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The Big CES Recap

January 17, 2007

Wow.  I knew going in that the CES is a huge event, but knowing something and experiencing it firsthand are two completely different things.

The Consumer Electronics Show is huger than huge.  It is the largest trade show in North America, and quite possibly the world.  It attracts thousands of exhibitors and hundreds of thousands of attendees.  For the four days it runs, it completely consumes Las Vegas.  In terms of actual footprint, it takes up the north, central, and south halls of the sprawling Las Vegas Convention Center, as well as its parking lot, the nearby Sands Expo Center, and even parts of the Venetian.  And that’s not counting the suites in the Bellagio, Wynn, and other hotels that various companies rent out to show their wares to VIPs in a more relaxed atmosphere than the crazed and chaotic show floor.

What can you expect to see at CES?  If it plugs in, chances are its there.  Everything from computers and camcorders to cell phones, navigation systems, robots, and even radio controlled drink floats.  The scale and variety are beyond description.  Every day you walk for hours, wondering through an electronic playground that makes Best Buy look like one of those chintzy little stands they set up in the middle of malls to sell cell phone cases, your head spinning all the while as you try to process everything going on around you.

Rather than try to recount everything I saw, I’ve instead put together a short, "greatest hits" list.  Click through to read and enjoy.

 Ultra Wideband

Ultra Wideband is a short-range, high-speed wireless
technology designed for rapid device-to-device communication. One of the leading formats, Wireless USB, delivers
USB 2.0 speeds (480 MB per second) over distances of several feet. Imagine downloading images from your digital
camera, or video from your camcorder, without needing to dig out the proper
cable. 

Imagine getting into your car and having it stream video
from your iPod to the backseat monitors without the need for a special
adapter. 

Longer term, imagine a home theater system without cables,
where all the different components speak to each other wirelessly.

 

Evolution, Not Revolution

This was a point brought up in a session I attended titled
“Engaging the Connected Consumer”. The
point, such as it is, is that many of the so-called “technological revolutions”
we herald are, in reality, technological evolutions. They achieve adoption and acceptance because
we as a society already grasp how they are supposed to work. The cellular phone, for example, is an
evolution of the landline phone, which is an evolution of the telegraph. The iPod is an evolution of the Walkman. The DVD an evolution of the video
cassette.  

The big idea behind this observation, as I see it, is that
technological change is an organic process that occurs in stops and starts, and
that instead of always looking for that next revolutionary product, perhaps we
should instead be looking for the next evolutionary product. For the past two or so decades, this
evolution has been one of analog to digital. Digital documents, digital music, digital images, digital video, digital
telephony, and on and on.  

So what is the next great evolution?

 

Vehicle Mass Storage

This wasn’t talked up much on the floor, but I did encounter
the concept in one or two of the sessions I attended. The basic idea – putting a hard drive (or
drives) in your car – seems kind of silly at first, until you consider the
possibilities for media storage. Sure,
we all have our iPods plugged into our cars nowadays, but what if we could
transfer songs and playlists to the car’s hard disk so we wouldn’t have to
always remember to bring the iPod, worry about it getting stolen, etc?  

What if we could record and store satellite and HD Radio as
easily as we do television programs? Or
rip the kids’ favorite movies from DVD, so they’re ready to go on the backseat
LCD at anytime?

Beyond media, mass storage opens up a whole new world of
possibilities for GPS navigation systems. Most current GPS systems are DVD-based, meaning that their road and
content data is stored on a single 4.7GB DVD. As amazing as this was five years ago, it has grown constraining. The addition of an 80GB or 120GB hard drive
would allow a lot of new possibilities, from a richer navigation experience (3D
buildings, real-world textures) to broader reviews, images, recommendations and
beyond.

 

Wireless Charging

Visteon introduced a new wireless charging device at this
year’s CES. It works via electromagnetic
induction, literally creating an electromagnetic field around it and the device
place on top of it. The result? iPods, cell phones, and other electronic
devices charge as fast as they would plugged into a wall, only they do so
without wires. From what I understand,
the technology has been around awhile (Sonicare uses something similar in its
toothbrush bases, for example), and has just taken awhile to find its way to
cell phones and the like. 

