February 1, 2012

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The Next Big Thing

CES: The Good, The Bad and Why I Go

Alex Lawrence

February 1, 2012

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is alive and well, with 2012 being the highest attended show in its 45-year history. Despite all of the activity and attendance, I hear much of the same grumblings about CES year in and year out: It’s no longer relevant. The real innovation is happening elsewhere. There is a lot of junk that isn’t worth the trip. There are too many copycats.

            All of these things can be true depending upon what industry or vantage point you share. I attend CES with very specific purposes. It’s a convenient way to meet with a lot of tech people in a central location. I know I can connect with a lot of technology friends in a quick and convenient time and place. And though many of the companies are showing technology that isn’t particularly new and exciting, I still get to view trends for the coming year. It’s also exciting to see new technologies in person. There’s a measurable difference between reading about a new gadget and seeing it in action. Finally, I attend CES each year for the fun and elusive search for a few diamonds in the rough. For example, I’ll not soon forget the year I found the first thumb drive back in the glory days of Iomega. If only Iomega would have found it, too. CES presents an unprecedented opportunity for companies to get the first peek at large and small company exhibits. 

            Although I never get to see everything I’d like to during the show, here are five technologies that I think businesses should keep an eye on in 2012.

Affordable 3D Printing

It’s about time! I’ve been watching this industry for a while. Many companies need to affordably produce prototypes and other designs in three dimensions. Historically this has been a technical, time consuming and expensive process. Prices, usability and availability are finally coming down. My favorite of the group is the MakerBot Replicator ($1,799). While still too expensive for some, a device that prints in multiple colors, works out of the box (the previous version required assembly) and can produce amazing 3D results is something I know many smaller companies, inventors and hobbyists have been yearning for. I know I want one.


Tablets, Phones and Mobile Devices

If you are like me, you do more and more work from a mobile device. Statistics indicate that we are not alone. Depending upon which report you read, it’s a statistical certainty that within a few years, for the first time in history, more than 51 percent of the worldwide population will access the web from a mobile device. While Apple is clearly a missing leader at CES in these categories, they are not the only game in town. I was quite impressed with both Samsung (Android) and Microsoft (Windows Mobile) and some of their new hardware that runs these mobile operating systems. Specifically, the Samsung Note was a unique hybrid of a phone and a tablet. The large and beautiful screen, fast processor, integration with a stylus and incredible camera make it the best Android device I’ve seen. The question is will the one size fit all devices really be a one size fits none? Time will tell.


Mobile Payments

Are you a business that accepts credit cards? Are you a customer that uses them? The answer to one or both is yes. Near Field Communication (NFC) made its mainstream debut this year at CES. A few years ago this was only in some phones; this year it was all over the place. NFC essentially lets you replaces your credit cards with your phone. Wave an NFC enabled device near a gas pump and your account is debited accordingly. Another mobile payment option, the Square payment reader, is a very disruptive way for anyone with a smartphone to easily and affordably accepts credit card payments. The user experience for Square is great as well—simple and receipts to your email address (for those of you that hate paper like I do).


Gadget Add-Ons

We have our phones, tablets, laptops, gaming devices and other valuable electronic devices throughout our homes and businesses. One of the more eye-catching things I saw was a display from Utah Company, HzO. HzO has developed a technology that allows you to truly waterproof your devices. They were dropping iPhones in water tanks all day with no damage. It was pretty impressive. I’m sure someone will acquire them in the near future, as water damage is a real problem amongst device users.


Missing But Relevant

There were a number of things that will have a significant impact on the future of business technology that were not at CES. If you haven’t already, go to www.kickstarter.com and check out the amazing list of new technologies that are being launched there. Some of my personal favorites include a creative way to type on an iPad called the TouchFire. I’ve ordered one and think it will increase the frequency in which I use my iPad.

            Diving a little deeper, the “connectivity of things” is a fun new market that is emerging in consumer technology. Another very popular Kickstarter.com project called Twine has received over $500K in crowd sourced funding. Twine looks to be one of the simplest ways to interact with various objects in your life via texting, tweeting or emailing. A simple web app allows to you quickly set up your Twine so that it can email you if your basement floods, or text you when your laundry is done. 

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