The Enterprising Side of CES

Approximately 153,000 people went to Las Vegas last week to sneak a peek at the latest in consumer electronics. CES 2012 was the largest CES in the conference's 44-year history, featuring over 3,100 exhibitors in 1.9 million square feet of floor space. Was the show so big because of consumerization of IT? No. The enterprise was present, just a bit hidden.

The show keeps growing in size because the scope of "consumer electronics" keeps expanding--well beyond the confines of a typical Best Buy store. Electronics are expanding into everything, and often with a wired connection. Walking the halls of CES, one sees everything--the expected high-tech computers, cameras, and gadgets, and the unexpected appliances, cars, toys, tools, luggage, furniture, even windows. Consumer electronics are aimed at all ages (even prenatal), and all walks of life.

This year, the big items were televisions and tablets. TVs are getting bigger, thinner, 3D, and more connected. And although Apple wasn't exhibiting, there was no shortage of iPads on display--with exhibitors showing off various cases, accessories, and other peripherals throughout the event. Android tablets were ubiquitous too. The technical boundaries between TVs, smart phones, tablets, and computers are becoming less distinct--a hodgepodge of complementary devices available in whatever form factor the customer desires.

Consumerization of IT is clearly recognizable at the office, but spotting it at the consumer level isn't so apparent. There were few vendors hawking business or group benefits. Manageability, security, TCO weren't common terms heard at CES. Instead, the messaging is more personal, highlighting desire and enjoyment. It's all about the id, not IT.

One company whose name has become associated with consumerization of IT is Skype, and their video application was a presence at several CES booths. Although Skype didn't announce anything, Tely HD, a Skype Partner, was showing off a new Android-based TV/Skype accessory. TelyHD runs Android 2.2 and contains a dual core ARM A9 processor enabling HD video calling with Skype users. The unit costs $249, is subscription free, and will soon include a variety of other web-based services. There were plenty of communication apps: TextPlus, Ooma, Bobsled, Vlingo to name a few.

Samsung, a CES powerhouse, also showed off a new option called the InTouch. It also hooks onto the top of the TV and runs Skype via Android. This unit only runs $50, and supports up to 720p video and uses Wi-Fi connectivity. Other preloaded apps include YouTube, Google News and Weather, and a browser. Samsung, Panasonic, and several others were also showing televisions with built-in cameras and Skype.

Aimed strictly at consumers was Biscotti, showing off its $199 set-top camera featuring free calls to Biscotti and Google contacts on their TVs, computers, smartphones and tablets. With so many free and HD quality video calling solutions, it is no surprise that Cisco recently killed its Umi product that required a $25 monthly fee.

Tablets at CES
Polycom and Motorola jointly announced that Polycom's Real Presence solution is now pre-installed on Motorola's Droid XyBoard tablet. Both companies cling to this "out of box" example as evidence of a business-ready tablet computer. The mobile tablet can support H.264 video conferencing or screen sharing over 3G/4G and Wi-Fi networks. Motorola’s XyBoard has an 8.2" display and runs Android HoneyComb with no plans stated for Android 4.0, and Polycom’s Real Presence is H.264.

Tablets were big this year. Android tablets were everywhere and every size--from big names (Samsung, Sharp, Toshiba, Motorola) to small names (Archos, Asus, Viewsonic, and literally no names). Samsung launched the Note, whose 5" display makes it either the largest smartphone or the smallest tablet. Sharp and Infocus had the biggest ideas for tablets: the InFocus Mondopad is 55" and 1080P HD.

RIM had an impressive presence at CES, and was one of the few companies truly stressing software over hardware. RIM was pushing QNX, the Playbook 2, and Blackberry OS. RIM acquired QNX in early 2010 and it will be the core of BlackBerry 10 on RIM's mobile devices later this year. QNX Car 2 is available to automotive manufactures and was on display in the Porsche booth, being used to power in-car infotainment systems and dashboard instrumentation. The Playbook 2 software fills many of the product's prior gaps including built-in email, calendar, and address book--and adds the ability to run Android applications. RIM also added a video store to the Playbook library with thousands of films and shows.

At CES, RIM announced Blackberry 7.1, the last OS release before BlackBerry, 10 which will be based on QNX. 7.1 adds support for near-field communications (NFC). Also, upgraded phones can now be used as a mobile hotspot, providing connectivity with up to five other devices.

On the smartphone front, the CES 2012 darling was the Nokia Lumia 900 running Microsoft Windows Phone. It was actually refreshing to see Microsoft get so much attention for mobility, but realistically, the focus will be short lived. Last month the excitement was the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, the month prior to that was Apple’s 4GS. The Nokia Lumia 900 features a unique polycarbonate unibody exterior with a soft rubbery finish. Additionally, it has impressive technical specifications, especially when compared to other Windows phones. It is expected to launch on the AT&T network in March.

Among the most popular items at CES this year were headsets. In order of popularity were portable earbuds, over-the-ear styles, Bluetooth phone headsets, gaming headsets, and then came Plantronics with telephony headsets (I didn't see any others). Actually, Plantronics was showing off its entire portfolio and the gaming headsets were front and center. The Calisto 835 Bluetooth speakerphone won a Best of Innovations this year. Clarity, a division of Plantronics, launched the Fortissimo speaker phone aimed at seniors. This phone offers a 95 dB speaker, oversized buttons, voice commands, Bluetooth and DECT options, email and social networking software, and hard buttons to Clarity support for remote programming.

There were several impressive "smart" telephones on display at CES. NEC had its DSX key system that can be integrated into home automation systems. Panasonic displayed its DECT and Android SIP phones. RCA had its new Android phone based on the Cloud Telecomputers platform. The phone is designed by Telecomputers, but offers a unique GUI and physical look. The Canna, of HF Century, is an Android based video smart phone with a 10" display. ESI launched its 250 IP phone built exclusively for use on its IP Server 900 system. CounterPath was at CES showing its Bria softphone solution.

On the emerging side, in the Eureka zone, there were several interesting companies. Kogeto makes the Dot lens that allows smartphones to record photos and videos in 360 degrees. So far, strictly a consumer play, but this should appeal to video and collaboration vendors. Scrible offered a clever approach to collaboration and mark-up of the Internet, and Lecture Tools brings collaboration to the auditorium or classroom. Orchard was offering an industrial strength tablet called the lockPad.

The thing to remember is that CES is not a technology show. Although there are some conceptual products on display, the majority of the products are available today, and some will have a very short shelf live.

See accompanying slide show. For broader CES coverage and photos see here.

Dave Michels is a contributing editor and independent analyst at TalkingPointz.com.