David J. Danto
Collaboration Industry Consultant and Analyst
Covering AV / IoT / Mobility / Multimedia / Video / Unified Communications
A View From The Road Volume 12, Number 1
CES 2018 – A Transition To Concepts
I’m using a new format for my CES report this year, with overall themes and concepts sitting above my original technical notes. Read the top for the high level items, the daily notes below for the technologies and products of interest.
Greetings from Las Vegas where the 2018 CES just concluded. We won’t know the attendance number for a bit (I’ll update it here when we do) but it’s sure to be over the 180K+ announced last year. This year’s conference was both great and terrible. An essential view into the next 18+ months of technology and a physical, mental and financial strain on all those who attend. The bad logistics this year were particularly bad:
· Security was obviously ramped up following the recent tragic strip shooting, but by the second day of the show the “rent-a-cops” weren’t even bothering to look in bags anymore. That didn’t stop them from creating brand new choke-points that everybody had to pass through.
· There was an approximate two hour power outage thrusting the Central Hall into darkness. While no one can expect a power-failure, it was handled poorly by the event staff, as the aforementioned rent-a-cops now had something to do other than pretend to look at bags, and had no training for such an event. People were told to leave, but not everyone did. People were told to wait outside when the other halls were actually open. There was also no emergency lighting in the main hall area (there was in the adjacent corridor.) Worst of all, the LiveSafe app that CES advised everyone to download provided little to no instructions on what was open, where to go, what caused the issue, etc. All that app did for the whole show is tell us that roads were crowded and slippery. Duh.
· The roads were slippery because Las Vegas experienced one of its rare torrential rainstorms, making an already difficult and painfully slow to navigate city (during the CES mobs) even worse. The rain closed a number of outdoor exhibits that weren’t waterproofed, and it is also blamed for the power outage.
The good logistics this year are also worthy of attention:
· The show was the best organized in years. The international pavilions moved from the Westgate to the Sands, Smart Cities in the Westgate, categories of companies closer together than ever before. Kudos to the planning in this case.
· The CES companion App worked better than ever before. One could easily find exhibitors, load maps, mark favorites to be visited. The only complaint there is every time you closed it it restarted from scratch instead of taking you back to where you were. This was nearly perfect.
A number of articles (like this one) have already complained about how hard it is to navigate the show, how much time is wasted going between venues and how Las Vegas isn’t “Smart City” enough for CES. These comments are misguided. The problem isn’t the venue – as few cities can handle the crush of people as well as Las Vegas. The problem is that the event itself has grown unfocused. People used to bring “products” to CES for people to see and experience. Now they bring concepts. You can’t touch and feel a concept, you can’t take pictures of it. Exhibitors that have nothing but concepts (Smart Cities, AI, IoT) purchase huge booths and bring people into town to talk about concepts, which makes the event essentially an arms race for who can spend the most money on the biggest booth. I don’t need a basketball court sized display to show me a car that you’re firm isn’t making yet and may never make, because it’s the image you want covered. If CES were divided into two shows, one with things, and another one with ideas it might make the logistics more manageable, and it would certainly waste a lot less of everyone’s time. I doubt that the people that come here to purchase light-up speakers and mobile phone cases really care about electric cars and smart cities. There’s an opportunity here to have this event make more sense for all.
The clear winner of the event this year is Google.
Realizing the vacuum left by a number of big firms that made a big deal about not exhibiting at CES anymore, Google stepped in and owned CES 2018. As Dan Freeman of VDO360 said in the video linked far below, “you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting something Google.” Helpers around the floor, concept booth, prize giveaways, billboards all over town and plastered on the monorail, etc. If you were looking for Amazon’s Alexa at the show you’d have to ask “Hey, Google, where’s Alexa?” If you found and asked an Amazon Echo why it was so totally outclassed this year, it would naturally say it didn’t understand the question – but that’s another point entirely. Google showed that a strong presence at CES shouldn’t continue to be overlooked by firms like Apple, Microsoft and others that stopped exhibiting.
The reason I cover CES is because too much of the standard news coverage fawns over the wrong things. Take this item for example:
This isn’t just too new to purchase. There are absolutely no plans to manufacture or distribute this display (according to the people I spoke with.) I’d much rather hear about items I can actually buy soon then concept demos only meant to attract a crowd.
If you’re not following me on Twitter (and you really, really should be following me on Twitter) then you didn’t see the attack of the zombie brands at CES2018:
If they could build a Blackberry with a Polaroid camera in it then they’d really have something.
On the last day of CES I had a nice chat with Jason McGraw who runs the expositions for AVIXA. Click the picture to take a look.
My Daily Notes From CES 2018:
January 11th, 2018 – CES Day 3
I used the time today to stop by some of the outdoor exhibits and chat with colleagues and clients attending the conference.
The above picture sums up one of the biggest stories of CES 2018 – a small Amazon “Treasure Truck” in the shadows of the massive Google presence. The Verge team voted Google “most in show” for pulling-out all the stops.
