A View from the Road Volume 10, Number 1 - CES 2016

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.  You can just hear the whistling theme, can’t you? 

That perfectly describes the just concluded CES 2016.  It’s an every person for themselves exhausting survival fest like the old west where one can, maybe, eventually, find gold.  While there were certainly many interesting themes and good new innovations, there were some really bad products/ideas and an environment that at times was just plain ugly.  As I look back at the event from my admittedly unique enterprise / collaboration perspective, let’s go backwards with our good, bad and ugly journey and start with ugly.

Las Vegas itself leads the ugly list.  This was the worst environment for a CES since I started attending them more than fifteen years ago.   Getting around town was a nightmare, with the city apparently having no desire to acknowledge that they were hosting the largest conference in the US (with an announced 170K+ attendees.)  Way too many streets had lanes closed for construction – and so did the main highway between the airport and the car rental facility.  The result was New York rush hour style gridlock at many intersections.  It took me half an hour to drive across Las Vegas Boulevard at Sands avenue at 3pm on Thursday – that’s driving about 1,500 feet at 50 feet per minute.  If the driving wasn’t bad enough, parking was also a nightmare.  With the nearby Riviera Casino permanently closed and the LVH hotel now owned by an apparently greedy Westgate timeshare organization (charging $40 per day to park) there were very few options.  In order to get around you either had to park very far away, wait on excessive taxi or bus lines (and still be stuck in the traffic gridlock) or decide to stay at a hotel on the monorail route (and pay $400 - $600 per night - PLUS a resort fee - for a room that a week later goes for $50 - $100 per night.)  All attendees expect to do a heck of a lot of walking on the expo floor, but to have to walk the equivalent of ten football fields to a parked car or stand in taxi or bus lines for up to an hour – and then sit in non-moving traffic - just to get to a conference venue is just unfair.  Something has to be done to work with the LVCVA to make the work of getting around the town easier, moving the events to a single venue, and/or getting the price gouging reduced. 

A close runner up to the ugliness of this year’s Las Vegas logistics was the app that CES released for the show.  The entire point of having a conference app is to help attendees get around the exhibits and meeting areas without the need of paper maps – saving trees and adding convenience.  The app used this year was worse than useless.  Instead of the maps being loaded onto the app they apparently had to be downloaded from the cloud each time one was requested.  Most of the time the maps wouldn’t load at all.  When they did, they looked like this actual screen capture from my iPhone:

Not only were there no exhibitor names, there were no booth numbers.  By the first few hours of the expo everyone was complaining and asking for printed maps again – which CES stopped providing because they relied upon this app.  It really shouldn’t have been that hard to get this one right.  With the huge investment in time and money all attendees were making this was just unforgivable.  The app was definitely “ugly.”

Moving up to the merely bad category, there were a number products that the show this year that were candidates for the proverbial “what were they thinking” face-palm. Here are my top four stinkers:


With the Ugly and the Bad aside, we can concentrate on what was good and interesting at the conference.  CES has always been a place to see the trends being set in both function and style.  Flat TVs were all the rage till curved ones came out, then last year “curved is the new flat” was the hot trend for everyone.  This year, the in-shape is the cylinder. 


Amazon echo started it, now apparently many more firms are and will be copying that form factor.


Before his life was an unending controversy, Woody Allen used to be a pretty decent stand-up comedian.  One of his most famous routines was about Mechanical Objects.  He would tell the story of how his appliances would misbehave and plot against him, how he’d occasionally mistreat them, and how a voice controlled elevator chatted with him – hearing from the other appliances about his device abuse.  Years ago the idea that your devices would be talking to each other was pure comedic fantasy, but today it has become reality.  With the Internet of Things - IoT – exploding, these inter-device conversations are moving at a fast and furious pace.  What has changed this year is that instead of these devices just reporting things to you for action, their conversations with each other lead to them taking any needed actions without asking you.  This includes things like

·       Samsung’s smart refrigerator taking pictures of its contents, seeing you don’t have much milk left and then either placing it on your shopping list – or just ordering it for you.

·       Intel’s chipset in a drone that you can’t crash.  It knows not to fly into buildings or people, won’t go near an airport, and will always give itself a soft landing – even if you turn the controls off.

·       Panasonic’s & Cisco’s “City Now” Smart Cities technologies that will keep all streetlights at about 20% brightness till it detects a person and the direction that they’re walking in.  It will raise the brightness to full for the next few lights to be walked to, and dim out the ones that have been passed.


