Mixed Signals

CES 2011: Tablets, Transportation and TVs

1/13/2011 3:11 PM

Returning last weekend from CES 2011 in Las Vegas, I owe it to MCN and readers to express a hodge-podge of observations, reservations, and ruminations, especially for those who weren’t there.

Frankly, I’ve never understood people in the computer electronics (CE) and related telecom — and especially pay TV — industries who don’t attend CES. Indeed, if there were a show for the telecom and pay TV crowd that would rank as an overall “must attend,” CES would be it. No matter how good the snow in Colorado, or the sand in Key Largo, to not attend CES has to border on the unprofessional (unless, or course, you’ve got a real personal or professional excuse).

At my first company-led conference, someone said something I’ll never forget: “If you don’t attend conferences like this, and just rely on the media or others to relay information, you’ll stay about six months behind the competition.”

Consumer Electronics Association president and CEO Gary Shapiro and company have done such a remarkable job over many years of making sure the important companies are there (with exceptions, of course, such as Apple, which should have been there). Indeed, CES is a survivor, and one that, these days, is thriving.

Top Talks
So, for example, CES brings Ford and CEO Alan Mulally for a keynote. Another example would be the long-standing attendance by high-level government officials, such as this year with FCC commissioner Julius Genachowski. And next year, CES will likely bring yet another similar and big-time and/or intriguing sector into the fold, one that has been on the periphery for years, and not sure itself if it truly belongs and will be truly embraced.

On the downside, CES and Las Vegas on peak-level days and evenings can be incredibly tough to navigate and move around in. Oh, that the real visionaries of Clark County Nevada had figured a way to put a subway under the strip. This would be a standard underground subway that would extend from the convention center around the Sahara and the Stratosphere Tower, down the strip south past the Four Seasons on the other end, then sweeping east to the airport, and then sweeping back around to west to the LVCC. It’s a big, logical circle that I fear the existing above-ground system will never achieve, and thus the transportation struggle will prevail, perhaps forever. What a shame.

Troubling Transport
Meanwhile, the taxi line at the LVCC-to-freedom pick up point is hundreds of customers, 45 minutes, and a quarter mile or more long; the bus lines are just as thick (and only move quickly if the busses are moving quickly, which has to be iffy, based upon the traffic and taxis); and the guards keep people waiting a long time to get you on the monorail, as well.

One secret I found was to walk across the street to the Wynn Hotel shuttle bus, that will then transport one to the Wynn’s sister hotel, the Encore, from whence one can walk to the north end of the strip, and from whence one might have gotten away from the chaos of the LVCC…but then finding a cab to get up the strip at the Wynn or Encore could take another half hour or more.

Top Tablets
What was big this year? Well, even though it put tablets on the map in 2010, Apple and its iPad were remarkably absent from the entire CES show. Indeed, tablets joined last year’s 3DTV unveiling as the new Kings of CES 2011. In fact, I counted roughly 50 new tablet devices this year.

For example, the paradigm of the tablet world was a Technicolor tablet-based software that is perhaps most appropriately called “MediaNavi.” It searches and accesses content for pay TV operators and, in the words of the company, is a “simple, seamless, and social way of interacting with your TV and set-top box.” Yet, while most tablet-related providers focused on media aggregation, “MediaNavi” caught my notice because — other than Cisco’s VideoScape service - MediaNavi was the only one I found that focused on the MSO or satellite or telco operator.

Thin TVs
And don’t ever forget big-screen and extremely thin monitors. Yet, today’s monitors get more and more packed with capabilities. Plus, it is interesting to see the transition big CE is making from the Japanese-lead to the new LG- and Samsung-inspired and South Korean-lead dominance. Indeed, the Samsung booth was breathtaking, both in terms of its overall size and layout/content. Nearby Toshiba stood out for its much smaller size and for what it wasn’t.

Other varied types of products included specialized in-home cameras and motion detectors at the “Digital Experience,” a pre-CES show that delivers and displays hundreds of large and small presenters, as well as other “smart home,” and “smart car” CE devices that should save energy and up the quality of life eventually for all. Indeed, video distribution - much of which will make its way onto the pay TV systems of tomorrow - was further turbo-charged by new personal camera devices that attach to helmets or skis or surfboards for remarkable outdoor pictures. Interestingly, a small start-up named GoPro offered a remarkably small yet high-quality display, mountable HD camera for this application.

CES: Always a professional’s best way to start the New Year.

Jimmy Schaeffler is chairman and CSO of Carmel-by-the-Sea-based consultancy The Carmel Group (www.carmelgroup.com).