Dispatch from Las Vegas and the 2012 Consumer Electronic Show (CES)

Dispatch from Las Vegas and the 2012 CES

By Francis J. Gorman

Traditional consumer electronics manufacturers and automobile manufacturers are causing the buzz at the 2012 CES. The exhibit spaces of Sony, Samsung, LG, Ford, and Mercedes-Benz are packed with inquisitive visitors.

For attendees, traveling light with comfortable shoes is a must.  Over 2,500 companies are showing products and services throughout 1.8 million net square feet of exhibitor space.  There are 15 miles of aisles to walk with lots to see and touch.

Propelling most of the innovations are products from a company that is not a CES exhibitor here, Apple.  The iPhone and the iPad, and to a lesser extent their progeny from other manufacturers, are being used for applications across the board.  Companies showing iPad and iPhone-compatible accessories abound, and compatibility with these “smart” devices appears to be a key selling point.

CES also has a variety of educational conferences, covering topics from privacy concerns to copyright infringement to the “spectrum crunch” threatening the expansion of the wireless economy.  There are keynote speakers from leading tech companies, such as YouTube and Qualcomm , who assess their industries and predict the future.  Steve Ballmer was the kickoff keynote speaker, even though Microsoft announced last month that it will not be back to CES next year.

Here are a few of the product areas that are generating excitement at CES this year:

Automobiles

Six auto manufacturers are displaying electronic technologies in their new models – Ford. Audi, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Chrysler, and Hyundai.  (OnStar, a GM subsidiary, has a booth for its service as well, though GM is not showing any of its vehicles.)  They are incorporating into the dashboard electronic access to navigation, music, news, and information by syncing the driver’s smartphone with systems supporting both Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating systems.

Fitness and Health

Twenty or more exhibitors are demonstrating monitoring devices a person wears to track heart rate, calories, cholesterol, and many other indicators of fitness and health.  This data can be wirelessly transferred to a phone, tablet, or PC, but what use is made of the information depends on the individual.  Transmitting this data to health providers still presents technological and practical challenges.

Apps for Everything

Companies are creating apps and teaming up with platform providers to make it easier for a consumer to access their services.  For instance, NPR News has teamed up to use Ford’s advanced smartphone control interface (“SyncAppLink”) to provide an in-car app dedicated to on-demand news and information.  There are apps that enable all sorts of media consumption, including ones that launch video exercise routines.  Apps, whether for iOS, Android, or other operating systems, are everywhere at CES this year.

Gaming

Smartphones, tablets, 3D displays, and internet-connected TV are providing new platforms for gaming.  No longer will gamers be limited to Xbox, Playstation, and Wii consoles. For now, the greater dedicated processing power of the consoles assures their viability, but the long-term future of gaming consoles is uncertain.

Home Appliances

Controlling home appliances for energy savings and convenience has arrived with the ubiquity of wi-fi connections and the introduction of connected appliances.  This year, companies such as LG, Samsung, and Haier are promoting numerous appliances and their sophisticated control technologies. In addition, manufacturers such as Whirlpool are offering appliances that know how to operate more efficiently to save energy.

Beneath the surface at CES are issues that will prove challenging in the short and long term.  First among these is the availability of wireless spectrum, a finite resource.  The increasing need for wireless connectivity requires greater spectrum.  Engineers have developed, and are continuing to develop, more efficient ways to use the existing spectrum which allows more users and more wireless use.

Making more of the spectrum available for wireless services, however, is tied up by legislation in Congress that would regulate the FCC’s management of the spectrum.  The FCC would like to conduct voluntary incentive auctions that would free up more spectrum and provide billions of revenue to the U.S.government, but Congress wants to set ground rules.

Hopefully, a tug of war between licensed broadcasters and unlicensed users, such as Google, or between Congressional Democrats and Republicans, will not impede the effort to provide more broadband.


This post first appeared on Danny Jacobs’ blog in The Daily Record on January 13, 2012.