night, all you have to do is wander into the very best Vegas hotels.
Last night, on the way home from dinner, I was moved to walk. This might seem slightly peculiar behavior in Vegas, but the wine had been excellent and the fresh air was necessary. So I went to see some of the newer Vegas hotels to see what they might be up to--and, indeed, to see what people inside them were up to.
I first visited the Aria, which, from the outside, appears to be one of the world's most progressive international airports and from the inside exudes an enveloping schizoid aura of both sanctuary and excitement.
Then I went to the Cosmopolitan, the newest of the hotels on the strip. You'd think the people that created these two entities had regular meetings in Cupertino, Calif.. Or perhaps it's the other way around.
One of the greatest criticisms of the Apple experience is that the company's ecosystem is closed. Once you're inside, you can have as much fun as you like, but please don't go outside the delineated boundaries, as that is, well, a little tasteless.
Every fine Vegas hotel is a closed ecosystem. The design, while sometimes striking your face a little more aggressively than an Apple product, offers you the promise of a discrete (if not always discreet) experience. And once you're inside, everything is simple. Except for leaving.
An exit sign at the Cosmopolitan is as rare as a smile on the public face of Victoria Beckham. And yet, once you're inside, somehow the very thought of leaving slips out of your mind and into your recent past.
The reception area is adorned with huge black and white columns that offer a drama simply worth staring at. The slot machines sit invitingly with not so much as a door between you and a richer you. The stores don't have doors either. And a bottle of water was cheaper than at the Golden State Warriors games.
To my left, there were people talking business, pleasure and, in one case, what looked like the business of pleasure. A little further along was a bar that required mounting just a couple of steps in order to enjoy the buzz of a margarita or the sting of a pristine vodka, while seated next to a scorpion-thin hospitality executive called Tatiana.
Whichever way your head turns, you can enter a mini-world that allows you to become someone else, to feel something more than you felt before you walked in.
No one pushes you. No one hard-sells you. Everything exists to move your emotions, rather than your insipid rational machinations.
Critics claim that Apple's success is simply down to "marketing." It's as if the brand is but a David Copperfield that constantly fools you, even though you know it's all mere trickery.
And yet, just as with Apple, if you walk into the Cosmopolitan, you'll find your senses take over and your supposed good sense takes a blackjack stool and asks for another card.
All the gadget makers, desperate to make a killing at CES, might wonder whether selling one gadget is really ever enough. What they should really be selling is the experience of a world, an ecosystem, in which people can lose the part of their selves that they like least, an ecosystem in which leaving is the last thing on your mind.
Vegas hotels understand this so well. On the Cosmopolitan's Web site, the first thing you will see are the words "We're Open," a touching message from a hotel where, when you finally find the exit, you still can't easily get out onto the street. The walkway wraps itself around the hotel, just to give you one last look.
The Encore Las Vegas Hotel understands even better. It has a night club called Surrender. It invites you inside and wants you to release your feely bits so that they transcend what you (and they) thought possible.
Surrender's logo? An apple.