CES Insights, Day 3

Award winners

The team at Engadget has divided and conquered to create product categories and respective winners — products that stood out against their backdrop of dozens of years of tech review experience. Here are a few favorites:

Best Connected Home Product: Weber Smart Grilling Hub. Forget about buying a smart grill. Just upgrade your own. This small grill side pack feeds a few wires into the grilling chamber, some for air temperature and some attached to meat probes. Using Wi-Fi, the smart phone app enables you to keep tabs on your cooking progress from the couch. Engadget

Best Wearable: Withings ScanWatch. Withings’ watch may be considered the anti-Apple watch. While it monitors heart rate and activity and connects to an app, it runs for 30 days on a single charge and has the appearance of a classic, expensive analog watch. Engadget

Best Phone or Mobile DeviceSamsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite. The Note’s success is attributable to its stylus and handwriting recognition capabilities on top of a smartphone, and now you can buy all of this for less. This will be the year of more affordable but equally amazing smartphones. Engadget

Best Gaming Product: Razer Kishi. This attachment, or cradle, for the iPhone or Android brings precision to the smartphone gaming experience into with exacting controls. Raser has found a niche within a (large) niche. Engadget

Most Unexpected Product: Sony Vision-S concept car. Sony showed a really beautiful car at this year’s CES. Is Sony making a car? No, this is a concept designed to demonstrate that Sony has car systems covered, from cameras, to speakers, to amplifiers, controllers, entertainment content and much more. This is a reminder that the car has become more of a rolling consumer electronics experience and less of a combustion engine hot rod of yesterday, and Sony is fully committed to the future car. Engadget

Best of the Best: Hydraloop Water Purifier. The Hydraloop is a about the size of an office water cooler, but is for the opposite purpose. This device intakes wastewater and uses a number of filtration methods to reuse the water for toilets, plants, pools, and washing machines. It has been said that water will soon be worth more than oil, and Hydraloop is ready for a complete shift in our thinking towards household water use. Engadget

dis-rup-shun: Many more category winners can be found at Engadget. It is terrific to see great products not just for fun and games (best TVs ever, amazing game content and controllers), but for environmental well-being (electric cars, water purifiers), good health (monitors, exercise and activity coaching), sexual health and wellness (a new category this year), and autonomous vehicles (Aptiv’s Lyft cars running around Las Vegas), and many more.

CES Insights, Day 2

Focus on the weird

One of the most fun things about CES is to marvel at whimsical inventions and try to imagine if the creators are serious, or just looking for an expensive laugh.

Bathroom robot. Charmin, the toilet paper maker, is showing a number of bathroom oriented technologies, including the V.I.Pee, an in-bathroom viewing screen for live events that enables you to see what you are missing when you run to the bathroom. Another is the the Rollbot — a wheeled device with an extra roll of TP on the top that you can summon with your smartphone when you find yourself in that stranded position with no more paper on the roll. CNET

dis-rup-shun: Why, you may ask, would a legitimate consumer products giant take the time to develop these not very marketable toys? The answer is that many smart CEOs in non-tech industries are well aware that their industry will, somehow, at some time, be disrupted by tech. As a matter of fact, Georgia Pacific used technology, in the form of a patented, motion-based hand towel distributor, called enMotion, to disrupt the paper towel business and Charmin is smart enough to know that it needs to demonstrate thought leadership in the toilet paper dispensing technology arena as a defensive strategy. Amazing.

Selfie keyboard.  Selfie Type is a Samsung labs technology that enables a user to type on a virtual keyboard created on a blank surface (table, desk, airplane tray) by facing their smartphone towards them while the app is running. NET

dis-rup-shun: This is big. This is a step toward being able to use any surface as a keyboard so that one could perform real work on a smartphone. Using the airplane scenario, this is a step towards the day when one could place their smartphone on the folding tray, have the phone output to the small in-seat video screen and the tray becomes the keyboard — mimicking the full computing experience in order to finish that report you must deliver by the time you land.

