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A View From The Road โ€“ Volume 6, Number 1: CES 2012 new

 

Observations on technology trends from the latest conferences and seminars.

January 12, 2012

With apologies for getting all Dickensian on you, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”  Greetings from Las Vegas where I am attending the 2012 Consumer Electronics show – which is really a tale of two shows this year.  On the bright side, the CEA put together its largest show ever, with 1.861 million square feet of exhibits this year, with the previous record being 2008's CES which had 1.857 million.  There are also over 3,100 firms represented on the show floor.   Attendance estimates were not released when I first wrote this, but from the elbowing crowds, the taxi lines and the absolute impossibility to use cellular data or WiFi from the exhibition floor I guessed that was at an all-time record.  It was - the number the CEA released at show's end was over 153,000 people.  On the dark side however, the future of the CES show is definitely in doubt with some analysts predicting its death by 2015 - for a number of reasons. 

The first one goes back about a month before the show opened, when Microsoft stated that this would be their last appearance at a CES – ending both the tradition of their CEO presenting the opening keynote and of exhibiting on the show floor at all.

There were a number of reasons stated for this, with the primary one being that the once a year January event does not meet Microsoft’s sales and release cycle.  Many observers however felt that this was just window dressing on a much larger issue – questioning the continued relevance of this conference in light of the rapidly changing landscape in consumer and enterprise technology and the immediacy of information we experience today.  Large firms now tend to want to control their own releases and announcement events (in the mold of Apple – who has never exhibited at CES and recently even pulled out of MacWorld for the same reasons.)  Thanks to the internet and the maturity of electronic communications, consumers now know much of what would be announced at CES before the show anyway.  Some believe this is just the start of the trend – relegating CES to be a show where no truly interesting nor disruptive announcements are made.  If there are a record number of firms exhibiting, but 70% of them are only selling iPhone cases that are no different from each other, then what will be the point of coming all the way here? 

Based on this week it definitely won’t be to attend the press conferences.  The logistics for this expo were just a nightmare – especially for the press conferences - where rooms were selected that could not possibly hold the number of press and analyst attendees registered.  Only one fourth of the people standing in line for over an hour to see the Samsung press conference were able to get into the room.  The others were told “go away, there’s no room for you.”  There was no overflow location and nowhere to watch the live stream of the conference (which anyone who felt like it could do if they stayed home and avoided the event.)  One would think that someone could have identified a rough number of people that could fit into the room and just not allowed any more into the line.  This was a just a clear sign of thoughtless, inexperienced event planning. 

Another embarrassment was the total inability to use cellular data or WiFi signals on the expo floor.  There was so much saturation in the wireless spectrum that I couldn’t even make a WiFi connection from my iPhone to the Novatel MiFi it was sitting on.  This wasn’t just my gripe – do a web search on CES 2012 failings and you can read other reports as well - Samsung couldn’t get their indoor and outdoor devices to communicate, vendors could not make phone calls or complete credit card transactions, reporters couldn’t file stories, the list goes on and on.   There have been large events in these venues before, and other planners have trucked in portable cell towers and network repeaters to meet the growing need for data transmission.  I can’t begin to say how ridiculous it was for the entire technology industry to have the best and brightest firms and attendees all in one place and have the communications networks grind to a stand-still for the exhibitors, media and attendees.

The icing on all this is the totally ludicrous iPhone application commissioned by CEA and authored by Core-Apps.  One doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand that an attendee would download and carry this app around to get quick references as to their schedule, where a vendor is located, and any other bit of quick check-it-and-go information that would allow one to be paper-map-free for the show.  However, whenever you launch this darned thing it ALWAYS wants to do a two minute update. 

If waiting the two minutes wasn’t bad enough, add to that the point above about no cellular data available and the thing just NEVER worked.  (It’s a good thing there are so many free iPhone cases being given away to attendees as it makes you want to throw your phone against a wall.) You’d think the CEA would get somebody who actually attended a large trade conference once before to write this thing.

