Gadget Orgy Reveals Trends

It’s not by chance that the Adult Entertainment Expo occurred at the
same time and right next door to the world’s largest electronics show
last week.

They are both industries with a peculiar interest in
empirical size (Panasonic vociferously claimed dimensional dominance
over Toshiba’s monster 102″ plasma HDTV by a mere inch).

And where new
gadgets and technology leave off, commercial sex entertainment picks
up. It’s thanks to the porn industry, in no small part, that home VCRs,
video cameras and the internet have been so successful.

And Las Vegas’ Consumer Electronics Show is a gadget orgy like no
other.

It’s a place where the the pinnacle of high tech rubs shoulders
with cheap back alley imitators. Where the also-rans try to catch up
with the market leaders. Where hyperbole is the lingua franca and
shmooz does more than rhyme with news.

Without a doubt though, CES is the best place to learn about the near future of technology. And from what I’ve read online, there appear to be a few clear trends developing.

First, the so-called “iPod halo” effect is about more than just Apple selling more Mac computers. The iPod has spurred to motion an entire industry that was until recently reluctant to believe that consumers wanted anything more than computers with email and web access on their desktops.

Convergence — bringing the next generation of computers into the living room — is clearly at the top of the agenda of every major technology company.

Intel announced a fascinating processor platform it’s called “Viiv” that will specifically support consumer multimedia capabilities on convergence products such as Windows Media Centre PCs. In theory this should make it easier to consume, produce, organize, and share stuff like music, photos, movies and television shows.

A second trend I’ve noticed is the integration of the network into more products.

A telling example of this comes from a comment Bill Gates made last week at CES. When asked about possible future support in the XBox 360 for the next generation DVD format, Gates scoffed. He indicated that he believed media delivery would occur over the internet, not on discs, in the future.

A lot of companies seem to agree.

Similar to how iTunes has standardized the internet as the music delivery medium of the future, a lot of bets are being placed on movies and television shows going that way as well.

Apple has expanded its lineup of downloadable TV content, Google is offering movie, sports, and TV shows for sale, and you can’t turn around without hearing about television shows on cell phones.

That’s another interesting trend that I noticed with a lot of the new products at CES: getting TV off the television set. You can now watch TV shows on your iPod, your Sony PSP, your cell phone, and your PC whenever and wherever you want.

This sort of confounds me, as HDTV is definitely the future of the medium in general and the tiny picture on these tiny devices is pretty sucky.

I believe, though, that this trend represents less of a consumer interest in carrying TV in their pockets and more of a desire for programming on demand that’s absent of commercials. Personally, I use my satellite receiver to record the various shows I enjoy over the week and watch them whenever I have time, rather than on the networks’ schedule.

One totally cool technology that’s emerging is personal streaming of television over the internet. There are a couple of products out there that offer this capability, one from Sony, another called Slingbox.

They both work on the same principle: plug a box into your TV receiver and your internet connection. Then, wherever you happen to be in the world you can connect to your television over the internet.

The main difference between the two is the proprietary nature of one and the relative openness of the other. Sony’s LocationFree TV system depends on expensive Sony hardware. The Slingbox lets you use pretty much any PC to watch TV. Clearly here, Sony missed the boat.

And this reveals another interesting trend in the world of technology: it’s a great time to be an independent entrepreneur as many massive corporations struggle to stay current.

Sony’s engineering culture, for example, is deeply entrenched with a mindset of industry domination through proprietary techonology development. They don’t seem to understand that the world is headed in a more open direction.

Their knight-in-white-skin, rent-a-CEO Sir Howard Stringer isn’t helping as he seems more focussed on convincing shareholders to hang in there a bit longer than developing a clear technology vision.

Most of the big boys, including Microsoft, are lagging behind in terms of convergence and next generation technology as smaller, more agile startups dart ahead.

That the porn industry was congregating next door to the world’s uber-geeks last week is no coincidence. While the parties may have been livelier in the XXX-rated convention hall, I’d bet there was more of the porn industry interested in CES than vice versa, checking out the next wave of technologies and media they can use to unleash a new wave of their sultry wares.

First published in the Yukon News on Friday, January 13, 2006

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