This week, I made my annual pilgrimage to the 2012 International Consumer
Electronics Show & Conference in Las Vegas (CES)
- an annual event that I've been coming to for many years (actually, I
came to the first
COMDEX in 1979 as an exhibitor and when it disappeared in 2003, I
started attending the CES which filled some of the void.) Today, there are
more exhibitors in attendance than there were attendees back then.
If nothing else, CES is amazing because of its size - more than 3,000
exhibiting companies, 153,000 attendees and more than 1.8 million square
feet of floor space. Shipments of consumer electronics products in the USA
in 2012 are expected to exceed $200 billion.
Gary Shapiro, president and CEO
of CEA (the organizer of CES), announced that global spending on consumer
technology devices will surpass $1 trillion in 2012.
After a few days of browsing around the show, I must say that I'm somewhat
underwhelmed. While there are lots of new products unveiled - more than
20,000 - most are incremental improvements. Nothing really blew me away.
After talking to various journalists and others, I learned that I'm not
alone in this opinion. Not to be too critical, though, there were many
impressive products and technological advances such as the brilliant
displays enabled by
(organic LED) technology.
Last year, RIM tried to make
a splash with its tablet - the Playbook. There was no new product from RIM
this year. In fact, I reported earlier that RIM was not even there but I
did find it eventually in a much smaller Blackberry booth that wasn't
listed in the show guides. RIM was featuring a software update to its
Playbook tablet due out in February. One of the key features is its
ability to run Android apps. Personally, I think if the whole Playbook ran
Android with RIM's proprietary features, it might stand a chance.
It was nice to see other Canadian companies like Vancouver's
(Heads-Up sports goggles) getting lots of attention, though. Also there
from Vancouver were
Sierra Wireless and
Teradici, a developer of PC-over-IP protocols, showed off its desktop
virtualization solutions that can be used to connect business and
enterprise users. Working with Texas Instruments, Teradici was showing the
multicore processing power of virtualization and PCoIP protocol.
Clickfree was attracting a good audience with its easy-to-use backup
Trends: Convergence, Connectivity, Apps, Cloud
Convergence is getting into high gear. In recent years we saw
entertainment, computing and broadcasting merging into common platforms.
Now, it seems like phones are becoming TVs and TVs are becoming PCs and
PCs are becoming ghetto blasters (according to Will.i.am who now uses an
Intel Ultrabook to record & play), and tablets are doing everything from
the get-go. Plus, everything's getting connected through "apps" and the
ubiquitous cloud that lets any device you have sync up with any other
device you may have - including your car which many see as the ultimate
consumer electronics product. Guess what - even baby strollers are getting
connected to the internet. The new, slim and trim ultrabooks are crowding
out traditional laptops and I suspect many people will buy one of these
rather than going with an iPad or Android tablet computer.
Smart TVs were the rage as were apps and gadgets for these TVs. TV's are
becoming ever more useful as information displays, games consoles,
entertainment devices, and productivity tools through software and
downloadable apps. One model on display was
transparent when not turned on. You can interact with them by
gesturing with your hands and you can tell them what to do by speaking to
them. They will also stay current by upgrading themselves through firmware
downloads. Nice, but alas - like my PC - I have to wait minutes before I
can watch the six o'clock news because of a 5-minute upgrade. Weren't
analog TVs and radios great? Use one knob to turn it on and control the
volume. Indeed, I'm sure that's a feature that SmartTVs of the future will
Keynotes by Microsoft, Mercedes, Intel and Ericsson Execs
On the first two days, I attended three
speeches: Steve Ballmer,
Microsoft's CEO, Dieter Zetsche,
Chairman of Mercedes-Benz and Paul
Otellini, CEO of Intel. I couldn't help but think of that
dreaded phrase spoken by my highschool english teacher: "compare and
contrast the character in this story". So I did. Actually, you can judge
for yourself - I've added links to their presentations so you can see them
presentation came across very unsophisticated with him touting Windows
8 (which was already announced last year and still not out) and extolling
the virtues of the Windows phone (someone did a demo with the
Nokia product - pronounced "Nawkee-ah"
by Ballmer, but it didn't work perfectly). The
Huffington Post agrees, saying that "Ballmer strained for relevance."
