I was fortunate to attend CES as the guest of ShowStoppers, a MobileTrax partner that produces a reception during major trade shows so that press and analysts can easily meet with popular companies attending the show.
You’d never know there were problems in the economy if you were at CES. It was very crowded with easily over 140,000 people attending. The show had very high energy and excitement with two major themes: 1) The giant companies that make flat panel TVs had thousands of displays in very large booths that made you feel as if you had to run home and buy a 3D-capable HD TV for every room in your house, and 2) Every mobile system company seemed to announce a tablet of some kind. Samsung showed off what they claimed was the largest 3D HD TV in the world – a 75” system. That’s over six feet in diagonal! Naturally, all of my kids want me to get them one of these for their home.
There had to be at least 50 companies showing off their (mostly Android) tablets. Yes, there were lots of other interesting things I saw, but these two themes were clearly the ‘voice of the show.’
One product caught my attention more than any other at the show: The new Motorola Xoom Android tablet. There are two meanings for ‘new’ here. First, there’s a new Motorola Mobility company that is a spin-out of the old Motorola. This company will focus on mobile products for consumers while Mobility Solutions will focus on enterprise mobility and wireless network infrastructure. Second, the new Xoom (pronounced Zoom) is Motorola’s entry into the legion of Android tablets. But, in my mind, this tablet is the one to watch and clearly demonstrates that a firm can build a better tablet than Apple (not present at CES). Here are a few highlights. The Xoom:
- Has a 10.1” wide screen 1280x800 pixel (16x9 ratio) which displays movies in wide screen format.
- Interesting by-product: turn it into portrait mode and it’s easy to do thumb typing similar to when holding a BlackBerry.
- Includes Android 3.0 ‘Honeycomb.’ This is a big improvement in the Android user interface and uses the larger real estate of the tablet display.
- Honeycomb includes ‘floating widgets’ for small apps that view well on tablets but not on phones.
- It also includes multi-tasking, which allows multiple apps to run at the same time so you can easily listen to music, have one app check the stock market while another is processing email as they come in.
- Google is clearly maturing Android [?} and able to put really cool new things into the platform to support tablets.
- Includes Nvidia dual-core 1GHz processor.
- Supports Flash and HTML 5.
- Includes the Google bookstore (suspect Kindle reader will work as well).
- Has a 2mp, forward-facing camera and 5mp, rear-facing camera that can record in HD.
- Makes it easy to do video conferencing with Skype and others.
- Also easy to use it as a HD camcorder.
- It also has an HDMI output connector to make it easy to play movies directly on a HD TV.
- The ‘full product’ will be available in 2Q11 with 3G/4G LTE & Wi-Fi.
The Xoom has overall ‘sex appeal’ and is very ‘iPad-like.’ It definitely has that ‘cool’ factor and reminds me of the buzz that came about for the RAZR phone years ago.
On the second day, I spent a good amount of time visiting Research in Motion to take a closer look at the BlackBerry Playbook, which has been announced but is not yet shipping. I already covered this in a previous Inside Mobile column (Oct. 27, 2010). I had not expected much since all BlackBerrys seem to work like an iron ship -- but lack a lot of modern sex appeal in the user interface.
I was very surprised at what I saw, particularly due to the tremendous advance in user interface and multi-tasking QNX OS (see photo). The BlackBerry Playbook is so much better than any prior BlackBerry that at first you’d think this was a product from another company. RIM is clearly going to migrate the entire BlackBerry SmartPhone to QNX. To be sure, tablet user interfaces have more screen real estate and, therefore, can provide more options in the UI. But, the BlackBerry Playbook I saw gave a very positive initial impression. It was surprising that their demo systems didn’t show email, calendar or contacts which, of course, are the ‘bread-and-butter’ of BlackBerry. I would expect that these will be integrated when the product ships this Spring. Their video conferencing capability is really done well.
Here’s a quick summary in alphabetical order of some of the other interesting companies I met with while at CES:
- AetherPal. Met with Ron Parmar (CEO) & Jon Herttua (VP of Sales). They have a solution to enable Tech Support reps to log on to SmartPhones remotely. I’ll be writing about them in a couple of weeks.
- DataLocker. I met with Jay Kim (COO). They have an external hard drive that includes a display in which the user has to enter a password in order to get access to the drive. This is important for military systems as well as confidential areas within some private companies.