·       GE’s Bluetooth mesh network of home lighting controls that will detect that you’re in the kitchen, and the light there will tell the garage light to turn off.


High Dynamic Range was a hot technology with display manufacturers.   HDR is the term used to describe a wider range between the whitest whites and blackest blacks in an image, so contrast is significantly improved. Manufacturers hadn’t really agreed on how to do this till now – but most of them now support a SMPTE standard at least as one option offered alongside their own.


LG demonstrated the vast difference on their display pictured above.  In addition to HDR, just about every manufacturer in the TV business announced they were taking pre-orders on their new but not-yet-available 4K Blue-Ray player.  LG also showed the thinnest OLED display made to date – the size of “four credit cards stacked” and practically invisible from the side.  They called it Picture on Glass.  There is no question that images on and styling of displays is improving.  The only question is how viable manufacturing of expensive displays is in a world where they’ve become a commodity.


There were many more themes and trends this year – too many to get into in full depth in my coverage focused on the enterprise.  These included

·       Autonomous vehicles (self-driving cars) being discussed as inevitable – and discussed often – and they’ll be electric – and apparently the fact that they’ll have CarPlay and Android Audio compatibility was MUCH more important than if they’ll keep passengers safe and alive.

·       One couldn’t spit on the exhibit floor without hitting a fitness tracker wearable of some sort.  For the insane amount of money these companies are asking for these products I’d expect that the simple act of strapping them on would magically transform the wearer to the body shape they desire.  It is pure overkill.  I wish someone would make an "UnfitBit" or a "Smolder" for average folks to wear.

·       Vinyl records are apparently back, with products from Sony, Audio-Technica and Panasonic to name a few.  Audio Technica’sactually transmits wirelessly to any Bluetooth speakers.


Product Highlights:

I saw far too many products and innovations that I liked to list them all here.  This is just some of the highlights of what I found most interesting.  If you’re interested in more info please take a look at my CES episode of AVNation-TV’s Connected!- Everything IoT where I show dozens of videos and demos – a one hour experience from the show floor.  As for the highlights:

·       The KlickRnext is an infrared (learning) transmitter that can connect to your smart device via Bluetooth and lets you control just about anything that uses a standard remote from your phone/tablet.


·       United Sciences showed their system of scanning the contours of an ear and then 3D printing custom fit headphones.  Here’s a great example of technologies blending (advanced sensors, 3D printing) to disrupt a process (making a wax mold of an ear) that’s been around for years.  I’ll show video of the whole process on Connected!


·       A company called Kino Mo showed holographic 3D images seemingly floating in mid-air (using a spinning disk.)  It was one of the most crowded demonstrations on the floor.  Click on the picture to see a twitter video of it.


This was hands-down the most popular booth of the Eureka Park start-up area.  These displays are just visually stunning.


·       I met with the team from a great, inexpensive new desktop videoconferencing product called ChatLight.  


For US $30 you can have a precisely color balanced LED light that attaches to your device or PC and vastly improves the images to the far end.  Click the photos above to watch a video and look at the difference yourself.

·       Samsung showed curved, bezel-free OLED TVs – up to 88”, and they showed smart menus that aggregated all content from all sources (cable box, game console, over the air, etc.) into a single menu that automatically provides control compatibility.


·       A new start-up, Touchjet, showed their TouchJet Wave – a $199 device that makes any flat display an interactive whiteboard.  Click the picture to see the video.  Let the demo speak for itself.  If this functionality is available in a reliable device for under $200 then we’re experiencing the digital disruption of a whole range of products – some on the market, some not, some that are apparently still somewhere in between. 



·       Plantronics updated their USB headset dongle for their new UC headsets.  


This unit now has a physical pair button, can pair to two devices simultaneously, lights-up in different colors to indicate use, mute state, etc., and is backwards compatible to their entire Voyager series of headsets.  Just the ability to visually see that you’re muted by itself is an industry breakthrough.  It comes as standard with their Back Beat pro plus and Voyager Focus units. 

·       Panacast updated their innovative 180 degree panoramic videoconferencing camera to new, smaller, standard USB compatible model:


Their PanaCast 2 now works with any PC / Mac videoconferencing client – instantly taking their solution from a walled-garden service to a credible accessory for Lync / Skype for Business, Jabber, WebEx, consumer Skype, BlueJeans – anything.  Click the picture above to see a demo.