Consumer Electronics Show Las Vegas – Reflections on CES 2012


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The International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas has come and gone, and left behind a buzz of excitement and expectation for products and platforms that we will begin to see later on this year. A week after returning to Sydney, and with a couple more videos to upload, I thought I’d look back on the show in a holistic view and pick out some highlights.

There were no revelatory launches or announcements, mostly there were hints of things to come, partnerships to blossom and a drive to make things even simpler for users. Here are some of the impressions I had while walking through the halls of the Las Vegas Convention Centre.

There is an ecosystem war about to be waged, and the prize is… you. Apple and Google have been fighting for the mobile device market for the past few years, with Google now an extremely capable and experienced hand in the cell phone market. However, inroads have been harder for Google to create for the tablet market, which is still predominantly iPad.

In the second half of this year, Microsoft will put its hat in the ring for ecosystem and cross-device dominance, with Windows 8 expected to be deployed across a raft of new products including desktops, touchscreen all-in-ones, Ultrabooks, tablets and smartphones.

Microsoft stand at the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas CES 2012

CES attendees flocking to the Microsoft stand to obtain a glimpse on what will be on offer this year.

Windows are in the enviable position of possessing a user base of hundreds of millions that are potentially customers for the Windows 8 system. Of course, many of them are already using iPhones or one of the many well regarded Android Smartphones, and are knee-deep in the App markets of either one.

However, if Windows does manage to execute the launch correctly, it could potentially convert a fair percentage of these users over through the promise of complete and seamless connectivity of files and data through any device. It could be pretty compelling if they can tie Skydrive into the cloud service that manages the always-synched nature of the always connected, always on products that we now demand.

Microsoft’s partnership with Nokia, which was derided by many at the time of the announcement, now it seems to be one of the smartest moves for both companies to survive and succeed in the brave new world of the smartphone market.

On the other hand, Intel’s major push with Lenovo and Motorola into Google-powered mobile devices later this year gives Android another shot in the arm to stay ahead of the competition and flourish in bourgeoning markets like China – what a country for Lenovo smartphones to launch in! The name of the game here seems to be installed base, and on this metric both Android and iPhone have a comfortable head start on Microsoft.

Nearly every PC brand represented at CES had an Ultrabook offering, and this Intel-created category of slim and light notebooks has given notebooks a new lease of life where there has not been any tremendous technology bumps since the first wave of Core i3/i5/i7 processors were released.

Intel stand at the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas CES 2012

With Intel announcing that they are entering the mobile phone market, other mobile phone chipmakers have been put on notice.

The Ultrabooks show how light, connectable and thin Windows notebooks can be. With most of Intel’s marketing funds being pushed towards the Ultrabook category, it’s no wonder manufacturers are producing their own takes on the Ultrabook in terms of design, weight and ports. As the gap between a standard notebook and an Ultrabook begins to narrow, Ultrabooks will become more attractive for its attributes of SSD, unibody shells, lack of moving parts, instant-on and practical portability without compromising comparable performance.

At the Microsoft Keynote, a few important announcements were made that will start to affect the landscape of PCs later in the year. The first was the announcement of Kinext coming to Windows PCs, and that the developer kit would be released at the beginning of February. This is the first step away from the standard keyboard and mouse and towards Natural User Interface, where gesture and voice control may become a standard plug in for devices in the future. Kinect started as a gaming platform but it was always quite clear that its potential went far beyond waving your hands in front of the TV and would have positive implications for many industries.

Microsoft keynote at the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas CES 2012

Microsoft Keynote... if only they could get the voice recognition software on that dang Windows Phone to work. :-D

The other key announcement was the support for ARM devices for the Windows 8 platform. This means that popular tablets like the Transformer Prime and Galaxy Tab could end up with Windows pre-loaded in the future. This could be a sigh of relief to traditional PC manufacturers, who will probably find deploying Windows on their tablets less burdensome than Android.

Not that Google is entirely on the outer, either. Intel’s chosen platform for its initial foray into the mobile phone market is with Google, which will strengthen its share in the smartphone category and possibly shore up support for tablet devices.