Y-Brush. The Y-Brush is a $125 smart toothbrush-like device that claims to clean all of your teeth in 10 seconds. You bite on the Y-shaped tray and it cleans all of the top teeth in 5 seconds, then you flip it over to finish the bottom in 5 more. CNET

dis-rup-shun: Life is short. Why spend it at the sink? Seriously, technology innovation is focusing on personal hygiene, including smart toilets, smart curling irons/straighteners, smart nail polishers and, yes, smart tattoo machines.

Human exoskeleton. Delta airlines is at the event, showing how it is using technology to differentiate. Facial recognition, a new boarding app, are among the technologies in development, but interesting to see is a mechanical exoskeleton that baggage handlers can adorn in order to more easily lift and load heavy bags. CNET

dis-rup-shun: By the way, airlines are killing it by charging people for the their luggage. This has been an important part of a return to profitability. It would be interesting to know the dollars spent on rehabbing injured baggage handlers who eventually lose to the physics of overstuffed luggage. Delta has a Transformers-like solution that is half robot, half power tool that does the heavy lifting while strapped to the back and arm of human luggage handlers. Perhaps this is a new robotics category we can call “hybrid robot,” as the device can’t do its thing without a human strapped in.

CES Insights

Day 1: cars, computers, avatars, faux pork

The most amazing carnival of light, sound, language, culture and vision has, once again, started in Las Vegas. CES is wonderful, dreadful, productive, superfluous, exciting and exhausting. It is a force of the industry, a bellweather of world economy and culture, and the central meeting point for a large percentage of the world’s business people. The annual question for participants and bystanders alike is, “What do I really need to know about CES this year?” Let me offer some assistance over the next few days.

Day 1 is complete and there is plenty to talk about…

Neon virtual humans. Neon is a company hatched from an R&D incubator of Samsung, called STAR. The company has developed human looking virtual assistants. These things are images on a screen, not 3D objects, with the capabilities to sound and act like humans, remembering what you talked about a few minutes ago. CNET

dis-rup-shun: So it appears that Neon has upped the game on chat bots. When we need technical support, or perhaps a restaurant reservation, we may be speaking to an attractive human looking image that remembers our preferences, the usual number in our party, or other personalized facts. Expect better and more pleasant customer support, and expect it to be harder to find a real person to speak with when we need to get to a decision maker. Some great applications are using Neons as teachers of virtual courses, like learning French. Neons may become bank tellers, acting pleasant while nearby machines dispense cash. My sympathies to the cold callers looking for decision makers at the corporate front desk.

Foldable computers. Many, including Dell and Lenovo, or showing a concept computer that is essentially a screen that folds and displays in many ways: a big continuous display, one screen is a keyboard while the other is a display, split screens that fold like a book with virtual pages. The manufacturers have created apps that tell Windows 10 how to use multiple displays. CNET

dis-rup-shun: Will this technology change the form factor of the laptop? Chances are unlikely that the laptop, which now for over 20 years has remained a clam shell, will change drastically. If a screen can function as a solid, productive keyboard, then we could be looking at a clam shell with two screens that can be twisted and turned based on the application. We could also expect that the back of the display is a screen, so people can watch our presentation on one side of the computer while we take notes on the other. This will take a while to evolve, but has interesting possibilities.

Sustainable electric vehicles: The auto section of CES is a show in itself, and Lyft autonomous cars are actually maneuvering through one of the most congested cities to ferry people to the event, but of note is Fisher’s “most sustainable SUV.” The electric SUV seeks to undercut Tesla and, at less than $38,000 with capacity to drive over 200 miles, it appears interesting. The attractive Fisker Ocean is supposed to be available at the end of 2021. The company boasts that its components are highly eco-friendly with full-length solar roof, recycled carpeting (from where?), a vegan interior textiles that are “eco-suede”, and rubber components made of byproducts of tire production.  CNET

dis-rup-shun: While credit for popularizing electric vehicles goes to Musk, Fisher may get the credit for making recycled materials important to car manufacturing. Re-using the massive amounts of discarded materials in manufacturing makes sense, and if it is a badge of honor to buy new things made of recycled parts, then we are all better off. Ford, GM, Toyota — look out for the eco-friendly manufacturing trend.

