CES Highlights

Posted by: Thom Denholm

Our CEO Roy Sherrill visited CES last week and made note of a few trends that caught his eye. Here are his thoughts from the show floor: All-in-one Devices - Over the last few years, we self-described technology geeks have seen our phone morph into a camera, an MP3 player, an internet connection/email  viewer, and about a hundred other functions spanning the range between the necessary and the ridiculous. In spite of all this convergence though, the sheer number of computers we rely on on a daily basis seems to be growing not shrinking - TV set-top boxes, car navigation and media servers, work laptop, home laptop, tablet computer and so on.  How many devices do we really need to run our lives? How do we keep all these computers synched and updated with the latest software? How do we organize and locate all the files we have stored on all these computers? This year at CES, we saw manufacturers attempting to answer all these questions with another question: What if a single device could act as your laptop, cell phone, automotive computer, content viewing device, camera, and video server? The convergence movement effort is not new. The first attempts involved terminal servers - one computer to contain all your data with internet access. It was a good start, but not very practical beyond centralizing your work and home computers. Then, a few years ago the solution of data mobility via USB drive made an appearance - just plug in the USB drive into whichever computer was closest to you. Your application suite stayed on the USB drive so even your apps traveled with you. It was a nice idea, but the user still had to locate a computer, not always an easy task as anyone who travels for work will tell you. Enter the Motorola Atrix. This smartphone was by far the coolest gadget I saw at CES this year, and represents Motorola's attempt to retake lost marketshare since the heady first days of the RAZR. It contains two 1GHZ CPUs, 16GB of onboard storage, and room for additional media cards, and is designed to be used as a full computer by plugging it into a dumb terminal (actually a laptop-sized keyboard and screen). It also supports HDMI video output so it can drive a full-size HDTV. Could a phone double as your laptop, tablet, cell, camera, payment identification, automotive computer, and media server? The Atrix is expected to be out in the first quarter of 2011, and cost has not yet been announced. I'm anxious to see what kind of reception it gets. The biggest issue I see with the Atrix in its current (prototypical) form is a lack of storage capacity. Even with Android's relatively small footprint, 16GB + slots doesn't leave a lot of room for performing the functions of a PC, media server, and all the other functions the device will be tasked with. No doubt this is something the great minds at Motorola are tackling as I write this, so we will just have to wait and see what the final product looks like.   

The new Android OS was eating everybody's lunch in the mobile world was everywhere at CES this year. There are Android cell phones, Android tablets, Android TVs and too many other Android devices to recount. The Android App store was both being sold in concept ("Soon there will even be an app for that too"), and actual specific applications to manage just about everything. This was the year of Android at CES well at least till next year! 3D - Everybody's got it. TV's are the primary focus of 3D, but videogame makers are dipping their collective toes into the3D waters as well. The only question I had was; who's going to shell out the bucks to have their friends laugh at those 1950s glasses? 3D is also coming to the smart phone arena with the use of special glasses that make the phones' video appear to be displayed on a big screen nine feet away. Some glasses are also wired for sound with ear pieces!  

Cordless Power - There were several companies showing off their cordless power modules, capable of recharging devices without connecting a cable.  One that caught my eye was from Fulton Innovation, and provided not just power, but automatic detection and communication between the circuit being powered and the host.  Check out the picture below showing one possible application for this technology: a grocery shelf that is cordlessly powering lighted boxes of Cheerios. That's right, the product name actually lights up on the box! In this imagined scenario, the communications component also helps with inventory control and tells the store how many boxes are on the shelf. Fulton's other examples included a kitchen counter with multiple cordless appliances and an electric car powered by a charging element in the garage floor.  Pictures and video on cordless power -including the illuminated Cheerios box! Telematics - If the displays at CES are any indication,Ford'sSync appears to be the king of the hill in automotive computing today.  Ford Synch is powered by Microsoft's Sync platform with voice commands, navigation, entertainment, car management, and more. One Ex-Ford engineer I spoke to at the show remarked that he was amazed at Fords progress in this area. When he worked at Ford in 2000, he said management did not seem open to innovation in automotive computing.  

Ford's new display New advances in heads-up display (culled from 80s-era military programs) were also displayed at the show. The technology allows drivers to keep their eyes on the road and view the dashboard information directly on the windshield. This latest version of heads-up technology is expected to be available in a year or two. Hyundai's Blue Link had a good showing at CES. I was not able to tell much difference between it and the Ford product that many say is top of the line.  

Dovetailing nicely with the aforementioned Motorola Atrix, Hyundai also demonstrated the concept of an Android cell phone providing the Telematics solution, with specialized apps for Hyundai car management. Among the benefits of using a personal device to do automotive computing is that when you drive another car, your music, maps, address book and possibly driving/comfort adjustments would travel with you (e.g., moving the seat and steering column and adjusting the car's temperature could be app-controlled). Hundai's Blue Link page


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