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Many people like to look at events like CES and identify themes.  Other than the questionable future of the event itself, these were the big themes being discussed by those attending:

  • The Ultrabook:  The PC industry trying to find a happy medium between tablets and traditional notebooks to keep itself relevant has embraced this Intel created term.  The Ultrabook is a light, thin notebook PC that uses a solid state drive.  Without question there were lots of them here the show.  While most believe that this this trend is overhyped (as happened with netbooks), others (including myself) believe that within the next couple of years ultrabooks will drive the current "BYOD" trends that are pervasive in smartphones further down into the pipeline, and represent the end of company provided PCs.  This, along with virtualization and the cloud, will probably get the Fortune 1000 companies out of the PC buying business.  One could easily anticipate that could have a huge effect on the large PC manufacturers.

 

  • The end of traditional TV:   Just about every video manufacturer in attendance has realized that the days of sitting down with the family and watching traditional broadcast TV are over.  There’s lots of evidence to back this up.  Accenture is out with a new report on global TV viewing that states the number of people who watch broadcast or cable television in a typical week dropped to 48% in 2011 from 71% in 2009.  CEA themselves predicted that TV sales would only grow by 1% in 2012 after a 2011 growth of 2%.  All of this points to changes in the global consumer (changes which are also reflected in global enterprises.)  Users now expect greater control of their information and media, relying more on products and systems that deliver their content from the cloud rather than the traditional gatekeeper controlled methods. PCs, tablets, and smart devices are taking the place of Broadcast and Cable TV for media and information delivery in our homes.  And the big, beautiful displays that we do put in our living rooms are expected to do a whole lot more than show us what any programmer is sending over the airwaves.  These units are expected to record content automatically for when we want to watch it  (with an example being the new Dish Network “Hopper” set-top box that records an entire week of prime-time broadcasts for you to watch whenever you want.)  They are also expected to do much more – like play games (with Samsung’s new displays now coming with a version of Angry Birds embedded in them) and display content from the web or our other personal devices.

There are also a number of manufacturers back in the home video conference market after Cisco’s failed (and quietly withdrawn) Umi product of last year.  Samsung has both an embedded Skype camera for their new TVs, and a stand-alone set-top box called the “In-Touch” which adds smart apps as well as video conferencing to any HD display.

 

Another stand alone product made by a firm called Biscotti (www.biscotti.com) looks a heck of a lot like the Umi did.  It won a Best of Innovations award this year.  The big difference between Umi and all of these offerings is that these do not require a monthly usage fee, which clearly consumers were not willing to pay.

  • Are the new devices compelling:  While 3D displays have decent sales numbers, most people perceive the product class as a failure because it didn't create a massive drive for consumers to upgrade.  As a result, this was a constant theme at the show – questioning if any of the presented improvements in technology was compelling enough to drive the consumer to begin investing in upgraded hardware when they don't really need to.  Most observers believe the items presented still didn’t meet that standard  - especially in a down economy.  A new 3D TV with Facebook built in is nice, but people won’t wait in line to get it (as they apparently would for a smart phone or tablet.)  Some believe all of these efforts to wow everyone with new features are just a big failed attempt to catch-up to the Apple way of doing business.

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Now with all the heavy stuff aside, we can get to the new and wonderful products shown at this year exposition.  These are in no specific order - they’re just all worth mentioning:

  • There were a number of exhibitors beginning to show early prototypes of glasses-free 3D Displays.  Toshiba had some units on display that used a unique face tracking feature to find the viewers and adjust the angle to optimize the experience for where they stood.

 

Another company that showed glasses free 3D was Stream TV networks (www.streamtvnetworks.com).  Their UltraD system was rather unique.  They had a set-top box that up-converted regular, non 3D images and assigned spatial planes to the images.  They then showed this computer interpreted 3D on a display that required no glasses.  The images were not particularly vivid or powerful, but they were definitely visible in 3D at an acceptable quality. Most interesting was that if you stepped out of the 120 degree 3D viewing angle, you saw regular, normal 2D TV.  Maybe you wouldn’t buy one of these for your living room because you can get better pictures in the controlled environment, but in a sports bar or public venue this would be an outstanding product.

