David J. Danto
Principal Consultant, Collaboration/ AV / Multimedia / Video / UC
Director of Emerging Technology
Interactive Multimedia & Collaborative Communications Alliance
A View From The Road Volume 8, Number 1 – The 2014 International CES
In This Edition:
· Curved Is The New Flat
· Machete-ing Down The Unimportant
· Cisco And Smart Cities
· Picking Up The Curve
· My Best Of CES Highlights
“Curved is the new flat.” Make sure you understand that clearly if anyone asks, as you wouldn't want to Michael Bay it on your answer.
No, I'm not writing in a new urban slang, but rather making sure that you understand the key takeaways from the just concluded 2014 International CES show. This is the annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas by techies and geeks, manufacturers and buyers, press and industry analysts, and CEOs and celebrities. It represents a once a year quest to find the newest and best in technology.
This year’s grand technology stage didn't disappoint, with plenty of emerging trends and admirable new gadgets. However, as in any quest through the jungle, one has to machete down a lot of unimportant brush to get to the hidden jewels. Let's start this report with some of that brush - thick and everywhere, pretending to be important but in reality just blocking you from the real prizes.
There was a huge amount of interest in the automotive space this year. Not CES' traditional aftermarket device firms, but rather, most of the major auto manufacturers were on-site with huge displays and keynote presentations. There were some innovative announcements and concept demonstrations - particularly in the areas of sustainability and autonomous vehicle control or “piloted driving”- and as the auto space is not my area of focus I won't spend much time on them other than to say there was a lot more bun than meat here. If after hyping "groundbreaking, earth-shattering" innovations for weeks before the show, the best an auto manufacturer can do is show us an embedded android tablet then it really doesn't deserve to be touted as any more important than a newfangled cup holder. If a firm tells us (in multiple, email account clogging messages) that it's going to announce huge "innovations in automobile technology" I'm expecting a car that flies itself up to my second floor to pick me up for a drive, or one that can run a month on a quart of water. Those would be huge innovations. Putting Android in the car is more like that little "objects are closer than they appear" sticky mirror disk on a car's side mirror – it’s a nice improvement but they don’t win any awards for it. It's not a connected car if it just serves as another smartphone when you already have your real smartphone with you anyway.
While there is no doubt that connected cars, connected devices, sensors and the Internet of Everything is a critical new trend (which I’ll get back to), that doesn't mean we need dozens of firms making cheap "smart watches" and eyeglass based viewers. This year you couldn't spit on the exhibit floor without hitting some unknown company’s smart watch and/or wearable sensor device.
Remember how a little while after the iPod’s release hundreds of exhibitors had their own knock-off MP3 / media players in all colors shapes and sizes? That’s what the wearable device market turned-into at this year’s show. No real value that might exist in any of them was able to escape the noise level that’s been created. How good will you feel about your new Pebble, Fit Bit or Galaxy when the kid down the street from you just bought something very much like it at a 99 cents store? I think the best advice here is to wait for the pendulum to swing back a little again before anyone thinks seriously about purchasing any of these. As I Tweeted, “there are more smartwatches in Las Vegas this morning than Slot Machines. Welcome to the phase of the ‘me-too’ knockoff.”
Where there is real value in smart connections today - to a potential of $19 trillion - is where professional and enterprise grade sensors are connected to a smart city. Think of your garbage can sending a signal when it's full to be picked-up (then and not before), or streetlights as part of a network that glow dimly but get bright as people or cars pass near neighboring ones. These are just a few examples of the Internet of Everything that Cisco CEO John Chambers talked about in his Tech Titan keynote address.
It was interesting watching Mr. Chambers speak and present, as it was very different than presentations of his I’ve attended in the past. Rather than being a technology pitchman with bits, bytes and charts with statistics, he presented himself as an excited "smart future" evangelist. He described not only the potential savings of those smart city sensors, but the enormous revenue opportunity that their implementation represents. He made the bold statement that all of this smart connectivity will begin to converge in this year - 2014. He clearly seemed energized - as a person with the proverbial light bulb over his head, encouraging the audience to see the same vision he does. (Here’s a picture of me taking the far right picture above as Mr. Chambers takes his traditional strolls through the audience to connect with those present as he explains his ideas.)
His keynote began with a funny video and in person appearance from comedienne Sarah Silverman (and most of us in the audience were grateful it was Sarah and not Ellen Page with another UMI disaster.) His on-stage guests also included the deputy mayor of Barcelona - a city that has successfully implemented some of these smart changes he discussed, and Jim Grubb, Cisco’s Chief Demonstration Officer, showing off the Snowflake version of their perennial CES topic - Videoscape. Watch the entire keynote (minus Sarah Silverman’s part) here. (They must have removed her either because she made fun of Movie Director Michael Bay’s earlier gaffe at this CES, or because they were not fond of her comment “you’ve got balls Chambers.” Those of us in the tech industry already knew that anyway.)