Integration and simplification seems to be the mantra for many AV companies, who are becoming less reliant on third party peripherals and building technology into their products. For example, LG will have Wi-Di in selected models, making the investment in a Wi-Di enabled notebook much less of a consideration because of the need to buy a Netgear or Belkin add-on, for example.

Glassless 3D was also on display for many companies, including Sony and Toshiba. Toshiba had glassless versions for their notebooks as well. The biggest issue is the need for the viewer to be positioned in exactly the right angle and distance for the 3D effect to take place, otherwise it just shows two overlapping images. It’s a progressive step and an indication of where this will head next.

Television-size OLED screens made an appearance as well, and we’ve seen how good images look on a small 7.7 inch screen, and they looked absolutely amazing on a 55 inch display – thin, light, bright with real colour depth. These are the displays of the future, taking over where Plasma and LCD was and where LED is now.

I was very interested in the integration of Google TV into TVs as well, which to me seems like the proper evolution of the Smart TV. LG’s demonstration of Google’s search and select activity on its screens showed how Google can become the default driver for finding relevant video content regardless of source on your television screen. With YouTube focusing on Channels instead of users, and licensing broadcaster program listings, the melding of online, cable and free to air content could be Google’s next big platform.

LG and Google TV stand at the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas CES 2012

Google TV... changing the way we watch TV and putting the control firmly back into the viewers hands.

There was plenty more that I saw, including a fair bit of home automation and security and more IP connected devices and appliances. But for the most part, this year seemed to be all about the evolution of platforms and the devices that will support them.

We’ll be following up with key manufacturers here in Australia as products are released and look forward to sharing our views and demonstrations of these new devices and platforms as they become available. What new gadgets and devices are you looking forward to seeing in the market?

Until the next Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas from the Ritchie’s Room team thanks for watching and reading and we can’t wait until CES 2013.

Tobii Eye Tracking Assistive Technology CES 2012

I had dinner recently with a group of friends, one of which is the IT Manager for a school. We talked about the digital divide, and the increasing need to be technologically skilled even in lower years of school. Instead of the critical gap being literacy and maths, which was the traditional line in the sand for student ranking, it was now the gap between those who were comfortable with technology and those who struggled to cope with it.

For those with disabilities, the challenge is even greater. Whether it’s a cognitive or physical disability, there needs to be a fair opportunity for all kids (and adults) to connect and interact with technology to similar levels enjoyed and utilised by able-bodied people.

This is where a company like Tobii comes in with their assistive technology, helping to bridge the gap where one might exist, and in fact possibly providing a greater range of communication and expression that may not have been achieved in previous times.

The demonstration we saw and tried out was a simple one. The product on demonstration was the Tobii PCEye Eye Control Unit. This eye tracking unit could be used with glasses, movement of the head, and most lighting environments.

Impaired motor skills shouldn't mean less access to computer related activities. Tobii helps make it possible.

We calibrated our eyes by focusing on dots on the screen, which took only a few seconds. Then we were ready to try out the software interface. The first was a game, which allowed me to blast asteroids just by looking at them. It’s amazing how quickly I adapted to this method of cursor control.

The second one was more relevant to education, control of appliances and communication. With the Tobii eye tracker I was able to scroll up and down a page, shift to other documents to the left and right, and even turn virtual lights on and off the screen.

The mind boggles at the possibilities that this and similar assistive technology devices can do to improve the quality of life of thousands of affected people around the world. For all the amazing innovations at the CES, the fact was that 99% of them were focused on able-bodied and able-minded people. I can’t wait to see what other systems can be created to help those with disabilities.

And of course it’s not just the mechanism that excites me. It’s the level of independence and the ability to express oneself, to communicate in your own style and personality that is the fulfilling side of this technology. Use Facebook, write emails, read books, and call up TV episodes with just the blink of an eye.

