16 Jan 2013

The Consumer Electronics Show was held January 8-11 in Las Vegas. In this UCStrategies podcast, the UC Experts take a look at some of the products introduced at the show in respect to advances in unified communications, including 4K video displays, telematics, smart glasses, remote touch sensors, and innovations in health care. The discussion is moderated by Dave Michels, and also includes Phil Edholm, Art Rosenberg, Michael Finneran, Marty Parker, and Jim Burton.

Unified Communications Strategies

Also on UCStrategies.com on this topic:

Dave Michels: Hi. This is Dave Michels and welcome to the UCStrategies podcast. Today we're going to talk about the recent Consumer Electronics Show. I went to the show last year, and I went there because of all this talk about consumerization, I thought, this is the place to be, the Consumer Electronic Show. Let's find out what's going to be hitting the enterprise. It was actually a decent show last year - I'm talking about January, 2012. Companies likes RIM had a big presence and Microsoft had a big presence. But I came to the conclusion at the end of that show that that would be my last CES, at least for a while. I decided to cover the show and watch the show closely from afar. I think that was the right choice. I think that the show is, I would say, almost a little lost. It's consumer electronics, but none of the big brands or venders that we think of with consumer electronics, or consumer technology, were there. I don't believe Cisco had a big showing. Google wasn't there. Apple wasn't there. Microsoft wasn't there. I mentioned RIM; they weren't there this year. Facebook wasn't there. Motorola had a big showing the previous year; they weren't there. I think this was really the year for the smaller companies to get the spotlight, and there was an interesting bit of news that came out.

With that, let me turn it over to some of our experts and see what they heard from the show. Phil Edholm, why don't you share with us some of your views from CES this year?

Phil Edholm: Obviously a lot of it is consumers and consumer gadgets, but I think there were two things that I thought were very interesting and kind of trends, but very much accelerated. The first is the whole 4K video display. The concept of a 4K video display, for those who don't know, if you buy an HDTV today, it's typically what is called a 2K video display. It's actually 1920 x 180 pixels which is defined as 2,000 pixels across. What was found in the theater environment is that a 2,000-pixel image was not sufficient. The reason for that is very simple. In a theater everybody can't sit the right distance from the screen. Typically the seats in the front row are halfway from the ideal distance from the screen. Therefore, the people in the front row were only seeing really half the screen. If you have a 2K display, they're only seeing 1,000 pixels in their eye field view. So 4K has really emerged in the theaters.

What's happened is the consumer electronics industry is rapidly pursuing 4K as a display technology. There are some significant arguments about whether it's really important in your home. If you sit any reasonable distance from the television you won't be able to see the additional resolution. But it actually turns out that there's a huge application in the enterprise for 4K. That really is around our conference rooms and video conferencing.

Room-based conference video - you typically have a room where there's a relatively long, thin room. To be able to have the camera show everybody in the room and have sitting, you put the conference display at the far end of the room. Which means the people who are sitting close to the display are actually seeing a smaller amount of the display and don't get a good image. Having 4K displays and being able to get bigger displays, which gives a better display to the back end of the room and the people at the front of the room don't see pixels, actually is a great advantage.

I think this could actually create a whole new re-emphasis in the room system videos around 4K. It will be very interesting to see whether the room assisting video venders adopt 4K. I know video, for example, at one of the events in 2012, demonstrated with a 4K video panel from one of the big commercial manufacturers. But, the advent of reasonably priced - and by reasonable I mean sub-$5,000 - 4K displays that we probably will see in 2013, could actually cause a significant new wave of upgrade in the video conferencing market.

Dave Michels: I heard some interesting things about the 4K displays. One person who was at the show described it to me. They said that there was a picture of a window looking outside on a 4K display. He said it looked better than looking out the real window. I thought that was interesting. The other comment came from Jeff Rodman, the co-founder of Polycom (I was watching him on Twitter). He was walking the floor and he seemed pretty upset or frustrated that a lot of the displays that were showing off 4K were next to HD screens that had their saturation turned way up and had their settings wrong to make the 4K look even better. He tweeted that several times as he was walking around from booth to booth finding more and more companies guilty of this crime.

