CES Summary: A Cambrian Explosion of Devices

Home by 9PM on Saturday from the family vacation and back on a plane at 9AM Sunday for the flight to Las Vegas.  On the napkin on the United flight to CES (Consumer Electronics Show) it said “Taking high tech to new altitudes”  which was in stark contrast to the United plane (or product as their CEO likes to call it) with: no in-seat power, no WiFi; no in-seat TV only an old, out-of-color-balance CRT TV on the ceiling; and even no spoons for the yogurt.  So for a plane full of AT&T Developer Summit and CES bound conference attendees United clearly demonstrated we do not live in a high-tech world, as United served a product that felt like it was from the ’70s, yep that’s 40 years ago!  This was a theme of the new book Digital Wisdom from Shelly Palmer, which was free in the press pack, that we live in a real-world and digital is just a small part of it.

Coming into the show the fact Apple and Microsoft were not there and the lack of any one overall theme had many questioning the viability of CES.  Microsoft (Steve Balmer) did make an appearance in the pre-show keynote by Qualcomm, where the focus was ‘born-mobile’.  When perhaps ‘born-portable’ would have been a more accurate word, we’ve have that discussion previously on this weblog.

At CES it felt like we’re entering a “Cambrian explosion” that happened around 530 million years ago, when most major animal phyla appeared as well as many phyla that appeared and never made it through to today.  But rather than animals it was devices at CES.  The key with CES is to not look at the innovations from what the device means to you, or from today’s commercial models, else you’d find yourself writing off most of the stuff immediately, the market is going to do that not your opinion.  Nor to look at 4k screens (4 times the resolution of HDTV) and laugh at the $25k price point, there are millions of people out there who earn millions, so we cannot evaluate from our personal or mass-market perspectives.  By the time the technology is ready for the mass market it will have moved down the learning curve so that the price point will be appropriate.  The question is: how long?  Which we’ll discuss later in this article.

Panasonic gave the opening keynote and got the biggest “oohs and aahs” for its 56-inch 4k2k OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode) display.  It is half an inch thick and weighs just 27 pounds, half the weight of a normal 4k display.  Smart and Eco where the prefixes de jour, they gave an example of an eco-smart home which was a crib of a rich and famous person, this has remained the case for smart homes for the past 2 decades.

At the keynote the presidents from Lionsgate, Paramount, Sony, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal and Warner Bros took to the stage to promote UltraViolet, essentially online ‘registration’ of your movies.  A number of CE players, including Sony, Samsung, LG, Panasonic, Philips, Toshiba, and Vizio are partnering with the studios in the UltraViolet effort.  Currently there are nine million UltraViolet accounts and they expect to pass the 10 million mark shortly.  To  boost usage people who sign up for an UltraViolet account later this year will receive 10 free movies.

Interestingly for 4k content there is no agreed disk format like Bluray, several of the 4k suppliers think it will only be delivered through broadband.  This is interesting as it makes Ultraviolet more important, and will cause even more headaches for the broadband networks as a 4k movie streams at about 40 Mbit/s compressed.  Traditional Blu-ray capacity is 50GB, and BDXL (Blu-ray Disc Extended Length) discs capable can hold up to 120GB of data, the compression would have to be significant in order to squeeze in three hours of 4K content.    Digital delivery of just one uncompressed 4k movie could bust the unenforced 250GB limit on Comcast.  So 4k is likely many years from prime time as a disk format will be required and uncompressed delivery over broadband is simply not economic.  3D was still promoted, but more like a cute side feature than a reason to buy.  Smart TVs continued to be pushed, but clearly the market has decided it’s their tablets and smartphones that are used for interactive services, not the TV, as discussed in the TV Delivery Evolution Report.  But there will be some who like it, it’s just not the majority of the market.

At the keynote the CEO of the show’s organizer the CEA (Consumer Electronics Association), Gary Shapiro, made some excellent points on US government policy supporting innovation.  Unfortunately his credibility is weakened by the CEA’s tacit support of booth babes (see the BBC article) who were out in force at the show – its just a little bit creepy in today’s world, and promoting his book about Ninja Innovation.  A ninja is a spy, they only fight to flee if caught.  So is ninja (spy) innovation like we see in some emerging markets of copying?  Clearly marketing spin mattered more for the title than what the words actually mean.

Technology is now getting the fashion make-over with lots of celebs or notorious people promoting the most ridiculous headphones and accessories.  Beats by Dr Dre was everywhere, with its mythology (BS).  All it does is tweak the music to emphasize the bass and vocals, while depressing the “less interesting” middle frequencies. If you like hip-hop, Beats Audio makes it sound great. For orchestral music or really many other types of music activating Beats Audio is not a good idea.  But when does reality matter over thinking you look cool?

At the show there were: smart cutlery, smart wrist and head bands, using brain waves and gestures to control stuff, smart potties, lots of smart toys, the Pebble watch was there (one of Kickstarter’s successes) – it’s a bit crap to be honest but that’s just my view, 100s of aftermarket iPhone/iPad accessories such as a skin temperature monitor that can be used to help a couple get pregnant, most of the car manufacturers were showing application platforms for their car with a range of cute heads-up-displays (HUDs) but I still prefer using my phone and the kids their tablets, almost any household good was connected, lots of wireless connected home devices (battery powered of course with the attendant problems that raises for security), the list was endless.  Just turn a corner and there was yet another device / product.  This brings me back to the title of the article, the Cambrian Explosion, technology and the process to design and manufacture stuff has reach a point where no longer ‘Big Bets’ need to be made, rather lots and lots of little bets.  This is good for innovation, most will fail, and the ones that succeed will likely win in particular market segments.  For the telecom industry my main take away was 4k TVs are still a few years away but its impact on the telecoms industry will be massive, Cisco’s predictions on internet traffic could be grossly considered conservative if digital delivery is the only method of 4k movie delivery.

CES is a mega conference the format is very inefficient, I spent too much time simply queuing, the big sponsors booths are simply expressions of ego, and there’s so many me-too products.  To be frank, I didn’t need to see most of the stuff in person, over the web would have been adequate.  The value for me was all the face-to-face meetings in having the whole of the technology ecosystem in one place, but CES makes such meetings hard.  The Trade Show format needs to change in the 21st century, CES felt to me like the largest boondoggle on the planet for many of the attendees rather than a serious
place to meet and cut deals.

One thought on “CES Summary: A Cambrian Explosion of Devices

  1. Rose

    I have never found a reason to go to trade shows basically because, like you mentioned, I can easily Google the gadgets online. I understand these trade shows used be more significant but I guess, everything can just be uploaded and viewed online anyway.

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