Sunday, January 9, 2011

New Media - with all it's rough edges - clearly seen at CES 2011

Guess which one is me taking notes
I spent three days at CES listening, checking, talking and walking. My focus was robotics and the showing was meager. There were few consumer robotic products at the show. A full list of those can be seen in "Speed, 3D, 4G, TV Everywhere - Oh... And Robots Too."

Consumer electronics are driven by demand, need, price and design (not in that order) but, so far, that kind of consumer market pressure isn't present for consumer robotic products. It is present for iPad-like products, 3D TVs, faster broadband, and in-car nav/entertainment systems. Intuitive and easy-to-use being the key criteria.

My 3-day visit exposed me to the complexities of network buildouts, in-car systems, conflicting OS's like iOS, Android (and the new Honeycomb), MS and all the others.  But what I really saw was the new media at work - and it was fun watching them do so.

I'm really not an old-fashioned guy.  I am, in years, older than the average media person attending CES.  But I'm just as lean and hungry as they are to gather and report really interesting news.  I did, however, feel really old when I was surrounded by the 5,000+ new and much younger media that flocked to and aggressively staked out their turfs at CES. Of that number, 1,200 were international. They were streaming while I was taking notes; they were videoing or big-lense photographing while I was trying to find my pocket camera; they were squatting in the halls munching their free boxed lunches while I felt hunger pangs but kept on walking, talking and taking notes on a very time-intense, crammed schedule.

iRobot's concept
telepresence robot Ava
My goals in attending trade shows haven't changed over the years. I go to see where the crowds are gathering (LG, Motorola, Blackberry's new tablet, 3D screens, in-car nav/entertainment systems, and NOT Microsoft (even though MS had a mammoth set of booths)); meet and greet acquaintances that I would never otherwise have the chance to visit with; sift through the hype and vapor to capture the "essence" of the innovations being displayed;  hone in on my area of interest: robotics; and find a gem or two that I couldn't have found had I not been there in person. I did find that gem: What can you do with AVA (iRobot's new telepresence concept robot seen at CES)?.

***

CES is really two shows: one for the media and companies wanting to get out their stories (new products and plans) and another for trade buyers, interested people and trend setters.  The media holds court for two days even before the trade expo opens to the public.  And that's where much of the new-product information is presented, gathered and promoted.

On day one, two statistics-packed presentations showed that worldwide consumer electronics purchases in 2010 were up 3% and expected to increase slightly more in 2011. The trends for 2011 were even more interesting and included portability, dropping prices of smart devices, ballooning sales of e-readers, smart phones and tablets, and the integration of sensing technologies (accelerometers, touch screens, pressure, stabilization, GPS) with increased connectivity, computing power, etc. into all types of products and devices in and out of vehicles enabling more intuitive user experiences and data collection. These were followed by an evening mini-trade show - a teaser of the bigger show - held in a large ballroom at the Venetian.

Day two was one 45 minute press conference after another - from 8 am to 5:45 pm - with every big name company (LG, Intel, Pioneer, Audiovox, Nvidia, Sharp, Casio, Cisco, Samsung, Panasonic, Motorola and Sony) announcing their new products, showing concept products and discussing how their plans fit into the overall changes occurring in consumer electronics in 2011.  All those presentations were followed by Steve Ballmer's Keynote address over at the Hilton where he displayed the new Kinect xBox device (which enables controller-free entertainment), Microsoft's new phone software, the forthcoming convergence of phone/pad, PC and TV, and the weight of MS's 1 billion customers worldwide.

Day three - the first day of the actual trade show - is also media-focused in that all the exhibitors are anxious to get their 15 minutes of fame in all its forms: blogs, print, photos, videos and tweets.

Who would have thought that live blogging of the Verizon keynote would be of interest to a large enough audience?  [Well, had I not been there in person, I would have been one of them.  Why?  Because the bandwidth to my office is too slow to watch the live streaming video, which I would have preferred to watch, that's why!] But there, sitting next to and behind me, were two young "reporters" from CNET who were live blogging the presentation, and doing research and inserting stock and just-taken photos. Fascinating to watch them at work as I took notes of the talk - and of them blogging it.

This brings up another subject: bandwidth. Since everyone at CES is tech savvy, they all had iPhones or smart phones or pads, tablets, PCs or notebooks.  Many had multiples of these devices.  Consequently, before each presentation there were announcements asking everyone in the audience, particularly the press, to turn off their wifi and other bandwidth-hogging devices so that the presenters wouldn't be thwarted with technical glitches during their presentations.  These announcements came with cries from my seatmates and others of: "How can you invite us here to do our reporting jobs and then tell us to turn off the very devices that help us do that job?"

Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg keynote
with guest Jeff Bewkes, Time Warner CEO
To me, the talk between Time Warner and Verizon CEOs Jeff Bewkes and Ivan Seidenberg described the essence of the show and of the changes we are likely to see in the near-term future. They talked about content and delivery.  Time Warner has the content and talent and Verizon will soon have the fastest 4G delivery system. Delivery anytime, anyplace and to any device - only paying once for the content.

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Las Vegas, January, 2011
I've been to three CES shows but this is the first time as a "press" person. I was having a coffee and met an AP reporter.  I asked him if he had an engineering or technical background.  Nope.  Instead, he mostly covered disasters and was on his way back from one when they asked him to stop in Las Vegas and cover CES.  When I asked if that was atypical of the AP reporting style, he said that this was the way things were these days - you go where it was the least expensive for you to go, and you learn about and research the subject as you are writing your stories.

It's true that The Robot Report tracks the business of robotics via it's website and delves deeply into the issues involved in the business side of the industry with it's blog Everything-Robotic.  But does that make me a reporter?  Loosely, the answer is yes.  Is the Everything-Robotic blog a news source or a forum for my opinions. And are my reports and opinions comparable to those eminating from the NY Times, CNET, Spectrum or the AP?  In today's changing media climate, the answers are yes, yes and yes.  I got what I came for and am appreciative for the opportunity afforded me by having a press pass and I hope that I am able to convey the events, scenes and information I saw and gathered in easy-to-read stories for you.