It was obvious to anyone at the CES Unveiled 2012 event back in January. The One Laptop per Child (OLPC) display was mobbed, as they demonstrated a $100 tablet that replaced their original $100 computer project. Which, by the way, was the genesis of the netbook.
They never quite got their computer down to the target price point, but so many people who saw the prototypes said “I want one” that manufacturers such as ASUS and MSI jumped on the opportunity.
Five months later, they returned to find that the kids had figured out how to use the tablets, despite the fact they couldn’t read or write and didn’t speak a word of English.
For no good reason, someone involved in the project had disabled the cameras in the tablets. The kids figured out that the camera 1. existed and 2. didn’t work. So they hacked it. Kids who apparently had never seen a computer before figured out how to bust into the Android operating system and kludge a fix.
I’m looking forward to getting an update on the OLPC project at CES in a week or so. If you want to see great ideas at work, you need go no further than their booth.
Microsoft says 2012 will be its last year at the Consumer Electronics Show. ASUS isn’t holding its usual we’re-just-as-sexy-as-Apple preview event. MSI is MIA.
Computer companies have been exhibiting at CES for about 20 years, migrating to the show as Comdex died out. Microsoft Bob made his debut at CES in 1995. This “consumer friendly” information manager/productivity software package apparently got lost on the way to the airport and was never seen again. He happened in Vegas, he stayed in Vegas.
Apple was the first to pull out completely, right around the time it began its transformation from a computer company to a consumer electronics giant.
The primary purpose of CES has been to introduce new products to distributors and retailers. And some of that still happens. But as local specialty electronics stores die out and the national CE chains implode, that role is quickly diminishing.
Instead, CES increasingly serves as a public relations stage to hype new products to consumers and try to get them back into stores even while they’re still nursing their post-Christmas credit card hangovers. It’s also a chance for start-ups to get noticed and for core technology companies, such as chip makers, to get their components in front of the manufacturers and designers who still show up.
And it’s a chance to meet the people you email and Skype all year long, but never get around to seeing. You see, Apple didn’t really stop going to CES, and neither will Microsoft. They won’t exhibit or hold press conferences, or hire another marching band to introduce Son of Microsoft Bob. But like Apple people, Microsoft employees will still swarm the show, even more so once they no longer have to stand booth duty.
So far, the only close-to-really-new announcements have come from ASUS. That might be because the 2011 CES story is about incremental improvement and minor innovations, not radically new products or services. Or it could be a question of chipsets.
Everyone is hinting or outright pimping upcoming tablet computer announcements, but not actually saying what it is. That’s a little unusual for press days at CES, but it could be because Intel has what it thinks is a huge announcement to make in a few minutes, and they’ve turned the screws on their customers with the idea of managing some kind of coordinated roll out.
ASUS could talk because its Eee Pad family is powered by Snapdragon and Nvidia silicon, plus an older Intel chip. The rest – LG, MSI, Microsoft and more – could be hiding under an embargo agreement for now.
Jonney rocks it like SteveAll he needed was the black turtleneck. OK, Steve Jobs’ reality distortion field would have helped too.
ASUS chairman Jonney Shih borrowed the Apple chairman’s presentation style, falling only a little short on the mojo. Shih introduced four different implementations of the new eee Pad family of touchscreen tablets.
First up was the Eee Pad MeMo, a 7-inch tablet device that looks a lot like a big iPod Touch and runs Android on a Snapdragon processor. Two of the other new devices are also Android-based, running an Nvidia Tegra 2 CPU/GPU combo chip set and sporting a 10-inch touchscreen.
The Eee Pad Transformer is a tablet computer with an integrated docking station that looks like a conventional laptop when it’s all snapped together. The docking station provides a keyboard, extra power and familiar ergonomics. The Eee Pad Slider does a similar trick with a slide-out keyboard. Slate does Windows
The powerhouse new product, and the first one to market, is the 12-inch Eee Pad Slate, which runs Windows Home 7 on a more a traditional Intel Core i5 CPU. The product demo emphasized the eee Slate’s raw computing power. It appears to be a fully functional PC with a iPad-like form factor, albeit bigger.
The Eee Pad family is not vapor ware. The products were demonstrated live on stage, and Shih gave specifics about market launch dates and price points:
Eee Pad Slate, available January, US$999 to $1,099.
Eee Pad Transformer, available April, US$399 to $699
Eee Pad Slider, available May, US$499 to $799
Eee Pad Memo, available June, US$499 to $699
Shih continually benchmarked the new products against the iPad and its iOS cousins. And he pushed the idea that ASUS is Apple’s equal when it comes to innovation, a claim that leaned heavily on the hazy concept products and services he threw out at the end.
