Observations from the 2011 International Consumer Electric Show

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January 12, 2011

Held in Las Vegas NV – January 6-9 2011


CES, hosted by the Consumer Electrical Association of America (represent some 2000 suppliers of consumer and other related products) was attended by some 140,000+ individuals including over 30,000 from countries other than the United States. It is the largest such event held in the World today. While historically it showcased consumer appliances, the introduction of electronics into all aspects of our home, work and play lives has seen immense overlap. In fact, Ford, and Audi introduced several of their new 2012 passenger cars at this event. Historically new automobiles were introduced first at the Detroit Auto Show later in January. The show was dominated by technology and products around:

• Tablets (to compete with Apple IPAD) Over 80 new tablet products were on display. While some will never get into actual production, it did indicate a growing new product category.

• 4G LTE Wireless – connection in the future will be wireless – M to M.

• Interconnection of all in-home appliance (imbedded chips that can provide two way communication)

• Integration of functions (many of the seminars talked about the potential problems and consumer backlash to be expected. Many suppliers are touting ease of integration and how their particular can work seamlessly with others. Unfortunately, this has not always been the case. Plug and Play is still difficult to deliver effcetively. Yes, they are following a specific standard, but their interpretation of that standard is not always compatible with the competitor. In the Home products being offered around energy conservation, there is still a gap between the thermostats (not very user friendly).

All of the major home entertainment suppliers – Sony, Panasonic, Samsung, RCA, GE, Sanyo, LG were portraying their version of the ‘connected home’. How they will provide products that run the gamut from telling you how much energy you use from the meter, providing pricing commands, remote management for all devices and so forth. However, they all lacked some crucial links. None clearly had a sound understanding of how they will be linked with the ‘sources’ – the utilities. Second what was the value proposition – Does the customer really want this and how much will she pay for all this integration. Once again there are a myriad of standards and protocol integration yet to be resolved.

• Broadband/Bandwidth – devices requiring large ‘hunks’ of broadband spectrum were everywhere. One has to ask, the costs associated with not only the initial cost of the device but now the costs of operation. The supply cost of electricity for operation is one element, but the value of the functions of the device has to be considered in terms of the bandwidth required to deliver the functionality. The pressure on broadband use is changing the economic delivery model. In many markets, there is not unlimited broadband available. Suppliers are now changing their costing and delivery models. This will impact design changes in future products. As we saw with the introduction of Energy Star we will see similar activities around bandwidth.

• A strong focus upon increasing the electronic content of passenger cars – collision avoidance, holographic displays on windows, video service for all passengers. Providing what internet, broadcast services and related entertainment you enjoy at home in your vehicle. This included demonstrations of the guidance systems for the highway and driverless car.(Google already trialing) Yes, the electric car- charging stations etc.

• Personal tracking of health conditions, plus an assortment of electronic based exercise routines, videos etc.

• 3D television - both viewed with glasses and new TV set formats (the consensus is that 3D will has some impact, it is unlikely to become a fully accepted platform). Some broadcasting has already started in 3D, the networks are not yet ready to change formats.

• TV set dimensions continue to increase in overall picture dimensions (under 32 inch will disappear – 50 inch and more will be standard. Moving to the plus 125 inch mode). Prices will continue to decline – commodity issues now prevalent. Plasma technology will disappear in favour of LED and new technology. Overall thickness of TV sets will be in the 1 ½ inch range. Blue-ray players now dominant – CD’s on the way out. Movies will flow through Internet.

• Smart Grid and the impact upon the home/commercial industrial facilities and the manufacturers of consumer products was still very much an area of disagreement. It was very obvious that there is still a large gap in thinking. Of specific note was a blurred path in the utility thinking. They knew they need to do something, but were at a loss to have a plan for complete interconnection. Who will make it happen? The answer is still not clear. We lack standards and understanding about ‘how antiquated’ the electrical infrastructure really is. The grid is not national and cannot be simply fixed by thinking we install solar and or wind in every consumer’s back yard. There have been enormous sums of money earmarked for upgrades, but in many cases without an overall consistent plan. States, cities and the federal governments are all linked in a battle for ‘bragging’ rights. Consumers are confused as to the value of all the rhetoric. Smart meter installation somehow in their minds meant they would save money. Not so. Smart Grid is running into similar misconceptions.

A deal more of these discussions will be seen at AHR later this month as well as the National Home Builder next week.

Some final Comments!

CES 2011 indicated a recovery of spirit in the consumer products world. It saw the return of a host of smaller start-ups offering their versions of technology for the future (primarily China, Korea and India). The process of integration, making things smaller and adding more features continues. The issues around power, the amount of power used as well as how to get increased power from batteries etc, is beginning to emerge. The use of electricity to power automobiles is certainly very much on the horizon. In the next two years, we will have cost effective solutions for in-home and at work charging. Preliminary examples of remote charging of devices are emerging – sending electricity through the air etc.

While we are often prone to say the world of consumer electronic products is not really appropriate to commercial/industrial world, the basic technology is very similar. What happens in the home/happens in our places of work and play.

I have attached a very appropriate and well written account of CES by Wayne Caswell of CAZI Tech Consulting (an old friend) entitled CES in PJ’s. Wayne covers in depth all the aspects of CES and it makes for great reading

The Very Best for the New Year

Robert Lane


















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