Also outside was the Simpli Safe team – a pioneer in simpler home safety / alarm / monitoring systems. They win the Einstein award for redesigning their entire system with no plan to upgrade existing customers – who they expect will keep paying them for monthly service using outdated gear.
While they were a pioneer in the space there are now a handful of players competing with similar systems. Way to give-up your advantage by pushing formerly happy customers to competitors.
I also caught up with the CEO of VDO360 Dan Freeman (who was attending the show) to get his impressions of what he was seeing. You can watch our chat here.
I ended the day looking at the precision, light-up drone display from Intel over the Bellagio fountains.
I have a couple more appointments tomorrow, then I’ll be writing the show wrap-up blog and finishing up the AVNationTV webcast / wrap-up. Just like last year it is meant to give viewers a sense of what it was like attending. (The link will be here once it’s ready.)
January 10th, 2018 – CES Day 2
No matter what stories come out of CES this year they’ll pale in comparison to the story of the great CES Central Hall Blackout.
At about 11:20 am all the power to the Central hall went out and stayed out for about two hours. People were asked to leave the hall and were kept out for the duration, with many crowding the sidewalks waiting to get back in. Misinformation was spread that all the halls were affected, and it was later corrected to indicate people could go back in to the south and north halls. Here is a good BBC story on what happened – good because of its author’s obvious good taste in choosing twitter sources to quote.
Before the blackout I spent time with the team from LG, who have taken-over as the de-facto leader in consumer and enterprise displays in the US. Did you read about their roll-up flat TV in other CES coverage? Forget-it, it’s not real. It’s a demo of a concept that had inexperienced and or hype-friendly reporters drooling. What is real is the “wallpaper” OLED that they showed last year. It is shipping in multiple sizes for both enterprise and consumer use.
It literally hangs with magnets on any surface, with all the processing and I/O in an external unit – a soundbar for the consumer models, but just a processing engine for the enterprise ones. (It’s always difficult for a picture to convey how thin something is, but I tried.)
I also stopped by the Samsung area to see their new Flip IWB. I was told it will be available “shortly” for a price of $2,695.
I’m skeptical that this “solution for new meeting trend” will change my opinion of the enterprise Interactive Whiteboard space. The whole space is overcrowded, overpriced and over-hyped right now - as I covered in my recent whitepaper. The evidence of demand just isn't there no matter how many vendors want to persuade enterprises otherwise. The unit was in a back-corner of Samsung’s showcase that also had an AMX touchpanel and a Harman camera – quite literally made to sit in the corner like a forgotten child.
One of the nicest series of products I saw today was from the German manufacturer Conrad Electronics who are releasing a series of Digital Multimeters under the Voltcraft name in the US. In this world of ‘throw it away when it breaks’ it’s great to see someone updating and reducing costs on digital testing equipment. See my interview with them here.
My favorite item of today was from a company called Unis who licensed Pong from Atari and built a coffee-table version with physical paddles and a physical ball – click the picture to see a video I shot of it in action on the show floor.
It has a price tag of about $3k US. Now all you people who claim to never know what to get me have two options – the Solo electric vehicle below and this Pong table. Find out more about it at www.tablepongproject.com
January 9th, 2018 – CES Day 1
All you really need to know about how CES and the industry has changed can be summed-up by one startling revelation – Panasonic is not showing any TVs / displays in their booth this year. Yes, they’ll talk to you about how they make cities and airplanes smarter, and detail all the other intangibles that drive innovation, but there’s no hardware to show those off. No planes or cities on the show floor. CES 2018 will be looked back at as the time when the industry took a turn from products to concepts (as I mentioned before.) It will also be looked at as the year Google said “hey!” There were Google assistants everywhere, there were two story high ‘gumball machines’ giving out expensive Google gifts. All I got was a tote bag :-( Google definitely broke the trend of large tech manufacturers (like Microsoft and Apple) not wanting to play in the CES arena. Google seized on the vacuum and is dominating the conversations about AI assistants.
I also did happen to see a lot of cool, new products, and shot a lot of video:
Lots, lots more tomorrow….
January 8th, 2018 – 1 Day before the conference opens – Press Day Two
The press conferences and events kicked-into high-gear today with lots to report. At a high level, I’ve noticed that there are more “concepts” and less “technology” being shown this year. Concepts don’t have to be working yet, and won’t fail in a demo. I’m not really sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing, but it is a thing. As for today’s highlights:
· Both LG and Samsung stated that IoT ecosystems had to be based on open platforms to be useful. Interestingly, LG showed off compatibility with their partner’s ecosystems (having Google on stage with them) and Samsung said everyone needed to work with their Bixby assistant.
· LG had the first failure of the expo when their CLOi robot stopped answering to commands. I hope it wasn’t growing hostile (remember the four laws, remember the four laws)…
· CES 2018 will go down as the year the universal translator actually worked. I know – I’ve seen three so far at the show. The best of the lot is Travis the Translator – with a full explanation and demo here. If you hurry you can still get it on Indiegogo.
· Samsung also announced it is getting into the enterprise IWB space (to compete with Google’s Jamboard, Cisco’s Sparkboard, MS’ Surface Hub, etc.) Meet Samsung’s Flip here – a product they’re calling a digital flipchart.