Mr. Chambers’ curveball in evangelizing the future and not talking-tech was just one of the many curves of this CES. The most obvious of these curves was the new large display format of Samsung, LG and others.
Curved HD and UHD displays were the hit of the show. Remember how tube TVs were considered gauche when the first plasma flat displays came out? That’s how I believe flat displays will soon be seen when these curved displays begin their trek up the adoption curve. Despite what you may have read elsewhere, the curved displays I spent time examining looked outstanding – even from the most extreme angle – where the curve actually helps the image look better. Samsung had some outstanding units in this space, including one with an ultra, cinema-wide aspect ratio of 21x9, and other units that could curve or go back to flat at the push of a button. I predict “curved is the new flat,” will be the industry mantra, as every manufacturer begins to jump on this bandwagon for next year. Samsung also showed some excellent innovations in 8K display (which they dubbed quad-UHD or QUHD) and voice control of displays. (Much thanks to Samsung’s Scott Cohen who stepped in to give me the tour when their PR firm FleishmanHillard dropped the ball.)
I chatted with ClearViewAudio’s VP of Marketing, Gene D’Ovidio, who explained that the patented technology behind the device is brand new – using “edge-exciters” to have the clear pane of Plexiglas recreate the waves. It has far more applications than just a gorgeous 360 degree stereo speaker for home systems, including the embedding of this system in the actual display glass (which the display manufacturers stupidly snubbed as an added expense) and any number of enterprise applications. Gene and I informally tested it at the show to see if it would work as a teleconference speaker and our results were promising. Keep an eye on this one.
There were also curved Smartphones (curved along the vertical axis) from LG and Samsung, but the jury is still out on those. I like this interview of a Samsung Galaxy Round millennial tester who explains that the curved devices are more comfortable to hold, but hints that the claim that they are more comfortable to talk on is stretching it but irrelevant because “who talks on phones anymore.”
Every year people always ask me what the big trends are from CES. I’ve come to the conclusion that for the most part there are no big trends, just a lot of small ones. So here’s a list of the 2014 International CES Trendlets as I saw them:
· Curved is the new flat. (as above)
· The Internet of Everything. (as above)
· Native 4K content for Ultra HD TV displays (UHD-TV) will come over the internet. A few years ago the concern was that masses of people would stop buying / watching big, room type TVs and instead view their content on PCs and tablets. At this year’s CES that sentiment has changed. No one is openly saying it, but that fear has given way to the opinion that people will still buy their TVs but the content on them will come from the web (using a set-top box or embedded smart application.) Do you still think Amazon Prime video or Netflix is a bad idea? No one else does either. If I were a broadcaster or MSO, this development and the continued legal successes of Aereo (now poised to be in front of the SCOTUS) would probably be making me very nervous just about now. Get ready for one of those Black Swans.
· Consumerization of the enterprise is now mainstream. With every device from smartphone manufacturers now including obvious enterprise features (despite any IT Security objections) and with the dozens of internet file sharing applications banned by firms but in wide use at them anyway, it’s clear that obstructionist IT policies have failed to prevent progress and innovation. I had a great chat with Jurgen Kurz – CEO of Nero – about how his firm is reacting to the new mainstream consumerization. Nero still makes a fabulous suite of multimedia tools and will continue to do so, but he doesn’t see this as his firm’s best opportunity going forward. He and I agreed that the lines between consumers, SMBs and Enterprise users are getting blurrier all the time. His firm’s new, flagship product, Nero BackItUp is a combination software product and service, meant to enable powerful back-ups of all kinds of digital files, and their easy distribution amongst all a user’s devices. What makes Nero unique in this space is that users can perform these tasks any way they want from any device they wish. Want to use unlimited cloud storage? That is available. Want to do all your back-ups to a local NAS or server? That’s supported too. And if you want some combination (back up some files to NAS…others to cloud…back up your NAS to the cloud…retrieve a PC or Mac file from your smartphone…back up your tablet or phablet files and view them on each other or on your PCs – all that is available in any combination. It is certainly a different direction for Nero, but one that offers some real productivity assistance. This is not only applicable to individual end-users but is clearly set-up to follow a path to users in SMBs and onto those in larger enterprises. Why would an organization’s individual line of business leaders pay tons more for the usually inflexible options their IT teams may offer?
· Technology improvements inherently reduce privacy. This is a scary but obvious conclusion reached during the Q&A at Shawn DuBravac’s (CEA’s Senior Analyst) State of Consumer Technology presentation just before the expo opened. With social media, ubiquitous connectivity, everything else about us on the net, and the clear efforts in government interception, we are returning to society like it was centuries ago. Everyone in our “village” knows everything about us and we have no secrets from our neighbors (or our governments.)
· 3D TV is dead. I saw seven firms showing “glasses-free” 3D TVs. 1) Each one looked something like the Fischer Price Toy below. 2) Nobody cared.
· TVs have “smart” controls now. The firm (insert any TV manufacturer name) explained how they have created the best and most innovative smart TV control ever produced in the history of mankind, bla, bla, bla (more hyperbole that everyone ignored.)
