I’m still only just recovering from being awake far too much during the week of CES, and I have a number of observations regarding the show in general, and some of the devices I saw specifically.
I sat down with Cali Lewis in her studio this Saturday and talked a bit about what I thought there. It’s an hour long discussion, but it went by pretty quick. The points we address and discuss will sort of serve as a backdrop for this post.
Convergence is the Word of the Day
More and more since this December, I’ve been hearing the word convergence over and over. Almost every conversation I had during the 2010 Predictions series here at SiliconANGLE included the words convergence somewhere in the conclusion. Most commonly, the convergence foretold by the folks I talked to had to do with mobile, cloud and social media.
I’ve been imagining this convergence for years now, and when I talk about it, the following Venn Diagram is a rough approximation of what appears in my mind.
Interestingly enough, Mobility and Cloud were the two areas that were easy enough to imagine pure-play examples, but in the world of Social, I had a difficult time trying to come up with any examples that didn’t at least partially overlap with the areas of mobility and cloud. I haven’t pondered quite long enough to come up with the significance to that fact (or, quite possibly, my failure of imagination), but there it is.
I include the graphic mostly as a frame of reference (and to put my stake in the ground on this idea – I intend to develop the concept further over the course of the year). Each element is not only a convergent factor to the other, but also a factor that works to re-enforce the market need for the others. Almost all the devices that were notable this year at CES played a major role in either enabling the usage of one of the domains on that graph, or they played a major role in pulling the overlap even further.
For instance, while there were a few funny ideas in the world of wearables, it was truly the netbook innovations that stole the show. Lenovo had one laptop in particular that won the hearts of many, the Lenovo Ideapad U1 Hybrid. From Engadget’s writeup:
There’s no hiding the fact that the first images of the Lenovo IdeaPad U1 Hybrid amazed us, and now after seeing the device we can say the feeling was well-founded — the detachable resistive multitouch display worked better than we ever expected for such an early preproduction unit. Check the mouthwatering gallery below and then head over the break for full impressions and a few videos showing off the U1′s finer points.
It’s a device, though, that won many site’s best in show award, and joined a cadre of other netbooks and tablet PCs on display this year, indicating that we’re only heading toward a year of not only cheaper netbooks, but other similarly priced and form-factored devices that push the lines of gadget familiarity.
Disruption is Coming Down the Pike
The other major device that caught my imagination was Mike Coop’s scoop on the new FemtoJack, the next iteration of the MagicJack, a device designed to give you free phone calls. The MagicJack was designed to give you free landline calls using VoIP, and the FemtoJack does the same thing for mobile phones.
At first blush, it doesn’t sound very appealing to simply have a voice connection to the world on a mobile phone, and then have it limited to the 3000 or so feet around your home network connection. This week, though, I’ve been doing a fair amount of investigation around the new crop of 4G services coming out for those who want dataplans on the roam, specifically with the Clear 4G Network.
Clear looks like they might be the genesis of a new kind of service, and one that could (though the help of other enabling technology) put out of business the big guys like AT&T and TMobile and the like. The established telcos have a well-deserved reputation for overcharging for dataplans, and setting up capped data and voice plans while publicly calling them unmetered. I haven’t done full customer service research on the company, but based on the looks of their data-only plans, they’re trying to offer a different type of experience than you can find elsewhere, with data plans that burst up to 6-10 Mbps for as little as $30 flat, per month.
If you put a $200-$300 netbook on a $30 plan, and then purchase a $40 FemtoJack, you’ve essentially put together a mobile voice-data rig for a fraction of the price of an iPhone on AT&T. Literally a fraction – if you amortize the cost of the netbook, the FemtoJack and a basic soapbar phone, and the monthly price with the data plan is literally half the price of an AT&T Voice+Data plan.
The FemtoJack wasn’t the only device to present clear disruption to the status quo. As Marc Ostrick and Michael Sean Wright pointed out yesterday, the Boxee could present a serious threat in that people don’t really mind what how their favorite programs get to them, as long as they get to them.
At this year’s CES they introduced their Beta to the world, along with a set-top "Boxee Box" that simply blew us away. It’s not surprising that they won the "Last Gadget Standing".
Similarly, even though the presentation of what’s available was, at best, underplayed and chaotic, Microsoft’s work with xBox 360 and the Windows Media Center experience is nothing short of revolutionary, especially compared to similar offerings from other major providers like TiVO, Apple or Sony. While the Windows Media Center on the 360, at least out of the box, doesn’t provide cable TV connectivity, when you combine the Windows 7 autodetection of the 360 with what’s available via podcast technology, Netflix and the Zune marketplace, there’s very little media that comes out anywhere that can’t be watched conveniently and easily within a few presses of a button.
In fact, I’ve taken to setting up automatic video podcast feeds on one of my network computes, and simply turning to the xBox in the morning to play all my shows with one push of the button via the play-all feature. That’s certainly a feature that didn’t exist a year ago on any livingroom based system, let alone a Microsoft product.
There were literally hundreds (if not thousands) of interesting and cool things to come out of the show, and we’ll likely continue talking about some of our discoveries over the next few days and weeks, but these were my overall impressions, and seem to be quite in line with what many of us were predicting for the year ahead.