· At the Pepcom Digital Experience I came across a new, handheld 4K camera with a built in gimbal that can track movement in multiple modes, has a four hour battery, built-in display, and looks really slick. See the Removu K1 demonstration video here.
· I met with Jasper Meerding, the founder of a new productivity suite called Gaiku. Their platform is used as a supplement to collaboration apps to help organize agendas, take meeting notes and track action items – all to make meetings more useful. See my interview with him here.
· I took to twitter to report all these things, and point out that it’s life imitating art – as in the AI space we now have the Clone Wars:
The Expo opens tomorrow, and for a second straight year I’m starting it at the Sands location. Lots to see, including a sneak peek at some amazing new headphones from Plantronics, and the Showstoppers event.
January 7th, 2018 – 2 Days before the conference opens – Press Day One
Wow, CES is barely even underway and the number of stories coming out are overwhelming. I’m a bit saddened by how much technology is being “demonstrated” well before it’s viable or available. Anyone with an idea and a crowdfunding campaign can apparently come here and say they have something to sell. Only time will tell how many are real.
My observations from today are:
· There is an all-out war over AI voice assistants. Google has made it clear with their massive outdoor display that they are coming for Amazon’s Alexa. At the same time Samsung is pushing its own Bixby. There are two reasons for this. One – the smart speaker space is on an incredible growth curve (as shown here by CTA’s Senior Director of Research Steve Koenig) and because control via a voice first engine is now table stakes in the technology industry. Everything being shown here – from cars to bathroom fixtures to home aroma systems to washing machines now comes with compatibility to one or more of these systems. This embedded smart technology is driving industry innovation as we will now begin to have personal relationships with our devices.
· Also from Steve’s Presentation was this excellent chart showing the data speed differences between 4G-LTE and 5G coming shortly. The difference is downloading an HD movie in a few minutes to downloading one in a few seconds. This type of high-speed connectivity will be necessary as we allow AI systems in the cloud to make more critical decisions that affect our lives.
· I spent some time with the CES Innovation Award winning firm MirraViz at CES Unveiled. Their co-founder described for me how their new screen technology allows two video images to be viewed on one screen simultaneously. Click here to see his explanation and a demo.
Tomorrow starts very early, with LG’s press conference at 8am. Much, much more to come. Again, if you were following me on Twitter here you’d be getting this information and much more in real time. Oh, and if you’re playing the LingoBingo below, from the looks of things, if you had Bluetooth Earbud then you’re a clear winner. You can’t spit without hitting a handful of vendors showing their version.
January 5th, 2018 – 4 Days before the conference opens
Did I stay hypestorm? The pre-show emails have been off-the-charts this year. The buzzwords provide an indication of trends people will focus on. Firstly, everything this year is “Smart.” Just put that word in front of anything and you can find a CES exhibitor with that theme. This includes obvious things (smart lights, smart homes, smart displays) less-obvious things (smart toothbrushes, smart underwear, smart backpacks) and things that are a real stretch (smart food-poisoning detectors, smart life-bands, smart pet-doors, etc.) With all of the smart things being touted, this year’s CES should be freaking brilliant.
To add some levity to this situation, I created and tweeted a CES Lingo Bingo game to keep track:
And then someone tweeted the perfect response:
I leave for Vegas tomorrow (assuming the northeast airports open again) and will report more from there.
December 19th, 2017 – Before the conference opens
We’re well into the pre-show hypestorm. My email account (as with all press and analysts) is receiving a deluge of messages from manufacturers, PR firms and geographical support agencies begging us to visit them and/or hear their story. I’ve already filled up 75% of my event calendar for the six days I’ll be in town. In trying to read between the lines here are some initial thoughts I’m focusing upon:
· The expo is even more massive than usual this year, with added areas (like the South Plaza, south of the south hall.) My appointments take me across all of Tech East and Tech West, but I’d need two full weeks to see all of it, so I’m already trying to prioritize.
· It’s looking like real-time universal translators will be a reality at the show this year, and I haven’t seen any real coverage of them. I have two interviews / demos scheduled as of now. If I could get a device to carry that translates in real time I’d definitely feel more adventurous about international travel and international business, and I’m sure others would too. I’m hopeful these are ready for prime-time.
· This also appears to be the year that smart-home devices go mainstream. AI assistants (Alexa, Google Home) have now achieved penetration into a considerable number of homes, and the devices that are supported by their voice first ecosystems are now much easier to install and operate than those of the recent past.
That’s it for CES 2018!
This article was written by David Danto and contains solely his own, personal opinions. David has over three decades 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 now works as an analyst and consultant in the collaboration, multimedia, video and AV disciplines. He is also the IMCCA’s Director of Emerging Technology. David can be reached at DDanto@imcca.org and his full bio and other blogs and articles can be seen at Danto.info. Please reach-out to David if you would like to discuss how he can help your organization solve problems, develop a future-proof collaboration strategy for internal use, or if you would like his help developing solid, user-focused go-to-market strategies for your collaboration product or service.
All images and links provided above as reference under prevailing fair use statutes.