Phil Edholm: Absolutely. I think there's going to be a lot of hype in it in the consumer space. It'll be interesting to see if the average consumer really can see a difference. Again, if you sit the right distance back...there's this display distance that THX and the...CHX is the old LucasFilm guys and the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers...about a 50-degree arc is where they say. The screen is a 50-degree visual field from you. If you sit that distance from the screen, the pixel density in your eyes is actually about 2K. But if you move closer to the screen, if you sit close to the screen either in a theater or in a conference room or even in your home, or if you have a fixed screen where you walk closer to it, for example, in a conference room where people are moving around, that higher resolution may be of great advantage. I think it's going to be very interesting to see what the applications are of that in the enterprise space.

The other one I found very interesting and I think we'll have some further conversations about health care, but there was a thing called Fitbit Flex, which is a little wrist band you wear. It communicates with an app that runs on your smartphone and it basically is able to keep track of you and monitor you movements, your sleep cycles, your calories burned, your heart rate, and I think this whole idea of personal instrumentation, and the body becoming a human area network, is actually something that we've all talked about as a potential trend in the industry where your cell phone, either through Bluetooth or some other wireless technology, becomes kind of a little personal area network that's around you and you have devices that are within that network that are not just ear buds but other things. So for $100 the idea that you can buy this thing that monitors your life as you move around is both incredibly interesting, but I think raises a huge set of questions about monitoring, etc. going forward.

I thought those were two very interesting kind of things among all the thousands of things that showed up this year at CES.

Dave Michels: These personal measurement devices are particularly interesting to me. Early in my career, I worked at a company that did the electronic home arrest bracelets. Those things were largely tied with short range radio and used the analog caller ID to determine the location of the home. You're talking about the Fitbit stuff; there was a company, Evado Filip, had a VIVOplay watch that uses GPS, GSM, and Wi-Fi just to track your kids. I think this is just amazing the way this industry is taking off.

You mentioned health care. Let me turn it over to Art. Art, do you have any observations from CES this year?

Art Rosenberg: Yes, I didn't go but I tried to read what everybody else was saying they thought was interesting and new. When it comes to health care, that was definitely a big play in a variety of ways, as Phil described. It ties into unified communications in several ways. The monitoring device picks up information, and who is going to use that information? It isn't necessarily going to be the consumer who is wearing it, although that's always a possibility. But, (it will) probably notify their doctors or whoever is monitoring their health, or who is responsible for their health. Who in turn will then get back to that user and it could be an automated process: "get yourself over to an ER as soon as possible because your blood pressure has shot up to the moon!" Who knows?

But the point is we're closing the loop between that kind of functionality. And when you talk about health care, that means every consumer in the world. Everybody has health considerations. Definitely that's of interest, what they described there.

The other thing that I also found to be of interest, and there wasn't a lot of it, but what they call "telematics," where you are now bringing in some form of automation, including communications, from automobiles. In particular, I'm thinking about what a driver who's driving a car is allowed to do as far as communications. They've got to be hands free and eyes free, but they can talk and they can listen. So they are integrating what's in the car with their mobile phone. So once the driver comes in and turns on the ignition, they can use their mobile phone through the car, rather than looking at something. It will be all voice enabled.

I'm thinking along the lines that this is a step forward. Think in terms of what they do for people who drink. When they turn on the ignition they have to go through a breathalyzer that says are you drunk? If you're drunk you can't start the car. Well, here we've got another situation where are you driving? You can't use your cell phone the old way. You have to use only voice. That, I thought, was kind of an interesting direction that I think telematics has taken. That's in addition to any kind of other information that they may want to have, which can be done through a change from visual to voice.

Dave Michels: The connected car was a real big theme this year. For the last several years the car has been basically an accessory to the iPhone, but it looks like Detroit is trying to take back their territory. One thing that didn't happen this year at CES was a lot of cell phones. The previous year there was a lot of cell phone announcements. The new Nokia phone came out. There was just announcement after announcement of major new cell phones. There were none...at least no major ones, this year. So Michael, you must have found this show pretty boring. What did you find?

Michael Finneran: Well, actually the one thing I was most interested in wasn't really the cell phones themselves. We get announcements about those on an hourly basis, it seems. Somebody, I think, had one that had a six-inch screen on it. I don't know if it's a phone or a tennis racket. But the one technology I've always been interested in is "the internet of things." Certainly that's going to play clearly into wireless. A lot of it - as Art mentioned - up until now has been focused on the medical industry. But there's a ton of potential with regard to intelligent thermostats, of course video surveillance cameras, alarm systems, smart appliances - all of which are going to have to be operating on some sort of wireless technology.

