January 10, 2006
Learnings from the 2006 CES Show Floor

Like over 100,000 of my closest friends, I immersed myself in the sea of consumer technology that is CES. As the tsunami of convergence washed over us on the convention floor, a few trends became apparent:

1) iPod envy. While Apple doesn't do CES, preferring Mac World Expo instead, it seemed every manufacturer was touting iPod this, iPod that. While all the usual applications where represented, such as docking an iPod into a home or automobile audio system, my favorite was the iDJ iPod DJ Mixer from Ion.

If anyone can be responsible for kicking convergence into gear, it's Apple. While mp3 players existed before the iPod, it's the iPod's ubiquity and household name that taught consumers they could hold their record collection in their hand and listen to it anywhere. Once that behavior becomes easily understandable, people apply it to other media as well.

2) The manufacturers are creating convergence devices full throttle, and they're starting to work with content providers and networks to make the convergence dream come true. From GPS devices that also play mp3 files, video game players that have GPS in them, to cell phones that play mp3 files, to 3G cell phones that clan play video, devices that can do more than one thing are the mainstream future, based upon the large number of these devices at CES.

Which leads to...

3) Content Everywhere. The infrastructure is being put in place to deliver content on all these unteathered devices. Eg: MobiTV, allows you to watch TV and listen to "radio" on your cell phone. Slingbox allows you to access your TV anywhere you have a broadband connection; or the new Yahoo Go! service, which was a favorite shown on many devices from TiVo to Nokia cell phones, to AT&T's Home Zone, to a mirror in your bathroom in Yahoo!'s house of the future.

Which fits hand in glove with...

4) Content on demand. Tivo. Sirus' Tivo-like device for satellite radio, the S50. Akimbo this. Napster that. Google's pay for view video download service. At CES, appointment television was dead.

The hardware manufacturers have the convergence religion, will consumers? Will convergence happen in our short attention lifetimes? It will if:

- Digital Rights Management doesn't strangle ease of use, or cross consumer expectations.
- Studios and other content owners/creators can price reasonably and give consumers the control they want.
- Distribution networks like cell phones and cable don't balkanize content by putting up barriers.
- All of the above works well together.

Fun gadgets from the CES tradeshow floor:

- Vex Robotic Design System from Radio Shack. Build your own robots, compete with them. Lego Mindstorms were also there.

- XavixPort, a device that allows you to hook up various sporting equipment so that you can get a workout "playing" a video game along the lines of Dance, Dance, Revolution

- Various VOIP Wifi phones, including Netgear's Skype Phone and Vonage's Wifi Phone from UTStarcom among others. There was also a USB VOIP phone. It's early, but VOIP should be cheaper than POTS in most areas and in Cities with ubiquitous wifi, like Philly and San Francisco in the near future, wifi phones make sense.

- The iRobot Scooba, an autonomous robot that cleans floors.

- The Xebra electric car, proving that if it has to do with electrons, then it's a consumer electronic device.