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January 12, 2015

2015 International CES

(Las Vegas)  

The YEAR Of......

           
 

by John Miller & Susan Prince

images by Frank Matuszek/ML1 Media staff

(Las Vegas) CES 2015: The YEAR Of……           

It’s broadly expected. Widely proclaimed. And often outdated well before the end of the same year. The "Year of ____" proclamation from International CES (formerly the Consumer Electronics Show). At CES 2015: Wearable technologies—from head (‘smart’ hats and headbands) to toe (‘smart’ socks and shoes), Wearable tech items were everywhere, leading to the inevitable declaration: 2015 will be the YEAR of Wearables. By the time Apple introduces its forthcoming Smartwatch (expected in March), the fad will be waning. Apple will pump it up and the device will undoubtedly be a sales success for Apple, but even an Apple device won’t save the market. There’s a limit to the useful info that an individual that isn’t in the business of performance will use. Baring pressing health issues, it’s of marginal value to know your body temp every minute of every hour for the last 30 days. Does knowing that you took 3700 steps today help in your quest to lose ten pounds? Perhaps. But does that Smartwatch ‘know’ that 1400 of those steps were to and from the donut shop where you devoured a chocolate cruller?

A near-winner in hot properties at CES 2015 were the quad copters –commonly referred to as drones. These multi-blade aircraft --- 4 is the most common number of rotors, but the higher payload versions have 6 or even 8 rotors on board – are incredibly easy to fly. Even the most basic versions retailing for well under $100 have an on-board camera for recording still images and video. Stepping up in price and features, the next generation offers live video to the remote controller or a suitable (smartphone/Tablet) device via a Wi-Fi connection. The cost versus potential of these devices –clearly beyond the toy stage, could prove extremely significant in the video arena –from entertainment to security to business operation ideas that haven’t’ even been thought up as yet. This hasn’t gone unnoticed with the FAA, who were also present at CES 2015. Tragically, the FAA seems to have their hands tied in terms of moving quickly to establish sane regulations for flight. Clearly, many of the distributors did not have a firm grasp of FAA rules and were advising potential buyers improperly. The FAA agents speculated that new regulation will take over one year to grind through the bureaucracy. By that time, the airspace could be littered with quads flying overhead.

 

And what about 3-D printers? The market has evolved, but market penetration has yet to reach its ‘3-D everywhere’ goal, and may never. The novelty is wearing off. Practicality is now the question put in front of 3-D printers. Some of the many manufactures exhibiting at CES in the newly renamed TECH-WEST (Sands Expo Center) offered an answer: MakerBot jumped out front showing its new printer filaments (printing materials). Initially, all 3-D printers printed in a melted plastic compound. MakerBot showed great progress with its new Bronze, Iron, Limestone and Maple filaments at CES 2015. The ability to create ‘print’ objects with these materials may put life back into the 3-D market yet. One other novel 3-D printer that has significant potential: the ChefJet fro by 3D systems. Announced last year and now available thru retail channels, the ChefJet system prints in sugar, chocolate and flavored confectionary (your choice of flavor) in nearly any design you can 3D print. The company even includes "Digital Cookbook" software to make designing and printing simple for the tech-baker novice allowing creation of sugar ‘prints’ in full-color. That the ChefJet Pro sells for $3400 suggests that widespread of adoption of 3-D printers will continue to be slow.

Sony and musician Neil Young (separately) made a case for high resolution audio. Little known, but widely agreed upon, the digitalization of music has killed the fidelity original sounds—part of the reason that vinyl record (thought to be dead) have actually experienced sales growth over the last 2 years. The MP3, as most digital music is referred to, is a highly compressed file format. Compression changes the nature of the original sound – actual audio is ‘lost’ in the compression process. Sony introduced a line of High Resolution audio hardware pieces (including a new portable Walkman) that play ‘Lossless’ digital files (often referred to as FLAC). Neil Young went even further, introducing his portable lossless player (Pono) as well as establishing a PONO standard for lossless players and lossless music, avail as a free license. Clearly, the musician is not in it for the money. Young hopes to establish an online library of artists music, both new remastered (original analog) digital files that maintain the original integrity/intent of the musician that record it. (Check the ML1 Media YOUTUBE channel for portions of the interview Young did at CES 2105).