Impossible Pork is on the grill: The makers of the Impossible Burger, all plant substitute for meat are back at CES with a pork substitute. CNET

dis-rup-shun: Understanding that meat lovers will continue to be meat lovers, Impossible Sausage will enable us to continue our culinary habits while lowering our cholesterol and easing the burdens on the earth of raising and processing livestock. We will watch the market drivers for plant-based meat substitutes, and see if acceptance (assuming it occurs) will be based on health concerns or environmental responsibility. Given that SUVs are still the leading auto category sold in the U.S., early theories are that health concerns will be the market drivers for manufactured meats.

Tesla third largest

Third most valuable automaker? Tesla

Tesla’s market capitalization is now $80 billion, more than twice that of Ford’s. The company produced more cars than expected, and the Model 3 is by far the most popular electric car sold worldwide. Quartz

dis-rup-shun: The big three automakers have, combined, been in business for 324 years. How did a 17 year old upstart become the 3rd most valuable automaker? The company has taken electric cars from concept to mass production, and done so in a way that appealed to the upscale customer — an opportunity that Toyota and Nissan missed with their econobox Prius and Leaf hybrid offerings. Tesla has many problems, it appears, but, like Apple’s early days, the company has a “damn the torpedoes” mentality that has already delivered a global automaker, currently well embraced by Chinese car buyers and officials, alike.

Zens Liberty charging pad is what Apple promised

For $150, you can now buy a charging pad that works with your phone and your watch, and takes up little more room than a large phone. The device uses a series of copper coils to facilitate placement almost anywhere on the pad to get a charge. TechCrunch.

dis-rup-shun: In the next decade, we will see smart surfaces everywhere — tables, car consoles, desks, etc. that do much more than offer a work or storage space. The ability to place devices and have them not only charge, but connect and give life to screens embedded all around us will make working anywhere easy and convenient. Zens, about the time it is selling at a good clip, will likely face a renewed offering from Apple, that was developing a similar product then pulled it. Apple’s, intro will probably increase awareness and sales for Zens.

CES Preview: Sexual health a new category

Last year, a vibrator made by company OSE was given an award by CES, then rescinded as someone decided that the product was inappropriate. The resulting consumer outcry resulted in the women-led OSE selling over a million units (“any publicity is good publicity?”). CES has now decided to admit sexual health devices to the event, provided that they are innovative and include new or emerging tech. Wired

dis-rup-shun: Good for CES for acknowledging that sexual health aids are consumer products too, but incorporating the latest emerging tech, if it includes an internet connected sexual device, doesn’t sound very appealing. It is disconcerting enough to think of Alexa listening to discussions about TV shows or political preferences, but hacking connected sex toys could really embarrass users. We will see how this category takes advantage of the latest technologies and how CES draw a line between inappropriate and innovative.

Google AI detects breast cancer

Google’s deep mind AI beats doctors at breast cancer detection

The process of identifying breast cancer from mammograms relies on doctors to read scans. While these doctors are expert at their fields, in many parts of the world, there is a shortage of doctors, resulting in a backlog of screenings. Google’s AI has been trained by doctors, using scans from 29,000 women. The results were an increase in accuracy, reducing false positives by 5.9% and reducing false negatives by 9.4%. CNBC

dis-rup-shun: This extraordinary data has the potential of bringing about important changes in the healthcare arena, and what will accelerate adoption is even more data than the 29,000 respondents in this study. Google has engaged in a number of partnerships with healthcare organizations that are resulting in technology proof points. Google appears to be racing down the connected health path of clinical solutions while Apple is focusing on direct to consumer solutions through its wearables. Regardless of the competitive landscape, it is likely that healthcare will rely heavily on AI and data analytics in diagnoses, perhaps well within this decade.