Windows 8 with its so-called Metro User Interface (tap, touch and swipe
are the latest rage) looked to me kind of like an iPhone. A KIA car on
display had a sign on it: "powered by Microsoft". Considering how often my
Microsfoft products crash, I don't think I'll buy that car! BTW - this is
Microsoft's last year at CES. Its floor space for next year was up for
grabs and was gobbled up within an hour.
on the other had made a well-articulated and insightful
presentation about how Mercedes was evolving as the ultimate consumer
product. He mentioned the Car2Go program and I was impressed that
Vancouver is the first North American city to have these (you pay as you
use them sharing them with other drivers). For his talk, he played on the
American Declaration of Independence to explain Mercedes's Declaration of
Automotive Independence: 1.Freedom of TIME - independence from service
cycles 2.Freedom of Speech - independence from conventional interfaces,
3.Freedom of Access - independence from ownership, 4.Freedom of Energy -
independence from oil and 5. Freedom of Information - independence from
congestion and rush-hour traffic. How? By using the cloud to connect with
your car to control, navigate, use crowdsourcing applied to traffic, and
enabling smarter car apps, etc. These freedoms will help us deal with our
dependence on oil and physical space (urbanization), i.e. mobility. He
ended by saying that, with respect to competition from China, "the
greatest risk is to wait until someone else takes the risk. Most CE
devices are already made in China. The coolest cars are still made in
Europe and the U.S. And we want to make sure it stays that way. As
inventors at heart, we'd rather pay our dues than pay someone else's
presentation, Paul Otellini,
Intel's CEO, talked about how Intel (with sales now in excess of $50Bn
annually) had lived up to Moore's Law - doubling the number of transistors
in a given surface area every 24 months. Some chips now have more than one
billion transistors. The circuit widths are down to 32 nm (nanometers) in
width and will soon get down to 14 nm - so dense that millions of
transistors will fit on the head of a pin. He showed off what he referred
to as "reference designs" - a smartphone and an ultrabook. Intel doesn't
make these, though - their partners do. There are more than 75 new
ultrabook products from just about every PC vendor expected this year.
Musician Will.i.am travelled
to Japan with an ultrabook (see Intel's
Ultrabook Project) and recorded a hit which he invited us to download
from intel.com - the first 10,000 downloads are free - but I couldn't find
it! (I did eventually - see the missive on
Will.i.am's World Tour). He noted that PCs have replaced recording
equipment to make recordings and PCs have replaced ghettoblasters to play
them! More demos with Windows and smartphones ensued (including a VP from
Lenovo who didn't realize he was holding that firm's new smartphone (with
the Android OS) upside down!). It looked a lot like Balmer's talk the day
before but it came across a lot more sincerely - it's actually nice to see
the speakers flubbing a bit and use their teleprompters - it makes them
look less snake-oilsy.
also took the time to hear Ericsson's young CEO,
Hans Vestberg make a
presentation about his company's vision in connecting people globally.
Ericsson, founded in the late 1800's is a global leader in networking
infrastructure. "When you start to use the combination of software,
sensors, and hardware, then you can improve processes and enable new ideas
to turn into business. The result will be greater than anyone can
imagine," Vestberg declared. For example, Maersk Line, the global leader
in ocean freight and Ericsson have developed a unique GSM and satellite
solution that will offer connectivity in the last unexplored territory in
modern communications: the sea. Vestberg wrapped up his CES appearance by
demonstrating a new technology, "capacitive coupling," in which a
photograph was transferred from a telephone, then hand-to-hand, through
the human body, to a large screen without using radio signals.
"Ultimately, we are the network," he said in describing the research
project. Vestberg added that it's hard to predict exactly how the
Networked Society will shape up, but that we can be prepared by embracing
the new mindset and enabling new solutions.
The failure of Canada's Nortel saddens me when I see how well this Swedish
company is performing in global markets. Let’s keep our fingers crossed
One of the top recognized brands today is Samsung. Samsung was coming on
very strong with all kinds of consumer devices - a vast array of
smartphones - powered by Android - now the market leader along with
tablets, laptops, and Smart TVs. Back in the 70's when no one ever heard
of Samsung, my company Volker-Craig was their first export customer for
monitors (we gave them the design). The Korean government had a mission to
make Korea a global leader in consumer electronics. They succeeded. Now,
keep an eye out for Huawei from China. They, too, will become a
recognized brand (unless they change their name). They are already well
entrenched in developing markets like Africa where many cell carriers are
private-labelling Huawei products.
