To an outsider, the International Consumer Electronics Show must seem like a wonderland of new discoveries, where brave electronics manufacturers unveil jaw dropping discoveries such as X-Ray lenses that can see through women’s clothes (an actual booth I ran into at CES this year!).
The real power of CES comes from understanding where the iterative improvements of product manufacturers are headed this year, and hopefully catching a whiff of where they will head a few years from now. That’s because product development cycles are painfully slow, and retooling a factory is very slow going. The demo units shown at CES have just come off the assembly line and are ramping up for the holiday season, so jaw dropping discoveries are usually AWOL. Here is my quick summary of what’s next at CES.
Android is everywhere, iPhones are nowhere:
Apple’s 1984 Macintosh was clearly superior to PC competition, but got nuked by an avalanche of competitors. In a stunning repeat of history, the iPhone is now being forced to compete with dozens of Android competitors that were unveiled at/around CES this year including the Google Nexus One, Motorola Backflip, and, most shockingly, a Dell Mini exclusively for AT&T. Et tu, Brute? Apple better have something special up its sleeve now that its own network partner is backing the Android platform. Color me excited about the opportunities with mobile devices without big brother Apple dictating terms.
Touchscreens for the masses with Content to boot:
The iPhone probably did more to legitimize touch screen technology than anything else. CES witnessed unveilings of several new uses of touch screen technologies including tablets, latpops, and dedicated reading devices. In one of the cooler demos, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer demoed an HP device with Graphic.ly’s touch enabled comic book reader (Graphic.ly is in the DFJ Mercury portfolio). The point was clear, touch is a technology perfectly suited for content consumption.
Touch, coupled with ubiquitous connectivity, can also make for some extremely cool devices. Enter the Sony Dash, a $200 alarm clock with streaming video and widget capabilities courtesy of Chumby. I can see one of these going on my nightstand, kitchen counter, and bathroom.
Speaking of which, what happens when you take the Chumby and build it into a car? You get when Ford CEO Alan Mulally calls MyFord Touch. Forget about hard coded GPS systems that have to be replaced every year, this bad boy pulls directly from Mapquest, serves up radio from Pandora, and even lets you use Twitter!
Perhaps feeling a bit jealous, every TV manufacturer has either partnered with a widget maker, or built a proprietary stack to stream digital content. Suddenly, a TV network has become pretty useless. I would expect to hear about content owners inking deals to syndicate their wares over these new devices in the coming months. On the contrarian side, Microsoft unveiled deals with AT&T Uverse to turn the XBOX into a DVR node (although still precluded from completely replacing the DVR).
Obsession with 3D:
With the release of the movie Avatar, everyone wanted to show off their 3D capabilities. Chipset manufacturers like AMD showed off their new 3D enabled offerings, while monitor makers like Panasonic showed off their own chipsets with visualizations and headsets. Samsung tried to one-up everyone with their glasses-free 3D experience which reminded me more of a sad hologram than anything else. ESPN even announced the formation of a new 3D sports network to be served on DirecTV.
Don’t let the hype fool you on this one. 3D is very cool, but hopelessly immature. Every company had its own take on where the real technology behind 3D should lie (the monitor, headset, chipset, or content source), much less what standard to follow. Any money you spend on 3D is going down the drain with your laserdisc player.
Power Consumption coming down
Remember those big hot studio lights that required dozens of power cords to support news anchors at remote events? They are gone now. Instead production crews put up panels of LEDs that use less power than my laptop. In one of the cooler demos, Panasonic put up their flat screens from 2009 next to their 2010 models hooked up to power meters. The completely indistinguishable 2010 models consumed half the power thanks to better LEDs and intelligent circuitry.
Alas, OLEDs are still not coming out any time soon though. Every manufacturer had a demo of the technology with a disclaimer saying that they didn’t have a release date ready yet. That’s code for “We still can’t build it cheap enough to sell.”
Where are the Batteries?
With all of the cool new technology at CES, I could help but be disappointed by the clear lack of advances in battery technology. Device life is basically holding steady thanks to smarter design and incremental improvements in LED technology, but our 30 year old LiOn technology hasn’t really changed. Apparently the hype around A123 was unjustified.