And apparently John Chambers showed up at one of the AT&T panels, because Cisco is supplying the wireless home information panel for AT&T. Of course, I was under the opinion that Cisco was backing off from most consumer technologies rather than getting deeper in them, but maybe I didn't get the memo.

Certainly on the technology front, the mobile operators were there in force. A lot of this "internet of things" idea has really been driven by the machine-to-machine applications they've been pushing in health care and other areas for years now. Also, a lot of action in 802.11ac, the new upgrade for 802.11n, which is going to be big in smartphones. This is going to be the interface we use for smartphones because you have a single channel that goes up to 160 megahertz. That's four times the maximum channel size you have on an 802.11n device.

The other one that is starting to make its appearance now is 802.11ad. IEEE announced the first version of the standard was approved. That one is going to be for very high capacity, multi-gigabyte in-room wireless. So instead of that hulking HDMI cable that goes from your cable box up to your TV set, well, you'll still need a power cord, but beyond that nothing else to connect to the network. So lots on the wireless front, and lots on the internet of things.

By the way, I do not use a cell phone when I drive a car because there is no one on earth who can drive a car safely when they're dividing their attention. I always recommend that to my clients, as well. Back to you, Dave.

Dave Michels: That AT&T event you mentioned, AT&T hosted their developer's conference. This is AT&T mobility or mobile. They had their developer conference kind of within the CES conference. I did a post on that on UCStrategies.com (AT&T Goes TropoStyle). One of the big announcements that came out of that was their new relationship with Voxio and the Tropo API, which is, I think, one of the more significant announcements that came out of CES. Tropo makes a pretty powerful API that's been available as a standalone service that you can subscribe to from Tropo, but you had to use Tropo phone numbers and had to deal with Tropo to do that.

Now, that AT&T is using it, you get to use it natively with your AT&T mobile numbers. It's a pretty rich API. It was at that event that John Chambers made an appearance. On that article that I posted, there's a link to that keynote. I think it's about an hour long, and the John Chambers part of it is toward the end of that. It was interesting that they had that conference within the consumer electronics show because it seems like that would be kind of a different audience.

Moving along though, let's hit some of the innovation awards. Marty, can you share some of your insights on that?

Marty Parker: Yeah Dave, I can. It's interesting. It makes me smile. CES gives out innovation awards called "The Best of Innovations 2013." So I guess the rest of the year is lost for innovation. January did it all. But, to be more serious, there are some very interesting innovations showing up here relative to our favorite topic of unified communications. I'll mention two of them. One is a company called Vuzix Corporation. We've kind of seen this idea coming but they now have created a smart glasses appliance that plugs into your cell phone. When you go to the Vuzix website it says "coming soon." So I don't know if that's this month or next month or when.

But, it looks kind of like a headset except the boom is a little longer and there's a little curved surface out near your right eye or your left eye. And on that surface you see your cell phone screen. So, you could be texting, you could be moving around, you don't have to be looking down. Let's say you were walking downtown with a map app up and running or something that's giving you identification of what's going on around you - nearby stores and restaurants and menus and those kinds of things that are all part of the new concept of identifiers. Those will all be visible just by taking a quick glance over to the side, not by pulling out your phone and looking at it.

Along with that idea, another one that caught my eye is a company called ATMEL.com. They received an award for their product called XSense. It's a high performance highly flexible touch sensor. Imagine your touch screen on your iPhone or Android or whatever now is flexible and can be applied in many different places. It could be built into the sleeve of your jacket. It could be something you wear on your wrist or on your forearm. Just all sorts of new possibilities for how you're going to be able to control things - whether it's your mobile device, your applications, etc. It's going to be very interesting to watch the evolution of input and output, depending on which way you look at it. Input through your eyes; output through touching. It's going to be available in a number of innovative new methods.

There were a lot of other fun things there, ranging from video to cameras to light bulbs to all sorts of innovative ideas. That's a site probably worth a quick look. It's like reading an article of what's new, including a touch table PC. So you want to play? You're a gamer...you want to play games on your table? You can get a table with a PC built-in with a touch surface.