In the scheme of things, it is a small innovation, but a
useful one which I believe will only contribute to the death of wires.

Personal Content Distribution

This is the term I’ve coined for our desire to access our
content where we want, when we want, how we want, and on what we want without
having to undergo painful transfer or conversion processes, or having to think
about network protocols. 

This question – how do I get my stuff where I want it – was
the central question of the show. Everyone from Microsoft and HP to Samsung, Qualcomm, and Sling Media was
showing their version of what they think the answer is. In

California

,
Apple did the same with their AppleTV box and iPhone. 

It may be some time before we arrive at an answer – I think
one of the major technological evolutions of the
next decade will be how we
manage and access all of our digital content –

Total
Sensory Immersion

There are two contrary trends in consumer content experience. The first is mobility – the ability to carry
your content with your or access it on the road. We’ve seen a number of products address this
in one way or another, from laptops to iPods and PSPs to the Slingbox, which
lets you access your home television over the internet. This mobility trend ties into the idea of
personal content distribution, and as consumers become more comfortable with
digital content, more and more of them will embrace digital’s inherent
mobility.

At the opposite end, we’re seeing the home experience
becoming one of total sensory immersion as consumers seek the highest quality
possible. There were a number of
examples of this trend toward immersion at this year’s CES:

  • Proliferation
         of HDTVs and HD content
  • Focus
         on sound, sound quality, and innovative surround sound solutions, from
         soundbars to the Soundelier Duo.
  • Immersive
         game “controllers”, from golf mats to game chairs to all-out driving rigs
         with hydraulics and shock absorbers

 Death of Wires

Wires are a goner. Maybe not now, and maybe not for several years to come, but their days
are numbered. WiMax, Wi-Fi, Wireless
USB, Zigbee, and now wireless device charging hint at a world without wires (or
with as few as possible).

From our high-level broadband access to interaction between
computers and peripherals, and even between home theater components, everything
is poised to go wireless. With the
digitization of content and the wireless networking of devices, personal content
distribution will be easier than ever before, allowing consumers access to what
they want, when they want, where they want, without having to search for the
proper cable or adapter.

 

Solid

State

Drives

Solid state drives are nothing new. In the form of Secure Digital, Compact Flash,
and other cards, they already act as storage for our digital cameras and other
devices. In the form of USB thumb
drives, they have replaced the floppy disk. Over the next few years, look for them to replace our computers’ hard
drives, as well.

SanDisk demonstrated just such a drive at this year’s
CES. In direct comparison to a
conventional hard drive, the solid state drive was noticeably faster. It also uses far less power, critical for
mobile devices such as laptops. And,
because it lacks moving parts, a solid state drive is far more durable than a
hard drive.

Prices remain high, but as they drop, look for computer
makers to start putting solid state drives into their laptops and other
portables. The longer battery life and
resulting mobility will spur the adoption of wireless networking and wireless
broadband access.

 GPS

The days of folding maps may be coming to an end. GPS devices, for everything from navigation
to geo-tagging to fitness monitoring, were all over the show floor.

The most exciting enhancements in GPS seem to be taking
place in the automotive and mobile categories.

In the automotive space, geo-mappers such as TeleAtlas (who
provides mapping data to TomTom, etc) are incorporating advanced features, from
branded icons to 3-D modeling of local buildings, complete with texturing. As vehicles begin to incorporate mass
storage, TeleAtlas, NAVTEQ, and others will have the opportunity to include
more content, for better and more relevant navigation. 

In the mobile category, the FCC is mandating the inclusion
of GPS in all cellular phones for 911-based location. Phone makers are taking it a step further,
however, and touting the GPS as a feature for navigation, local search etc. Sprint has recently begun airing ads to that
effect. 

 

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