- MobiTV. While they still have their subscription video services for internet and mobile devices, they are backing the rollout of Mobile DTV via the Open Mobile Video Coalition (OMVC) that will bring broadcast TV to mobile devices. Handset makers have to include a new radio chip, but the coalition is backed by over 100 local TV stations that will bring ad-supported, free broadcast TV to a SmartPhone or tablet.
- Nimble. I met with Jon Ferrara (CEO) at ShowStoppers. John is well-known in the enterprise Customer Relationship Management (CRM) space after building and then selling GoldMine. Their team created Nimble as a dashboard for managing all of the information which you care about in one place -- including relationship management, team interaction and social engagement. Major tabs include Contacts, Activities, Social -- which allow you to interact and see all the relationships you have with people you care about and all the activities in which you are involved with them.
- Novatel. I met again with Charlotte Rubin, Director of Marketing, to review the latest version of MiFi. This – and the 4G Overdrive from Sierra Wireless – enable mobile consumers and work groups to connect all of their mobile devices together and get internet & email access wherever they go.
- Nvidia. This is the ‘new kid on the block’ for mobile processors having come into the space from their traditional graphics chipsets in notebooks. They announced that they are the CPU in the new Motorola Xoom (see above) and have other design wins as well. This should provide some good competition for Qualcomm.
- Phone Halo. I met with Chris Herbert. This startup developed a novel solution for finding lost SmartPhones. While the iPhone has ‘find my phone’, Phone Halo has developed a similar solution for all SmartPhones (including Apple) and then adds a keyfob into the mix so you can find your phone quickly using your keyfob (just press the button and the phone beeps). This is especially handy when you’re not near another phone to make a call. Here’s where it gets interesting: you can find your keys with your phone. You just enter the Phone Halo app and request to find the keyfob. The keyfob – attached to your key ring - then beeps. The car manufacturers should integrate this clever solution into the car’s keyfob to reduce the number of devices on the keychain. But, every one of us has misplaced keys at times and wondered ‘I wish I could call my keyfob like I can call my phone.” These folks solve a real problem and should succeed. It’s being distributed by Cobra.
- Qualcomm. The company scheduled meetings with execs to discuss their Snapdragon line of SmartPhone and tablet microprocessor and supporting chipsets. They are the leader in SmartPhones and announced dual-core CPUs and graphics processing to support the latest generation of mobile devices. They also demonstrated a new power charging system called WiPower that will allow tables and car trays to be used as charging stations when the WiPower chip is placed in the device. Finally, we reviewed the synergistic acquisition of Atheros.
- Radish Systems. These folks have developed an enterprise system that allows for concurrent voice and data so that customer service reps can send data and images to field workers to assist them with how to solve problems or fix equipment.
- RealNetworks Unifi. This is an important new product from RealNetworks. The system automatically identifies all your photos, music and videos and creates a library across all your devices and the Cloud. It’s like SugarSync on steroids. It’s clever in that it only synchronizes the albums and videos that you designate so that it doesn’t waste time uploading large media files that you don’t need. It will be sold as a subscription service. It addresses the fact that people now have multiple devices in which they want to enjoy their content. Unify also effectively does a back up of your media files in the Cloud for those that you designate to copy which can take a long time initially if you select all of your media.
- Samsung. I met with Chris Martinez (Mobile Strategy). They are working hard to add value to their (Android & Windows Phone 7) SmartPhones and tablets via software and services like Media Hub. Each of the major handset manufacturers is looking at innovative software and services to differentiate their offerings in the market.
- Snap Mobile. Met with Jiren Parikh (CEO) and learned about their subscription services to make it easy to create, share and manage user-generated, mobile content. This area is getting a lot of attention as mobile devices are able to generate more rich media.
- UrbanAirship. Met with Scott Kveton (CEO). They have created a solution to assist app developers in sending notifications to their app users, as well as managing upgrades and subscription services. It takes a lot of carrier infrastructure to manage billing and messaging services. They say they have 6,000 customers and are growing fast due to the growth in the number of mobile apps.
Overall, it was a very intense two days with over 20+ meetings. I always hate the intensity of a show like this -- but I always come home feeling good about all the new and exciting things that I have seen.
Take a look at the ‘Kodak Moment’ that I just happened to see on Friday morning (Jan. 7th) after I got up. I was in the Encore Tower in the Wynn Resort looking South at the Wynn Tower. I quickly grabbed my digital camera and took this photo out the window. Not only is it a great photo (quite striking), but it also represents the tone of CES and provides an indication of the future of our economy and, perhaps, for hard hit places like Las Vegas.
Believe me, there are some exciting times ahead in mobile and wireless.