On the matter of branding - the CES Brand keynote panel featured the
marketing minds of the world's top brands. The retail and branding effects
of social media, healthcare-related technologies, connectivity and the
explosion of wireless were all discussed during the session. The panelists
agreed that people are becoming more connected to their devices, and
because of this, to each other. “Our core belief is that the entire web is
being rebuilt around people,” said Facebook's Vice President of Global
Marketing Solutions Carolyn Everson.
Actually, it was a little strange to see so many attendees poking their
devices or yakking on their phones instead of meeting face-to-face. People
were frequently colliding.
John Donahoe, president and CEO of eBay, delivered the keynote address
at the Leaders in Technology dinner. Donahoe discussed how the
intersection of technology and retail is having a profound impact on
consumers' shopping experience and predicted that the next three years of
"shopping and paying" will see more profound change then what we've seen
over the past 10-15 years.
In a keynote from Robert Kyncl,
a VP at YouTube, he described how content, distribution and marketing of
video have come together to make it a transformative and accessible
viewing option around the world. He predicts that, by 2020, 75% of all
channels will be transmitted or born on the Internet, due to closed
systems that have not opened up.
did find some cute, clever and interesting innovations. There was a
display area that featured the winning "best of show" products in various
categories that range from Audio Components to Wireless Handsets. Click [here]
to take a look at all of these. There was a special section, the
featuring some 100 startup companies. I found two from Vancouver that
recently presented to
George Mobile, a company that helps you organize your social apps and
Warranty Life to manage product warranty registrations. There was also
an interesting one I met from Toronto that I met on my flight called Sound
Selecta with its
Art JamApps making an app for those who enjoy dabbling in music
SurfEasy, another Toronto startup, debuted at the show with a USB key
that gives consumers the ability to protect their online privacy and
security on any computer or network.
Speaking of Innovation, there was a high level Innovation Power Panel
comprising Xerox Chairman and CEO
Ursula Burns, Ford Motor Company President and CEO
Alan Mulally, and Verizon
Enterprise Solutions President John
Stratton. More on this, including a video of the discussion,
can be found by clicking [here].
I was disappointed that there were no original ideas presented about
spurring innovation. Burns, an engineer, noted the importance of education
and encouraging our youth to pursue careers in science and technology and
that we should do more to celebrate tech entrepreneurship. Mulally
commented on the importance of government policies relating to the
business environment but didn't mention anything specific. Stratton
mentioned that Verizon has set up a couple of incubation centres to
connect with innovative entrepreneurs.
Ford's CEO was proud to unveil the Ford Fusion, a hybrid electric car that
gets you 100 miles per gallon. "Fusion" is an appropriate description -
not so much because of the energy efficiency but because of the fusion of
consumer electronics and automobiles. Ford is introducing six electrified
vehicle models this year.
Talk about fusion - there was a SMART car on display that was “fused” with
speakers and woofers almost as large as the car itself – pointing out
towards the rear (for outdoor parties maybe?) I'm convinced that with a
good rap song, this car will jet propel itself along without using its
Fun and Cool Stuff
It's always fun to see something unexpected. Enjoying the occasional
cigar, I was amused by a Chinese company (with offices in the Valley),
GreenWorld Technologies that developed a "green" cigar product line
(cigarettes, too). I tried one. It tasted just like a Cuban (albeit a
cheap Cuban). Although it didn't feel and smell like one, the sensation
was similar. I inhaled some nicotine and blew out a cloud of vapour that
looked like smoke but that was clean and unoffensive. Although the
robustos start at $89, they last a long time and refills are available for
a lot less. I expect that by next year, they'll add a feature that'll
allow the cigar to Tweet and connect, via the cloud of course, to cigar
Also in this category, I found a charger for your cellphone that works
using kinetic energy: you stick you phone on it and spin it around until
it's charged. Stick-on speakers were popular, too: tiny little transducers
that use the surfaces to which they're attached to replace bulky speakers
(I bought an earlier version of this in the 80's - but they're much
smaller and more efficient now). The new low energy Bluetooth 4.0
wireless standard is allowing smart phones to be used for almost anything
- from bicycle racing (see Vancouver's
Sound of Motion), to health monitoring of your vital signs - great in
hospitals because it eliminates the cables, to controlling your home
automation system and keeping an eye on your kids. A fun, but silly,
innovation entailed the integration of a bottle opener with an iPhone
case! You can also turn your phone into a DJ-mixing console.