What to expect at CES

Coverage of CES starts on Sunday, but a few themes predicted by The Verge include:

  • 5G phones, even if a bit early for mainstream
  • Foldable phones, even if many won’t be great
  • TVs with 4K resolution, ready to be tethered to game consoles
  • TVs hyping 8K resolution, but little content to display
  • Steaming services, with support on TVs for apps and access
  • PCs with much more powerful processors
  • Sony and Microsoft’s latest game consoles and plenty of talk about cloud gaming from Apple, Google and even Amazon
  • Electric cars
  • Electric and folding scooters, skateboards and mopeds
  • Even better digital SLR cameras (remember those?)
  • Smart home products that are even more attractive than last year
  • Earphones and earbuds

dis-rup-shun: CES continues to be the most amazing carnival of electronics on the planet, even though Apple and Microsoft don’t participate (as exhibitors). The amazing thing about the show is that as products get better, the real power is in software, AI and cloud services, meaning its harder to see and understand the real innovations. Clever vendors, however, have clever ways of displaying the un-seeable, so there is no doubt that the CES experience will continue to amaze. Panasonic, Samsung and LG will continue to boggle the mind with their tunnels that feature hundreds of the latest TVs displaying amazing images.

Denmark powered by wind

Denmark is now powering nearly 50% of its energy needs from wind power, up from 43% thanks to its enormous Horns Rev 3 windfarm, featuring 49 floating turbines. The country is benefiting from its proximity to the very windy North Sea, and is taking a lead in clean energy initiatives. Gizmodo

dis-rup-shun: Denmark’s population is 5.6 million, less than many of the world’s major cities, but nonetheless an important demonstration that renewable energy is a viable alternative to fossil fuels. The physics preventing long range transmission of energy continues to challenge the export of energy from windy places to less windy, but perhaps changing these physics is a future challenge to Musk or Bezos.

California data privacy law enacted

California data privacy law started yesterday

California has now enacted the California Consumer Privacy Act, a law requiring any major company operating in the state to allow consumers to opt out of having data sold to third parties. While enforcement is difficult, the fines for violators are very large — $2,500 per user per data item. Wired

dis-rup-shun: This law is the first of its kind in the U.S. and is long overdue. Other states will likely follow suit, adding pressure on the U.S. Federal Government to pass a similar, and possibly more comprehensive law, making it easier for businesses to comply. The law is similar to Europe’s GDPR, but falls short of the ideal model in which a common data dashboard can be accessed to enable consumers to specific what, when and how data can be used. Expect strong evolution and development of nationwide data privacy laws in 2020, thanks to California’s leadership.

Virtual fitting rooms coming to retail

Former Walmart CEO Bill Simon predicts that retailers will lean heavily on technology to further differentiate brick and mortar stores — seeking to maintain an edge on online retailers. One such technology will be the ability to scan any item into a smartphone and virtually try it on. CNBC

dis-rup-shun: Competition makes things better, and we are already seeing the brick and mortar retailers that survived fallout from the Amazon Effect make shopping better with offers such as same day curb-side pickup (Target), and more knowledgeable sales clerks (Best Buy). Better in-store experiences, including great displays, elegant and inviting spaces and cleaner, better lit interiors are benefits. By using better technologies, including holograms, digital signage, Bluetooth beacons, apps and augmented reality, retailers will make certain that the shopping experience is a remarkable experience, and no less convenient than online stores.

Will authentication apps become common in 2020?