  • Sony introduced their next generation personal, solid state camcorder, the “Bloggie Live.”  This is significant because this camera can upload recorded or live video via WiFi – something the Flip was about to release just when Cisco killed it.
  • Casio showed a “Virtual Presenter” projection system.

 

This was a human shaped, life-size rear screen surface with a projector delivering a person’s head and torso.  It looked like an inexpensive method of having a significant impact with an absent or remote presenter.

  • Cisco showed their new WebEx experience for the iPad.

  

This beta version had a more user friendly interface and added functionality including:

  • One universal application that will work for both the iPhone and iPad
  • Video conferencing on the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S
  • See four videos at once in landscape mode
  • SSO/Corporate Sign-In
  • Telepresence / One-Touch Support (CTMS-based today)
  • VOIP / WebEx Audio on the iPhone

 

  • Plantronics showed a terrific product – the Calisto 835 bluetooth speakerphone – that won a Best of Innovations this year.

The unit can sit on a desk or table and connect to a mobile phone via bluetooth, allowing that phone to be wherever it needs to be to get the best reception.  You can then dial and answer calls from the Calisto just like you would on the dialpad of any landline telephone.  If this is all it did it would be well worth the asking price – but the device also connects to both home POTS lines and PCs, so one can seamlessly switch between making calls over a mobile number, a home number and any PC based client (like Microsoft LYNC.)  It can be used as a standard speakerphone, or with its wireless microphone clipped to clothing so one can move about, or with a standard Bluetooth headset.

  • A new company called Invoxia (www.invoxia.com) showed a new, innovative VOIP speakerphone they’re calling the Smart Office Phone.

This unit has multiple speakers around the base to provide spatial audio, and controls from a docked iPhone or iPad.  It was also a Best of Innovations winner for this year.

  

It’s a touch display with video camera, speakers and some interesting software that runs it.  The InFocus team described it as a “really big iPad for presentation and collaboration.”

  • Another new company – MyPowerBag (www.mypowerbag.com) showed the ultimate in connected briefcases

 

Their Powerbag charges all your devices as you carry them around.

 

Finally, hands down – no contest, my pick hit of the show is LG’s new 55 inch OLED 3D display.

My pictures of this unit do not do it justice.  Often times a new technology demonstration comes with disclaimers that “the bugs are not quite worked out” or “the actual production unit will look better.”  This was a flat-out grand slam by LG.  I’ve been evaluating displays for most of my 30 year career and I’ve never seen anything that looked as good as this.  First of all, it uses LGs passive glasses technology.  No electronic shutters, no charging, no feeling like a reject fromTron.  Then, the actual images sacrifice nothing to achieve the 3D effect – bright, vivid, lifelike colors, deep blacks, true whites.  Then, to top it all off, it is so thin that from the side the thing is practically invisible.  Think about the fact that 90% of all flat panel displays on the market today have mullions (the frame area around the screen as you look at it) that are bigger than this unit is deep.  Wow…just wow.  I want one.  You should too. 

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That’s it for this edition of A View From The Road.  Look for the next one from Enterprise Connect in March.  Or, better yet, come join us in Orlando and watch other experts and I give panel presentations.

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This article was written by David Danto and contains solely his own, personal opinions. David has over 30 years of experience providing problem solving leadership and innovation in media and unified communications technologies for various firms in the corporate, broadcasting and academic worlds including  AT&T, Bloomberg LP, FNN, Morgan Stanley, NYU, Lehman Brothers and JP Morgan Chase. He recently joined Dimension Data as their Principal Consultant for the collaboration, multimedia, video and AV disciplines.  He is also the  IMCCA’s Director of Emerging Technology. David can be reached at David.Danto@Dimensiondata.com  or DDanto@imcca.org and his full bio and other blogs and articles can be seen at Danto.info.