A lonely outpost.
This year’s rebranding of the tech extravaganza formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show saw “International” dropped from the name. It’s now just CES, although it still bills itself as a “global technology event”.
Looking just at attendees and media, it certainly is an event with global pull. But the products on display overwhelming come from companies based in developed or near-developed countries, even though the actual manufacturing is often done in the developing world. China is well represented, of course, and there’s ample room to debate which category it falls into, but nevertheless it is exceptional in every sense of the word.
Every year brings a handful of exhibitors from ASEAN nations. This year, the total dropped significantly, with only 13 companies attending, including 10 from wealthy Singapore. Two were from Thailand and only one from Malaysia, Nationgate Solution, a contract manufacturer. Last year there were 15 from Singapore and five from the rest of the region. That’s out of more than 3,600 exhibitors total.
India held more or less steady with six exhibitors, one less than last year but the same as 2014. South America was barely present with one exhibitor, Student Genius from Colombia; past years have fluctuated between zero and two. Last year there was one African manufacturer, this year there were none on the show floor. One publisher from South Africa, IT News Africa, set up a stand though. It’s a good read and worth a look if you’re interested in following the African tech scene.
One thing the Consumer Technology Association could do would be to set up a special forum – there are plenty already – for contract manufacturers and similar providers of outsourced services. Among the 150,000 or so attendees, there are thousands of entrepreneurs, many of whom are on the hunt for someone to make their stuff.
The “global technology event” which is officially – whatever that means – called “International CES” isn’t living up to its name even as well as it did (or not) last year. Exhibitors from Africa, South America, South Asia and Southeast Asia are even thinner on the ground in 2014, judging from the pre-show floor guide.
Last year, 23 companies from ASEAN nations exhibited products, this year the total is only 18. Hanoi-based Tosy is thankfully back – nothing like a dancing robot to perk up the day. The Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand also have a single representative, a plus for the Philippines but a loss for Thailand which fielded 3 exhibits last year. Singapore is still the powerhouse, with 14 companies showing product, a gain of 1.
Indian companies and organisations are losing interest, with only 6 exhibiting versus 10 in 2013. South America is doing better this year, with one bona fide entrant – Comercial Revbox, a trading company from Chile – on the show floor. Last year’s continental rankings had South America tied with Antarctica: zero.
Africa is not doing as well. Vivid Audio, a Johannesburg-based maker of high end audio systems, is back but that’s it. Morocco’s Nemotek isn’t returning and no other African exhibitor is making the trip.
Developing world start-ups sometimes share booth space with better established partners or participate in small company showcases, like Showstoppers or Pepcom, so there’s plenty of opportunities for pleasant surprises.
Last year, 36,000 people – nearly a quarter of the total – from 150 countries came to CES as international visitors, and exhibitors from dozens of northern hemisphere countries could be found on the show floor. CES is an amazing show that well deserves its international tag. It’s not too much to hope that it can eventually close the gap and become a truly global event.
Developers jump on a new mobile platform.
If mobile, desktop and other devices like TVs converge on a single operating system, it'll be a Linux variant. When processing, display and input technology get to the point that the size and form factor of a device is irrelevant, an open source ecosystem will provide a cross-sector point of convergence for developers and manufacturers. Service providers will follow. It's an entrepreneurs' world.
Windows 8 will survive as a mobile operating system. It'll have a place in enterprise networks, because its integration with desktop computing will appeal to some IT managers. It could even edge out RIM if the Blackberry 10 OS fails to impress. But I didn't talk to a single consumer facing app developer who is coding for anything other than Android and iOS.
Makers starting moving into CES this year. 3D printing grabbed everyone's attention, with printer manufacturers' booths jammed and a few garage scale start-ups showing products. Expect a lot more next year.
Wearable computing and home automation are closer to being commonplace. Near term, wristwatch-style Bluetooth devices like Pebble will provide quick text and incoming call notifications, plus limited control functions for your smart phone. Long term, eyeglass mounted video displays and health monitors will become self contained and fully functional, with or without a phone.
Retailers, manufacturers and service providers are jumping into home automation. Managed services, industry verticals, do-it-yourself kits and proprietary systems were in abundance at CES.
There's no clear leader in the space, but there might not need to be. Whether it's by automatically associating to a home WiFi network, talking to a networked hub or connecting directly to mobile networks, smart home devices will get their smarts from cloud-based middleware platforms. Consumers can just plug and forget. Apps and web pages will provide information and control.
It's fair to call the International CES a technology event rather than a dedicated consumer electronics show. Distinctions between consumer and enterprise markets, and shrink wrapped products and core technologies are largely irrelevant. Calling it global is still a stretch. Although attendees come from all over, only a quarter of the world's countries were represented on the exhibit floor. Two continents – Africa and South America – were all but absent. India's presence barely registered. Big as this year's show was, there's room to grow in 2014.
India comes to the table.
“Everybody wants to do a start-up in India,” said Zafar Baig, a board member of Emo2, one of the few Indian companies that's exhibiting at CES this week. The problem is, investors and entrepreneurs are focused on software and services, not hardware. There's a belief that “design is not mature enough to be accepted globally. Software is an easy play.”
Only ten India-based companies are exhibiting, out of more than three thousand total on the show floor. “Start-up companies don't have the resources to exhibit here,” Baig said. They ask themselves “is it worth it to show product [at CES] when we should be building the company?”
Baig's venture is an exception. Emo2 provides retailers, hospitality companies, health providers and other businesses a consumer-facing walled garden of apps and content they can offer to customers on site.
Their biggest account is Cafe Coffee Day, with 1,300 locations around India serving 350 thousand customers daily. So far, they're in about a hundred locations. Customers sit down at a table with a built-in, 21-inch touch screen, and then browse the menu and use the store's own apps.
The platform can be customized with the retailer's own branding, content, advertising and apps. It runs on Linux and leverages India's rich ecosystem of software developers to deliver a tightly controlled customer experience.
“We provide the app store, iTunes and iCloud experience for any company,” Baig said. “We want to give to the enterprise what Apple gives to consumers.”