Authenticator apps are third party apps that provide a second method, in addition to your password, to secure your applications. Because text messages occur outside of the tightly secured infrastructure of your network providers, third-party authenticators are more secure. A number of leading providers are Google, Microsoft, Authy, LastPass, and DuoMobile, and there is a good chance you will be using one by the end of the year. Gizmodo

dis-rup-shun: Authenticators are important and a welcome addition, but still a bit clunky to use, and they don’t fix the problem of having to remember dozens of passwords for different accounts. The problem of authentication, however, is being addressed rapidly, and access programs will continue to improve. Bad actors, of course, will move just as quickly as tech innovators and will find ways to break new authentication tools — a reality of the digital age — and assurance that the data security and authentication industries are solid growth industries.

What to expect in smartphones in 2020

Phones will continue to get more expensive, according to CNET as faster charging, better CPUs, higher resolution cameras, and foldable screens find their way into new devices. The question is if foldables will catch on, or be a passing fad.

dis-rup-shun: What we do know is that 5G networks have not been ready for prime time, but that will change by year end and blazing speeds should be perceivable to people who live in major metropolitan areas. This will be a reason to upgrade, and will lead to strong new phone sales in H2 of this year. With higher resolution cameras and blazing fast 5G, expect everyone to be a photo journalist, sharing even more photos and especially more videos, as the hybrid still/video snapshot becomes even more like a video.

Holiday Amusement: Some predictions

Many thanks and Happy New Year

As the year draws to a close, it marks nine months of providing you with some daily thoughts on dis-rup-shun.  I have encountered a number of readers over the holidays that have offered their support, endorsement and general satisfaction with this contribution to your inbox, so onward we go. If you have specific suggestions on how this newsletter could be more helpful to you (longer, shorter, more focused, etc.), please share.

A few predictions from off the cuff, after perusing the top daily news sources for the past nine months:

  • Big Tech will face some friction from Congress, the FTC, and states’ attorneys general, but these efforts will do little to check the power and growth of these economic engines. The lack of regulation will result more from the lack of focus of legislators, rather than defensive postures of Big Tech.
  • Amazon understands how to penetrate new markets and new industries. Facebook and Google are not as adept at winning in non-core businesses. Microsoft has a laser focus on closing the cloud computing gap behind AWS, and will make significant progress. Expect Amazon to continue to amaze and frighten, while Facebook and Google will continue to disappoint.
  • Apple will have another strong year, fueled by sales of gadgets such as AirPods, watches and a less expensive iPhone. The company’s services businesses, with the exception of its very successful credit card launch, will struggle to gain significant share, including its Arcade gaming, and Apple TV Plus, as differentiation in services will be more difficult for Apple. The company will continue to slowly move into the uncharted waters of personal health, working more closely with medical experts to find new health applications for its powerful wearable platform, Apple Watch.
  •  Smart home and home automation products will continue to improve in functionality and value, with deeper cooperation between vendors who are attempting to advance in the wake of Alexa and Google Home market penetration. These home ecosystems will grow, providing many more options for home control, however this disjointed approach will not suffice for high-end homes that want an end-to-end system, or those that want a rock solid, monitored home security system. Cool new smart home products and machine learning will continue to transform integrated systems, as systems providers such as ADT, Vivint and Alarm.com seek to keep their systems up to par with the latest hot products.
  • Autonomous machines will continue to pop up, with airplanes, helicopters, delivery carts, and cars that drive themselves being tested in many applications. Until a great deal of test data is released by trusted authorities, consumers will continue to be wary. Autonomous car vendors will need to educate the public that although their cars are not perfect and have killed, they are already safer than 50% of human drivers on the road today — a tough assignment for the marketing agency.
  • Trade wars will be resolved by mid-year, with the Trump administration claiming some wins, and with China’s tech industry and especially Huawei strengthened by adversity. The resolution of the trade wars will spur the economy to an exceptionally strong second half, and will further delay or dispel talks of global recession.

I wish you constructive disruption in this coming year. Whether it’s your job, your business, your personal life, or all of the above, be ready for disruption. As my Peloton instructor says, “Learn to be comfortable with discomfort.” Happy New Year.

