Eric LundquistVP & Editorial Analyst for InformationWeek Business Technology Network
10 CES Trends That Matter To Business
The Consumer Electronics Show, scheduled to run January 8-11 in Las Vegas, is about consumer electronics, of course. But the consumerization (terrible word, by the way) of IT has been much of what the business press has focused on over the past year, what with BYOD, cloud computing, social networks and such. So CES, which has managed to do quite well without Apple, and will again this year without a Microsoft keynote, has a lot to show the business community what is coming next for the business-to-business world.
Here are 10 CES 2013 trends and products that will have a business impact.
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1. The Hub: Samsung is due (as near as I can tell) to re-introduce its entertainment hub. LG has already spilled the beans on its Google TV entrant. These multi-screen-within-a-screen displays, featuring video on demand, photos and Internet videos, point to where business hubs are headed.
How much time do you spend juggling between your business apps, social networks, video feeds and personal stuff? The rise of the mobile corporation has been fun to write about, but few companies have figured out a way to manage their mobile workforce, engage with customers and make a few bucks. The goal of the CIO and network administrator has long been the "single pane of glass" which collects all the network status information in one place. That single-pane-of-glass metaphor is headed for the business world, and the business hub will be the view into your business.
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2. eHealth: I know you can put an "e" in front of about anything and indicate you are rebuilding your previous analog world into a digital experience. I've written about how the healthcare market is about to be transformed as consumers begin to measure and monitor their own health status. The rise of ehealth could well be the big news of CES. The Digital Health Summit, held at CES and run by Robin Raskin, has developed into a premier event where healthcare thought leaders and vendors analyze, debate and advance the consumerization of health.
3. Automotive Tech: The eHealth trend may be the best example of consumer electronics products moving from things you buy to things you wear, drive and do, and things that spend a lot of time hooked to some cloud-enabled service. If you judge by automotive advertising, the current crop of cars is being championed as much for Internet connectedness as it is for engines and mechanical specs. CES has been smart about dividing the show floor into tech zones that focus on specific industries or applications rather than letting the show grow into a helter-skelter hodgepodge. The safe driver tech zone focuses on how electronics will be used to make driving safer. We are not quite ready for the Google driverless car, but it is not all that far away either. CIOs need to team up with their CMOs to build a strategy around their products' connection capabilities as much as their individual features.
4. Gadgets: Okay, so much for the big trends, how about the gadgets? CES and the gadget world are interlinked. The waves of gadgets tend to follow a predictable path: First a couple of smartphones and then mountains of smartphones, first a couple of tablets and then a mountain of tablets. You get it, but the trick is picking some of those early predictors. I'll credit Dan Lyons over at ReadWrite for reminding me about Leap Motion. You'll have to hunt them out at CES, but the idea that its motion controller will become part of every digital consumer and business product is not all that farfetched. Businesses will need to start thinking about how customers will interact with them via gesture computing.
5. End Of The Smartphone? It's hard to believe that some pundits are predicting the end of the smartphone just as gobs of new phones are introduced at CES. However, if we start wearing more of our devices (think Google glasses) instead of carrying our devices in our hands, the smartphone could become more of an adjunct than a primary communication device. Pity the poor CIO, already befuddled with how to deal with an onslaught of BYOD devices, now having to figure out how to deal with employees accessing corporate information via smart glasses.
6. Software To Control The Gizmos: Gadgets are, after all, just one more way for customers to access data. The bigger story for companies -- and one that is not well covered at CES -- is how companies will manage all the data coming in and respond in ways people can understand on whichever device they are using at the time. How consumers can filter out all the noise they are now overwhelmed with from all their networks is becoming a big deal. Even Robert Scoble is into noise filtering. In many ways, CES is a physical example of an environment full of noise, as the crowd of journalists and analysts scramble about trying to filter the important from the silly. Maybe data analysis and teaching business organizations how to create messages that rise above the noise level are not in CES's future. But watching which companies at CES get noticed and which get swept under the rug can teach business execs a lot about how to strive for valued communication instead of noise.
7. The Next Big Thing: Ah, there is no more elusive animal than "the next big thing" at CES. There is also no dearth of companies claiming to be or have the next big thing. I've already voted for gesture computing from the likes of Leap Motion, but here are a couple of other entries. Flexible displays (Samsung will show a 5.5-inch flexible display at CES and other flexibles will be close behind. Flexibility can get you thinking about all sorts of different form factors (e.g., wear it on your wrist) for smartphones. By the way, while the CES next big thing session will be interesting, I'm sure, it's unlikely that the true next big thing will be unveiled at any panel session.
8. Cupertino's Cold Shadow: OK, look, CES is fun with lots of parties and schmoozing and all that stuff, but the big giant in consumer electronics doesn't play in Vegas. Apple is the game changer in the consumer electronics space. Will Apple usurp the news from Vegas by doing something big along the lines of Apple TV? Maybe. I wouldn't put it past them. And at the risk of hearing from every Apple aficionado out there, I'm not sure Apple is still the game-changing company it was under Steve Jobs. Apple changed the business world by not concentrating on the business world, but instead arming businesses employes with devices that overtook the boring stuff handed out by IT.
9. Boring Stuff Handed Out By IT: Tough to talk about how CES is going to influence the business space without talking about Microsoft. Microsoft has been late to the consumer party in both the smartphone and tablet space. It's is there now, but is it too late? Microsoft's play in the business space is to present a connected business environment that spans the server room, the desktop, the laptop, the tablet and the phone. In some ways, I think Microsoft bailed out of its CES keynote position one year too early. A keynote on corporate connectedness would probably be out of place at CES, but it sure would be useful to all those CIOs trying to decide whether to bet the future on Microsoft.
10. Beyond The Consumerization Of IT: Businesses are turning from inside-out organizations to the reverse. The smartest businesses are collecting lots of information from the outside and using that data to make smart inside-business decisions. CES represents all that outside information in the forms of gadgets, smart health, smart homes, smart cars, smart fitness and just about everything else that can go digital. The best role for a business exec wandering the aisles of CES is to think about what happens when all these devices want to start gabbing with business operations. At CES, businesses can see the wave of data that's coming, then figure out how to turn that data into revenue.
VP and Editorial Analyst, InformationWeek