I think it’s great that there are companies working on this assistive technology to bring the enjoyment and necessity of technology to those who otherwise might not have the opportunity. Whether it’s social networking, home entertainment or controlling lighting and heating in the home, it’s an extra tool that uses some great innovations and technology to assist people with disabilities.

Here’s a short video of us using some of the basic functions of the eye tracking Tobii PCEye:

 

What do you think of this technology? Can you see it improving the lives of those with disabilities, or do you have a personal story to share? Feel free to comment below as always.

CES 2012: Samsung Galaxy Note Smartphone

One of the more intriguing products to come out of the CES was one that has already been released overseas  but hasn’t yet seen the light of day in either the US or Australia. This was the new Samsung phone, the Galaxy Note, a Smartphone that straddles the space between phone and tablet – and does it very well.

For creative types and business people on the go, the Galaxy Note could be the answer to Multiple Device Syndrome.

Sales in the regions where it’s been released has now reached over 1 million units, so it certainly has found success so far in Europe, India and parts of Asia. With the Note expecting to be released early this year in the States and Australia, it was worth visiting the Samsung stands to have a look.

Samsung’s stand was massive at the CES, and a large portion of it was devoted to the Galaxy Note – there must have been over two dozen working units for people to play with. In addition to the stand, Samsung had set up a separate booth in another area of the convention centre where freehand artists were using Galaxy Notes to sketch up caricatures of attendees. I would have loved to have done that just for this article, but the line was unbelievably long.

So what makes this new Samsung phone so different that it has captivated such an audience? To start with, there is no tablet or Smartphone quite like it. From the screen to the stylus, it has managed to position itself away from any direct competition and sell itself on unique propositions.

Depending on how you look at it/use it, it’s either the largest mobile phone in the world, or the world’s smallest tablet. The screen size, at 5.3 inches, actually negates the need for a secondary device when you’re out and about. This is because the actual quality of the display is enhanced by the very first HD Super AMOLED screen on the market.

We had a play with the Galaxy Note at the Samsung stand at the CES and the two things that stood out for me were the physical dimensions of the Note as well as the emphasis on the stylus. The stylus is key to Samsung’s marketing of the Note, and they are building a whole sswap of apps designed specifically to take advantage of the Stylus, which actually hides away in the Note when not in use.

The stylus reintroduces a way of using a phone/tablet that hasn’t been seen since Palm Pilots were all the rage. However, the screen resolutions and applications that are available these days make the Note a compelling product for those you might call “creatively mobile”. That is, those that like to doodle away and design or edit and enjoy these activities even while on the go.

The stylus can be used for many different things, from freehand drawing, word recognition, editing and cropping, and a whole bunch more depending on the app. I can envisage powerful business reasons to use this new Samsung phone with this tool as well – I’d love to be able to highlight images or phrases on a document and visually communicate this to my contacts instead of typing/describing what I need.

Advertising briefs, presentation drafts and proposals can all be shared with better visual understanding of what needs to be achieved. Fit out a marketing team with these and they’ll never look back. So to me, the business potential for the Note is enormous once people understand how to take advantage of the tools, and the apps that are being rolled out.

The only uncertainty factor in my mind is the first thing that struck me when I first laid eyes on one:  would I really carry such a large device around as my main phone all the time? Compared to an iPhone, it’s gigantic, and next to a Galaxy S II it still appears oversized. I can see the benefits of the screen size – for reading documents, browsing the web, even for entertainment such as gaming and video watching, it combines all the features of a Smartphone and a tablet. But would I handle such a large device in my pocket all day, everyday?

That question will have to be left until we get a sample back here in Australia to test and report back. Until then, here are two short videos on the Galaxy Note from the Samsung stand at CES.

This one shows some of the functionality of the Note, particularly using the Stylus:

 

This video shows the video playback of the Galaxy Note:

 

We look forward to a more in depth review when a Note becomes available to us. In the meantime, tell us what you think… would you hand in your small smartphone and large tablet for a mid-sized smartphone that has tablet functionality and other enhanced features?

Google TV: The Future of Television?

Can Google TV recover from its initial poor performance in the TV entertainment category?