Holiday Amusement: Cord Cutting

Roku best stock of the year

As the Cord Cutting decade draws to a close, it is fitting that the year’s best performing stock among companies worth over $5 billion is Roku, up 355%. The company will report an annual revenue growth rate of 49% despite the fact that the company is yet to earn a profit. The company enjoys the largest market share for streaming devices (39%) and has a growing advertising business, but is playing in an increasingly competitive business. CNBC

CH 20191227_top_tech_stocks_over_5b.png

dis-rup-shun: What a great company — Roku has continued to do what it was founded to do — provide a streaming alternative to TVs not designed to receive streaming content. The simplicity of its mission as well as its controls have made it a Wall Street winner. But what about the profit thing? When will lack of profits impact Netflix and Roku as they have Uber and friends? The new video industry is still in the midst of creative destruction (chaos) and the companies that are grabbing the most eyeballs are valued the highest — likely with the expectation that they will be acquired by a company that can generate profits. So enjoy the ride and keep streaming with Roku.

Holiday Amusement: Internet access

Digital Divide slowly closing

It has been said many times that access to the internet is fundamentally access to the digital economy — those without will fall further behind in education, income and knowledge. In the past decade, the number of people without access has fallen to about 17% of the U.S. population, thanks mostly to smartphones which are the device used most frequently to access the internet. Morning Brew

dis-rup-shun: Looking more closely at the numbers, it is clear that rural populations are most under served, as nearly 30% of rural residents don’t have access. The reasons for no access are attributable to service providers, who have chosen not to cover sparse, unprofitable areas, and to legislators who have chosen not to require coverage for every citizen, regardless of location or cost. Of course, some citizens in every geography will not connect even if offered internet service for free due to fear, poverty or illiteracy. Meanwhile Musk and others are launching satellite constellations such as Starlink that aim to place a belt of satellites in low orbit, eventually providing broadband access to almost every geography on the planet. Serving the under served is not a very attractive business proposition, since only a small percentage of the under served desire or are prepared to pay for service. Satellite providers, therefore, will increase the supply of services, locking terrestrial providers such as AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile/Sprint in an eternal price battle until one party proves that it can differentiate its network sufficiently to charge a premium. All in all, broadband services measured in Mbps per dollar will continue to fall in price as demand for higher speeds climbs. Expect high growth of mobile devices that perform bandwidth hungry functions, such as video and navigation, to proliferate our lives in the coming decade.

Holiday amusement: looking back at smartphones

Decade in Review: SmartPhones

To provide a little intellectual stimulation during, hopefully, your holiday, here are some great end of year highlights on the decade from the sharp journalists at The Brew. Some staggering facts:

  • The average person touches their phone 2600 times per day.
  • About 40% of U.S. adults use their phones primarily to surf the web.
  • Nearly 50% of all internet searches are performed with a smartphone.
  • Advertising on mobile devices accounts for nearly 2/3 of all U.S. digital ad spending.
  • Despite the fact that smartphones are the economic bridge for less developed nations to access commerce, education and information, smartphone growth is slowing by about 4% per year.

dis-rup-shun: It is hard to imagine that the era of the smartphone is in its twilight. Smartphones will be around for the perceivable future, but the white hot center of technology growth and transformation is no longer mobile. Mobile devices and apps have reached saturation. While this marks tougher challenges in selling new phones, it marks a period of more innovative uses of smartphones as companies leverage the mobile platform for new ideas. The result will include innovative things that we will do with smartphones, like the already interesting mobile eye exam from EyeQue, or access to home and office, as already offered by many companies such as VizPin. An innovation I am hoping will be well in place at the end of the next decade is mirroring of our desktop. I would like to be able to sit down at any screen — home, office, airplane, taxi, shared ride/taxi, and have my credentials from my smartphone automatically setup up my desktop, so that my inboxes, my in progress Word or Excel projects would be there, just as I left them a little while ago, so that I can resume my activities. The virtual office concept is one that is in development by Samsung and others, but is not yet in use. I will report on the successful deployment of this concept in the decade in review in 2020, hopefully.