Having finally had the opportunity to gather my thoughts around the annual pilgrimage I make to Las Vegas each January, I found it slightly humorous to see this year’s International CES yet again billed officially as the “biggest ever!” Turns out, it was true. Again. If you’ve never been to see such a spectacle, I think it might be difficult to really visualize what two-million square feet with over 150,000 attendees looks, feels and smells like, so let’s just agree that “big” is hardly a sufficient adjective and move along with what was interesting.
Contrary to previous years in which my time was largely spent at “off-floor” meetings with vendors, partners, clients and prospects, this year my goal was to soak in the totality of the show and look for interesting perspectives from which to consider the coming year’s technology innovations and the trends affecting our market.
Here’s my top three:
CONNECTED DEVICES & THE CLOUD
It may very well be that 2013 becomes known in retrospect as the year of connectivity. From Big Data to Personal AI, it seems that anything and everything is (or will soon be) “connected” in some way to everything else. Calling it the ‘Internet of Devices’, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) forecast “400+ million connected CE devices will be sold in 2013.” From ‘lifestyle’ connected devices like the Nest thermostat to washing machines that send text messages and refrigerators that play YouTube, brands such as LG, Panasonic and Samsung were all pitching devices that “talk to each other and talk to you”.
Smart-home automation and security systems also loomed large, with an ever-increasing emphasis on energy conservation and smart-grid interfaces from the likes of GE, Reliant Energy and many others.
As much as real-time connectivity has impacted technology, it also impacts social norms and markets. Newly present at CES was an innovator’s hall featuring new startups and entrepreneurial ventures – businesses which in the past would have been solely the purview of Venture Capital and Angel Investor funding now reaching directly for the mainstream because of the recent phenomena of crowd-funding, and crowd-source data.
As well, I had the opportunity to attend some panel discussions this year.
Highlights related to this topic included:
“Privacy & Security in the Cloud” (a discussion of data rights, security and privacy)
“Cloud Computing & Implications for Consumer Tech” (non-local processing, AI, data access)
“How the Cloud is Changing Hardware” (online storage, services integrated with devices. Google, iCloud, Onlive, Office 365)
As a final example of the disruptive power of such devices, I attended an interesting discussion titled “The Battle for the Mobile Wallet” in which it was said that 2013 will be “the year of the mobile payment.” It seems there are suddenly a lot of players in this space from the big guys like Google, Intuit, MC/Visa, Isis, and Paypal to smaller startups like Square, Astro Payments, MobiWeb, Moneto, Paywizard & others.
UI & I/O
A second unifying theme of this year’s show brought together innovations in user interface and display technologies. Companies such as Cube26, Nuance Communications, Logitech, SoftKinetic, Omek Interactive were showing everything from advanced concepts to newly released products sporting Voice, Gesture and Touch interfaces. Think Xbox Kinect meets HAL 9000… coming soon to your living room and your car.
By far, the coolest ‘tactile’ innovation at the show this year was an “inflatable membrane for Tactus. Here’s the whitepaper for more info.
Following last year’s screen size trends, handheld devices this year fill every almost niche: phones have become as big as tablets and the tiniest media player devices all have touchscreen UIs. As well, I saw several dedicated mobile platforms with screaming graphics processing for handheld FPS gaming… These are not your father’s Game Boy, not by a long shot!
Interface was a big feature in the automotive arena also. Traditionally a market which is slow to adopt new technologies, the automotive segment seems to be finally entering the modern age of UI with in-dash apps for Facebook & Google, control of the car from your mobile phone as well as voice control. GM, Kia, Kenwood, Toyota, Audi, Ford all had a presence at the show.
For the last several years, home screen entertainment has been forecasting the end of the TV era, hastened by streaming, mobile, and lots of other options. Perhaps it might be more proper to think about this change as the end of the “broadcast monopoly” era? I saw lots of business model innovation & hybridization: Netflix & YouTube now producing content like HBO, while ‘pipeline providers’ (AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, T-Mobile, etc) continue their decline into being marginalized and commoditized. All this despite the ever present hoopla over bigger & thinner TVs with features like 4K Ultra HD, OLED, 3D & motion-sensing UI…
DIGITAL HEALTH & EDUCATION
The makings for a “perfect storm” are definitely brewing out there in the health and medical technology world. The availability of commoditized, cheap sensors along with smart-networked mobile platforms has given birth to the “quantified-self” movement. As well, economic and demographic realities of health care today are putting ever-increasing emphasis on preventative care and aging-in-place methodologies. These are some of the forces driving the success of Nike’s Fuelband as well as the exploding number of other devices now coming to the market.
However, you don’t need to go to CES to see what I’m talking about – just head over to the local Apple store, where nearly 40 square feet of prime retail shelf space is given over to the following items:
• Pocketfinder personal GPS locator
• Tagg GPS dog tracker
• Fitbit One & Zip physical activity sensors
• iPING personal putting coach & app
• Wahoo Fitness bluetooth HRM chest strap
• Scosche Rhythm HRM armband
• Jawbone Up activity & sleep sensor
• Pear Training HRM
• Adidas MiCoach bluetooth HRM & Speed Cell activity sensor
• Nike+ sports sensor & Fuelband
• Withings baby monitor & blood pressure monitor & wireless scale
• Lark Life activity & sleep sensors
• iBGStar blood glucose sensor
• iHealth wireless blood pressure wrist monitor
Interesting sessions in this ‘mini-CES’ section included:
“Digital Health: Retailing’s Next Frontier?” iphone cardiac monitor, smart shirt HRM, ‘connected’ Rx Bottle caps, non-prescription health & fitness monitoring.
“Creating mass market for digital health devices” - still in embryonic stage, requires ecosystem to flourish. (Qualcom, HealthSpot, WellDoc)
“The Transformation of Play: How 15 years of “smart toys” has changed children’s play” – From dolls to dolls with linked online worlds, from blocks to programmable blocks! Experiences that merge the physical, imagination, and virtual environments. Lego Mindstorms 3 and 3D systems Cubify printer.
Two coolest innovations:
BEST MOMENT IN SHOW
After showing off some neat flexible OLED prototype displays that could be rolled and folded, Bill Clinton took the stage for Samsung, noting “when I was in the oval office cellphones weighed five pounds and there were about fifty websites on the internet!” His quick speech focused on the potential for communications technologies to bring benefit to the developing world. His examples included banking by cell phone in Haiti, the social-media-fed “Arab Spring” revolutions, and crowd-sourced data to help validate Global Warming science.
Honorable Mention (2nd best moment of the show)
Steve Ballmer on stage for Qualcom…followed by Big Bird.