For those who have been watching Google’s activities in the last couple of years, Google TV has stuck out like a sore thumb as one initiative that has not become a runaway success like many other of their businesses. But is 2012 the year that Google TV finally comes of age and becomes part of how we choose and view our content in the living room?

Google TV launched with Sony back in 2010, offering a Blu-ray device with the firmware and connectivity built-in as well as a television with Google TV, along with a set-top box from Logitech.

Google’s initial entrance into the market was beset by software and product fault issues, with many users unsatisfied by the clunkiness of the interface and lack of real integration into the existing home entertainment environment.

After parting with Logitech, their initial set-top box partner, Google is now focusing a a much more sensible route – the television itself, and expanding its partner base to other brands such as LG.

This makes complete sense to someone looking at this from this outside in. With the advent of Smart TVs, you don’t need or desire additional components invading your already-full TV cabinet – the internet is now available straight from the TV, and integrated Wi-Fi is steadily becoming the standard to make Smart TVs always-connected.

Google TV is the progression of Smart TV rather than the progression of its initial add-on offering, and if Google had launched with this concept instead, it would probably be hailed as a breakthrough in large screen connectivity. Instead, the proposition was left to companies like LG to spruik it along with Google TV employees at the CES, one of which we managed to spend some time with at the stand.

I remember the uproar from publishers when Google started digitising books of its own accord, offending copyright owners and estates. This is one area that Google has not been good at managing: digital rights. So when Google TV launched back in 2010, it was crippled by a lack of licensed content because of worried content providers and had to rely on a select few partners to make up its content library.

Many things have changed now – more than ever, companies are recognising that digital content is the way viewers will consume their media, and there is actually much more competition to cut through to attract viewers, whether paid or not. The rise of companies like Netflix demonstrates that online business models are not only successful, but in some cases the only way forward.

Another factor is the rise of social media. Being able to recommend, rate and interact with friends over platforms was not possible or maybe even desired two years ago. How things have changed. Now we are “liking”, “plus-ing”, and rating everything we consume. Not only that, we are telling all our friends what we like, plus and rate, and this gives Google a huge opportunity to mine these recommendations and come up with profiles for each viewer.

The third is the hardware. TV manufacturers have now matured and learned from their experiences in Smart TVs that the online experience has to be on par with that of mobile and PC devices, whether it’s streaming, browsing or playing.

So maybe it was a case of the rest of the world catching up with Google on their vision of what the TV experience should be like. But there was one ingredient that was still missing – a robust platform that could be upgraded and used intuitively by anyone in the household. Google’s own Android platform now forms the base for the software that runs the Google TV interface, and with it comes a few core benefits that were not available back when the original service launched.

For example, access to the Android Market is huge plus. With a Google account you can download apps and use them on the TV, and Google has ensured that only apps that are of high enough quality to be used on a big screen are filtered through. Another strong feature is the development of apps specific to Google TV, so that content can be accessed via an app rather than simply searching online.

However, at the end of the day, Google TV is still all about search, and how you find your content is the core proposition of Google TV. To that end, Google have licensed broadcaster TV schedules all over the US to ensure that no matter where you live, the information will be localised to you. Whether you search by genre, by cable channel, pay per view or a YouTube channel, Google TV will help get you to what you want to watch. The idea of being able to search and select no matter what the source, be it online, free-to-air or via your cable provider is a compelling offer.

With learning capabilities, the idea of channel surfing becomes redundant and instead profiled and socially pushed content will be on your front screen from now on. The keyboard control may be a little anachronistic to some, but until there is an easier way to enter search terms, QWERTY will be your friend.

With Microsoft and Xbox making their move into the home entertainment territory, and with it their voice controlled Kinect system, and the mythical Apple Television that may make its debut late this year, it’s important for Google to get a foothold now in this extremely competitive market.

Unlike Apple, Google don’t own content per se, but facilitate the delivery of the media to your lounge room. Therefore, the interface and overall experience needs to be intuitive and as universal as possible in order to entice users to upgrade their TVs, or choose a Google TV when it’s time to purchase a new one.