Home automation and control products proliferated. A number of companies
were offering smart versions of the common 110VAC electrical outlet that
included integrated ports for a USB plug to let you charge portable
devices and a WIFI or Zigbee capability to let you switch it on or off
from practically any device (smartphones, tablets, laptops and even smart
TVs) - no matter where it's located - using an appropriate app. To connect
your home heating/air conditioning and other appliances to the internet,
all you need is a small, inexpensive hardware interface from
Global Cache - a critical missing link.
There were some very cool camera and photography products. The camera that
lets you take pictures and then focus them later won a best-of-show award
(see above link).
Vancouver company, exhibited the latest versions of its award winning NEO
PhotoKiosk Software. And then there's
Tamaggraphy from Montreal's
Tamaggo with its very cool handheld 360-degree imaging device that
lets you capture high-resolution (14Mp) navigable images with just one
click. It's way beyond those old, stitched-together photo panoramas from
In the audio and sound
category, Vancouver-designed high end audio products by
Edifier won an award for its ultra-compact "Sound-to-Go" product.
Lytro won the
Last Gadget Standing SuperSession competition, beating nine other
finalists, including the Playstation Vita, Autom Robot, Cotton Candy, WIMM,
Origami, Svivl, Basis Body Band, Lenovo Yoga and Samsung Note. LG's
55-inch OLED TV was named
CNET's Best of CES winner, with Razer's Project Fiona winning the
People's Choice online voting award.
There was no shortage of mobile accessories and gadgets at CES. A good
example is Vancouver’s
Vivick that produces and markets accessories for the full range of
Apple products, including the MacBook, iPad, iPod and iPhone, as well as
PC laptop tools and enhancements, portable rechargers, headphones, earbuds,
Bluetooth devices and more.
My Wish List
So, I didn't see anything at CES that blew me away. What would? What I'd
really like to see is not a revolutionary product but, rather, a
revolutionary Canadian company making a global impact in this marketplace.
With the demise of Nortel and the decline of RIM, we absolutely must do
more to spur innovation. The Americans, too, are feeling the pinch from
the Koreans, Chinese, and Europeans and they, as well as we, are wondering
how to foster innovation.
The high-level panel discussion on innovation that I attended showed no
inspiration in this regard. We need to encourage entrepreneurs to grow
more companies, some of which may just become global leaders. We can start
by facilitating investment through incentives while also eliminating many
impediments to innovation (eg. securities regulations and taxes on
stock ownership benefits) that currently exist.
Not to put all the onus on government, innovation and greatness starts
with each of us. For budding entrepreneurs, I suggest taking a page out of
Steve Jobs's book - think different
and do something that's insanely
Simon Fraser University's TIME Centre
in downtown Vancouver recently
expanded to SFU's
campus (Discovery Park) to offer incubator offices to entrepreneurs at
is an acronym for Technology, Innovation, Mentorship, and
Entrepreneurship. It's more than just an incubator. Complete,
ready-to-go furnished offices with high speed internet, servers, telephone
and fax, printing, etc. are only the beginning.
New Ventures BC,
Vancouver Enterprise Forum, the
Vancouver Greentech Exchange, the
VANTEC Angel Network,
WUTIF Capital and
GreenAngel Energy all make TIME their home.
Within TIME there is also the TIME Business Centre
(a little like an airport business lounge but without booze) that is open
to technology entrepreneurs and business people to use as a drop-in
downtown office facility. Need to plug-in? Make some calls? Do some work?
Hold a meeting? There are some great facilities for holding your company's
AGM. Why hang out at MacDonald's when you can work productively at the
TIME Centre? Drop by and check it out! It is located at SFU's downtown
campus at 515 West Hastings St. You won't believe the price!
www.sfu.ca/time for info.