So anyway, those are my thoughts. The innovations continue to be coming and they're coming, I think, in a realm that's going to help unify communication adoption.

Dave Michels: That display sounds really interesting. I didn't see that. Last year we started seeing various watches coming out that synchronize with your phone display so you can see who is calling and stuff without pulling your phone out. But the glasses are really intriguing. I wonder if that addresses Mike's comment about maybe drive and have the navigation hints or whatever?

Marty Parker: I think I'm not going to do that when I'm driving. In fact, my new car pairs with my Bluetooth phone. So I can get all sorts of navigation and Pandora songs and that kind of stuff on my entertainment dashboard in my car. But it won't let me put in a new destination in my navigation system until I stop the car. It won't let me do certain things while I'm moving.

So I don't know, the safety thing is going to continue to control what you can do in your car. Whether they can figure out I'm wearing smart glasses or not is another question.

Dave Michels: I'm not crazy about those safety things for two reasons. One is, it kind of fights the Darwin principle, and two, I often have to hand my phone over to somebody while I'm driving and say, "can you do this for me?" I don't know how you bypass that if you're still moving and it thinks you're driving.

Marty Parker: The thing you can see coming, Dave, is since we already have driverless cars, and here in California the laws have been passed that make them legal, so why do I even need a windshield anymore? Why can't I wear a pair of really high res glasses and just drive based on what I see through the cameras? I don't know why not. Cars are going to change. I don't know what they'll look like in the future, but they'll be different.

Dave Michels: Art, did you have something else you wanted to add?

Art Rosenberg: Yes, I wanted to get back to Michael's comment about how the mobile devices are being used for remote control. If you think about it, when you say I have remote control, it used to be something for your television. It was a physical object that only usually one person had at a time and they controlled something that was in the room or so on. But now, with putting things on the smartphones, it's reallyremote control. Which brings up, who's in charge? Everybody has got a smartphone. Can they all control the same device at that same time? There's going to be a little bit of confusion there. I just raise that issue because now we're making remote control so pervasive.

Dave Michels: We've already had that problem in our household. One of our devices, the Boxee, has a Wi-Fi remote and an app that you can get. We've had where all four of us are trying to control the Boxee at the same time in the same room. That can get a little frustrating when you've got some younger kids who don't quite understand seniority. Anyway, back to you, Phil.

Phil Edholm: This is a very interesting conversation. I think the gesture control is the interesting thing. If you think there are challenges in Wi-Fi or iPad, joined control, the gesture control becomes incredibly interesting about who gets to gesture? How does the system decide? Absent some sort of facial recognition software to decide, who is the person who really controls the gestures. You could be in some very interesting situations.

As an aside, I do remember being, I think in China, and the driver of a taxi cab actually had a complete, wraparound, Plexiglas cell that isolated them completely from the rest of the car, literally wrapped around behind the seat and over the front. I guess I'd argue that's really the only way to truly isolate a driver from distractions in the car because obviously if a cell phone could distract you, having a passenger talking to you is equally or potentially more distracting than a cell phone. We would need to eliminate those passenger interactions in the automobile as well, to have true safety.

Dave Michels: One of the things that AT&T showed at their conference was some of their new videos. They have an initiative around the connected car and they had the initiative around home automation. What their videos were showing was how these two things are combined - the idea of jumping in your car or coming home and it detecting you coming home and turning on your lights and raising the temperature in the house, changing the security system, and things like that. I don't know whether there's really much demand for that or not, but that's certainly what AT&T is envisioning. The connected car could offer a very interesting future for us.

Jim, let me just ask you, do you have any plans to go to CES next year?

Jim Burton: I used to go to CES on a pretty regular basis and I think you kind of described it earlier. It's changed a lot. A lot of hoopla. It's a lot of big stuff and it's just not as focused as I want to be on things in our industry. I've got to say that some of the things we talked about today were pretty interesting and I particularly am excited about the area that Marty has been following for a long time because I think that has an impact on not only what we do in UC but things we do in our day-to-day lives.

No plans in the near future to go to CES. I think I go to enough conferences the way it is. But thanks for asking, Dave.

Dave Michels: Alright. Well, with that I think we'll wrap it up. We'll be back next week with another podcast. Thank you.


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