We caught up with Paul Saxman, who works with developers at Google, focusing on Google TV. He took us through a few interesting features of the Google TV platform and showed us how far the integration of Google TV into content from multiple sources has come.

First, here Paul takes us through the importance of the Android Market and the Chrome browser for Google TV:

 

And here, Paul takes us through content searching and selection.

 

What do you think? Is Google’s TV offer strong enough to bring forward the purchase of a new TV with Google TV built-in, or to sway you towards one when you start looking for a new television? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

(thanks to @Level380 for the feedback on the original version of the article)

CES 2012: Rohan Marley Talks to Us About The House of Marley

At the CES Unveiled event today in the Venetian Ballroom, one of the stands that was garnering a lot of attention was The House of Marley, all due to the presence of Rohan Marley, one of the sons of the legendary Bob Marley. As most of you may already know, The House of Marley brand offers headphones and docks in styles and designs that evoke the spirit of Bob Marley and his principles towards people and the earth.

The epitome of cool... The House of Marley have a range of headphones and docks designed and made with the earth in mind.

 

What you may not have known is Rohan Marley’s larger-than-life persona, and we caught Rohan in a very giving and personable mood when we approached him today. Despite doing interviews with mainstream and popular media outlets, Rohan gave us some time to talk about his philosophy, his fondness of Australia and, as you can see from the video below, shared some cheerful Marley loving of his own.

Like father, like son... Rohan Marley expounding the virtues of peace, love and sustainable audio accessories. A really nice guy.

The products that The House of Marley produce are all “giving” in some way – some are made from recycled plastic like the headphones, other products like docks are made from sustainably sourced wood, and even the bag that it comes in is made from cotton.

Although we didn’t see them on the stand, it appears that this CES will also be the launching pad for new products including watches and notebook bags. We’ll look out for them on their official booth from Tuesday on.

Beyond the quantifiable manufacturing call-outs, The House of Marley also donates 5% of its profits to 1Love.org, a charity and activist fund based on Bob Marley’s own ethos.

It’s actually quite refreshing to see such an affable personality in the midst of so many accessory and audio brands. The idea of a quality product helping quality of life for others in need is powerful, and would resonate with many people around the world today. The House of Marley has entered the market at a time when young people do seem to be thinking more about sustainability, charitable causes and buying products that say something about them and their beliefs.

Wear your cause... like Dr Dre before them, The House of Marley is another high profile music brand venturing into the consumer market.

At one point during our chat, Rohan offered to call out Ritchie’s Room on camera. That was an electrifying moment for me personally, and very humbling.

Good luck Rohan and The House of Marley, it was very cool to meet you. Here’s the video of our extraordinary encounter, including the awesome – and absolutely unique – call-out for our site:

 

Do you purchase products based on their environmental policies and charitable support?

Ritchie’s Room at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show (CES)!

The 2012 CES is only a few days away and we just wanted to shout out to all our readers that we will be updating this site has much as possible with news from the 2012 tech launch event.

We will be on hand for all the major announcements from the big brands attending CES 2012.

We expect to see and share with you some great new releases including the latest Ultrabooks, Tablets, Windows 8 gear, and the latest in Smart TVs, smartphones and networking products.

We’ll be sharing this on all our social networks, so you ‘ll be able to track our updates and posts on the following platforms:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/ritchiesroom

Twitter: www.twitter.com/ritchiesroom

YouTube: www.youtube.com/ritchiesroomtv

Google Plus (the link is not an extension as such)

and of course right here on Ritchie’s Room!

So feel free to subscribe to us on any of the above social links and bookmark us here for regular updates straight from the Las Vegas Convention Centre and other venues in town.

If there is anything you’d like to know specifically, or think think there is a stand worth looking at for our readers, here’s your chance to have your Ritchie’s Room roving reporters get around to these stands during the show. We’ll do our best to cover as much as possible during the days we are there.

Cheers, and until next time… in Vegas!