 

The Action Camera market seems to have leveled off.  Go Pro is the acknowledged leader, but that hasn’t stopped competition from trying. Sony took a huge swing at GoPro by introducing a slew of new action cams including a tiny  splashproof, 11.9 megapixel action camera along with a giant leap forward in the Sony FDR-X1000, a 4k (3840 x 2160) image stabilized, splashproof action cam that easily fits into the palm of a hand (or the side of a helmet).[ML1 Media ‘test-drove’ the 11.9 megapixel Sony action-cam around the 2015 CES expo and will be posting snippets to the ML1 Website and the ML1 Channel on YouTube during January and February.] An interesting outgrowth of the action-cam market that filled many exhibits at CES were the various accessories for action came---everything from unique camera mounts –head, chest, leg, foot, to protective cases and external lights. 

 

Another trend sure to be seen in 2015 is the clever adaptation of use for the standard lightbulb socket. LED lightbulbs are, of course common place.  Taking that adaptation a step further, crafty manufactures have combined the standard screw-in base LED bulb with cameras and audio speakers.  Consider the simplicity of removing a lightbulb and replacing it with an LED bulb that incorporates a wireless, 720P motion activated camera with microphone and speaker. The home and commercial security application potential is huge.  Equally interesting in terms of convenience and leveraging existing (light bulb) infrastructure: LED bulbs that incorporate a high fidelity Bluetooth enabled audio speaker. Placement of the speaker is virtually invisible while never needing to worry about a power source.

 

An underlying current at more recent CES Expo’s is Automotive Technologies. There were some  interesting automotive technologies introduced at CES 2015—the Toyota Mirai Fuel Cell vehicle, and the improved self ‘driving’ (parking) capabilities of the VW Golf and BMW i3, but the significant development is in an area referred to as Connected Car and/or Telematics. A battle is brewing in this arena, and it’s as far reaching as VHS vs Beta (in its day---now of course, technology has made that, and its replacement, the DVD all dead issues). In terms of the connected car (AND motorcycle), the battle for CONTROL will be critical. Some camps want a flexible, modern easily adapted device used for control and connectivity – notably Apple and Android devices (Smartphones). Others insist the technology be built into vehicles according to strict standards in order to maintain consistency, reliability, security, and of course, safety. (Ford recently dumped Microsoft in favor of Blackberry for its third try at its connected car system “Sync” for reasons of reliability). Watch www.ML1MEDIA.com for a future piece dedicated to this subject.

 


Auto-related, (but not specifically known for its automotive involvement), Panasonic came to CES with a wide array of products –everything from cameras to hair trimmers to kitchen appliances. It would have been rather easy to overlook one of the more significant items Panasonic brought to CES ….were it not for the giant TESLA Model X SUV prototype on the Panasonic show floor. Panasonic is the exclusive supplier of lithium ion batteries to Tesla and a lead supplier of batteries for numerous other electric/hybrid vehicles from other manufacturers. Panasonic has partnered with Tesla to build a giant factory outside of Reno Nevada to provide batteries to Tesla. The production target is to produce enough batteries to supply Tesla with capacity for producing 500,000 cars, ANNUALLY. One of the more amazing aspects is that the Panasonic batteries aren’t giant high powered lumps. The Panasonic lithium cell is about the size of the average AA (penlight) battery. The key is quantity. And Panasonic appears poised to deliver quantity and quality.
Leftovers in the CES Smart device roundup: Does the world need a Smart Barbecue? Or a Smart Baby bottle? Is the world ready for a Smart Basketball? It’s possible that some could benefit from the technology---the jury will remain out on that awhile longer.

And thus, after careful evaluation of Hot Properties at CES 2015, ML1 Media declares 2015: The YEAR of the SELFIE STICK. These simple devices (also known as a monopod or grab pole) have…..grabbed the marketplace. Manufacturers (distributors) and resellers dotted the entire CES convention center floor. Every imaginable color, materials ranging from cheap steel to aluminum to polycarbonate to carbon fiber, and sizes ranging from palm sized to baseball bat -supersized editions. One inventive exhibitor even had a curved version, ostensibly to capture the perfect butt-selfie. Not mere action cam/smartphone/tablet holders, many of these sticks include or incorporate Bluetooth technology allowing remote operation of the device placed at the end of the stick. Retail prices are ALL over the place. One can find reasonably cheap (construction) and inexpensive version with Bluetooth for under $5. Or go for the complete waterproof (saltwater impervious) plastic versions that push prices up to $20 or go for broke (literally) with a carbon fiber model that could set you back $100 or more. From a marketing and sales perspective, when millions of teenage girls are behind a trend, you can’t go wrong.

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