He talked about personal cloud computing devices, something called Waveface seamless mobility, DIY 2.0 which is supposed to be the new Web 2.0, and IRIS, which stands for “inspirational research for immersive space.” People love sliders
Waveface and DIY 2.0 are still half-formed concepts, as Shih pointed out, while IRIS is the catch-all for futuristic concept products. Shih was clearly trying to show that he and ASUS have Apple-like vision, and compared to run-of-the-mill computer makers they do. But they also need to remember that Apple’s mystique rests on the company’s practice of only taking about real, shippable products.
Reality distortion field or not, when Jobs introduces a truly new product it comes with a high degree of confidence that Apple will shortly be selling it. Shih still has to deliver on his conceptual promises.
MSI, on the other hand, was taking on Intel’s “Only the Paranoid Survive” persona. We had to sign a news embargo agreement to enter, only to be told ten minutes later that the embargo has been lifted. Which turned out to be OK with Intel because MSI’s US head sales guy, Andy Tung, said they weren’t going to talk about interesting products like tablets until Thursday. Because of Intel.
MSI’s sexy thingIntel’s Dan Snyder spoke briefly about the embargoed Sandy Bridge chip, and did say that it’ll be great for transcoding video to iPhones. Unfortunately, MSI doesn’t make the iPhone.
MSI talked about three conventional computer lines: the G series for gaming and high performance audio and video, the F series for everyday business and the C series for long battery life and, presumably, mobility.
ASUS easily won the Tuesday pre-Press Day derby at CES. They recognize that success in the consumer electronics business is not about clock speed or motherboards, but about the customer experience. Apple transformed itself from a computer company into a premium consumer brand. ASUS isn’t there yet, but they know which road they need to take.
Long-odds prediction for the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show: the mobile phone will be the set top box. Expect a prototype that tethers a large screen display to a media-rich smart phone. You walk in the room and your stuff appears on the screen. You will only have one channel and it will be whatever you want to watch, where ever you happen to be.
If someone doesn’t roll it out here in Las Vegas this week, you’ll see it shortly from Apple (which is too hip to hang at CES these days) or at a mobile phone event in someplace like Barcelona or Orlando or San Diego, at the latest.
CES starts rolling with press conferences, briefings and product previews. Tuesday is actually pre-Press day – the big boys strut their stuff on Wednesday – but it’s turning into the most interesting day of the show. ASUS began holding its press event on Tuesday a couple of years ago, and MSI joined in. CES Unveiled, which is the official small company press group-grope, also happens Tuesday. By the end of the day, it’ll be pretty clear what the high tech buzz will be for the coming week.
ASUS seems to be trying to position itself as another Apple, talking more about design than technology. It’s not quite in Apple’s league yet, but fresh designs do set it apart from the mainline CE companies. Even Sony looks grey-suit by comparison. MSI seems to be following ASUS’s lead, promising a media extravaganza.
My bet is that ASUS will introduce nicely designed computers and an iPad knock-off that misses on functionality but comes in a couple hundred bucks under Apple. It will then immediately suck the air out of its real product announcements by hyping photoshopped pictures of concept designs that look rad but will never make it to the prototype stage, let alone a production line. MSI will then throw a big party, show off some solid but not bleeding edge products and wonder why ASUS gets better coverage.
More predictions for the coming days…
Everyone will promise an iPad clone of one kind or another. None will come close to the integrated elegance of Apple’s product, but buried deep underneath the me-too crowd will be one or two innovations from unknown players with star potential.
At least one company will set itself up for iPad-like success or PlasticLogic-like embarrassment by showing a tablet that combines a next-gen e-reader’s thin, light form factor and low power consumption with a touch-screen and basic productivity apps.
Cisco will once again offer the show’s most autistic press non-conference and walk away patting itself on its corporate back.
The big, old school CE players will showcase the usual upgrades of existing product lines, but won’t have anything truly new to offer.
The wild card will be the CE company that finally figures out a usable user interface for IPTV. Thomson’s Joe Clayton was right fifteen years ago when he called video navigation the coming killer app of the 21st Century. We’re still waiting.
Look for bigger, brighter displays and fewer boxes. All the electronics for everything worth shipping to a store can pretty much fit onto a couple of circuit boards and into the case of any consumer-grade display.
Expect less emphasis on company app stores and more on turn-it-on-and-use-it functionality. Last year, CE companies flogged dozens of partnerships with high profile consumer brands. Not because consumers wanted it, but because they couldn’t think of anything else to say. This year they’ll have a better idea of the customer experience they’re actually trying to sell.
Last year, the cool new thing was bleeding edge input devices that responded to waving fingers and heavy breathing. Good stuff and there will be more of it this year, in productized form.
We’ll know soon enough. The fun is about to begin.