I’ve often said that CES reminds me of the parable of the three blind men and the elephant – no two people who attend will see exactly the same things in the same way (other than everyone apparently agreeing about the Michael Bay big fail.) Seasoned attendees such as myself completely give up the concept of seeing the whole show. In light of that, below is a list of the items I saw that I think my readers should know about. Were there other things at the show – of course, but you can find those on the websites of Engadget, CNET, CNN, CNBC, TechCrunch, and others. Not all of the items I highlight below however will be covered by those sites. These are also in no particular order.
· A startup called Revolve Robotics introduced their Kubi – a remote controlled pan/tilt device for tablets. Remember the scene from the old Sylvester Stallone movie Demolition Man? Well, it’s possible now.
There’s still some development to do but these look very promising to finally bring a real-live experience to the video conference room for both remote and local participants.
· Plantronics demonstrated their Concept One headset that can port out a wearer’s sensor data to third party applications. I shot and posted a video clip showing the basics of this feature, and here is their more detailed explanation video.
· Invoxia showed a new smaller unit (the NVX-220 IP phone) to go alongside their Audioffice unit.
I’m still mystified as to why Cisco or some other firm hasn’t bought them or introduced a similar BYOD dockable concept.
· SmartCharge showed their new, very innovative LED light bulb that works with or without AC power.
If the power goes out in your house the device will still work for hours – turning on and off as usual from your regular light switch. (As I publish this on Sunday 1/12 there are still 3 days left to become a Kickstarter backer of this if you’re so inclined.)
If you feel a chill while sitting on your sofa, just say “hello thermostat, make it warmer” and it responds and adjusts your heating system.
· Casio updated their Virtual Presenter tabletop system. The device is now half the size as before.
In addition, it now comes with an entire programming service to set-up the content for you and make sure it all works.
· StickNFind showed their new system that allows for easy set-up of indoor navigation.
They use smart stickers to identify the items and locations within your space.
· Innovega showed their iOptic system of heads-up displays in glasses and electronic contact lenses.
See that picture in the lower right above of the guy holding the tiny glass bottle? That’s as close as I (or anyone I think) got to this new electronic contact lens. I included it here as a number of people asked me to check it out – and I agree it would be cool and innovative – but I’m personally not sure anything was in the liquid. It might as well have been the gitchy Las Vegas / Florida / California Snowman. The jury’s is still out here.
· TheHovercam is a new entrant in the document camera space.
It’s smaller and lighter than the established brands – and one would assume much less expensive as well.
· FINsix showed the world’s smallest / lightest PC / Notebook power supply.
This will be available in March (assuming one of the big firms doesn’t buy them first.)
· Elmo showed their new Boxi T-200 short throw pico-projector, costing about $400 MSRP.
At this weight and price I can’t imagine a salesperson not buying one of these to carry in their briefcase.
· Mpowerd showed their very innovative Luci Aura lighting instrument
This is a waterproof, inflatable LED lamp array that uses solar power to charge and lasts up to 12 hours on a full charge. For big-city folks you can buy them for about $15 and set them to show any color you wish – or flash through them all, making an excellent party decoration. For underprivileged countries this represents 12 hours of free electric lighting in a fully sustainable device. In-between those extremes are campers, outdoorsmen, etc. This is one of the most innovative devices I saw at the whole show.
The last product I’ll highlight is the “Mother” device from Sen.Se. It is everything that Cisco is talking about with the Internet of Everything, but for the home. It also won an Engadget best of CES award.
This Matryoshka doll in plastic monitors all aspects of your homelife. Place the little “cookies” on things you’d like to track and the device reminds you if you forgot any of them – just like your mother would. For example, place a cookie on your underwear drawer and if you didn’t open it that day it would remind you how bad that would be in case you’re hit by a bus.
All of those products and a whole bunch more were highlighted by me on Twitter. I set up a web page where all of those tweets could be viewed by people who for one reason or another didn’t want to actually view them in Twitter. It is still there and would provide a fuller recap for a brief period of time. I can’t freeze my Twitter feed, so as time passes and I keep tweeting, the older posts will move further and further down into oblivion. Please follow me in real time if this sort of technology news is of interest to you. I promise not to tweet about celebrity sightings or what I’m having for dinner (although I have been known to tweet a customer service rant now and again.)
That’s it for my coverage of the 2014 International CES. This year is already shaping up to be a busy one for me. I have recently been added as a guest blogger for Cisco’s Service Provider Channels, and I’m going to be a presenter at both Interop and Enterprise Connect. In addition, I’ll be serving a number of roles at InfoComm 14 – which is shaping up to be an exciting conference with the just announced addition of Microsoft as a new platinum sponsor.
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 with 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. Please reach-out to David if you would like to discuss how he can help your organization solve problems or develop a future-proof collaboration strategy.
All image and links provided above as reference under prevailing fair use statutes.