CES 2015, a UC View
I know that CES is predominantly a consumer event, but I think it shows what is coming for those of us in enterprise. To see how the technology from CES would impact us, I ventured into the world of 4K televisions, drones, robots, 3D printers, wearable, smart cars, and all other things technical and weird to see what I could find. Yes, I went to CES in Las Vegas looking for UC products and impacts.
CES 2015 was huge. With over 160,000 attendees and multiple venues, it was almost overwhelming. One of the small halls at the LVCC was bigger than the entire Enterprise Connect floor, and there were 10 or so of those as well as events and expos in many other venues. The range of technology was astounding, from cars to sous-vita cookers. I thought I would write about a few trends that will impact us in enterprise communications.
The first area I found interesting is the connection of technology to the real world. This requires mechanisms for computers to visualize the real world and then new ways to present to the user. In the area of machine visualization, here were a number of technologies. The most significant is Intel’s RealSense, a core technology to enable the creation of a 3D mapping of the real world through cameras and processing. In demos, Intel showed how RealSense could be used for recognition, to enable a drones to fly without hitting things, to enable a blind person to see, and other uses. It is a core part of the new security technology as 3D facial mapping can become a very simple user access. The demonstration of having your device in your pocket and walking up to your door and having a camera recognize your face and use two factor security (the device and your face) to let you into your house. Another example was a demonstration of RealSense in the iRobot telepresence robot. Using RealSense, the robot can move autonomously in the target environment. So instead of having to guide the robot, you can just say “go to the conference room,” and the robot will move on its own, avoiding both obstacles and people along the way. This technology will be generally available later in the year. It is not a big jump to having this be the recognition of me entering a conference or using it to identify participants in a room.
The second part is how we interact with the environment. While there were a number of immersive Virtual Reality (VR) helmets, the Augmented Reality (AR) seemed to have much more promise. With a pair of glasses with AR capability, the real world can be overlaid with information. For example, when walking into a room, all of the people can have their name overlaid. Sony had a cool demo of how AR can be used in a warehouse to help find and identify what is in boxes using location and RFID. Another interesting example is in non-keyboard environments. Intel showed a demo of playing a virtual keyboard (piano) in midair with a projected 3D display. A company called Touchjet showed a relatively low cost solution to turn any surface into a touchscreen. These technologies will quickly find their way into our environment.
A second area I found interesting was the emergence of lower cost continual audio devices. At the Bluetooth innovation showcase, a number of companies were showing a variety of earbuds that use Bluetooth and are designed to be relatively continual use. Companies like Bragi, GN ReSound, and others were showing devices that are approaching the capability to put them in in the morning and wear all day. With both unobtrusive sound (you can listen to what is happening around you while still getting audio messages) and built-in mics, these devices will enable our systems to listen to us continually. This will blur the boundary between communications and assistance. If your voice is sent to the “cloud,” it can be used for comms and collaboration, but also as way to help you (think Suri) or to record. With everything a person says in their lifetime being stored in around 2 TB, the capability for continuous communications is coming.
4K televisions are here to stay. The number of 4K televisions were astounding and the price points are sure to drop. As I have discussed in some of my white papers on business video, 4K has potential advantage in certain room situations as the near viewers at a table can see the display without pixels. While definitely not mandatory, it is a consideration. For video conferencing, I think we will see the advent of 4K video HD coming sooner than later. With the costs of 4K video equipment dropping, it is only a matter of time. For the network teams, this is a really significant consideration. As 4K video has 4 times the bandwidth of 2K, even with newer encoding like H.265 and VP9, it will be a doubling to tripling of bandwidth for higher end conferencing. I expect a 4K round of telepresence systems later in the year as well.
I found two specific WebRTC demonstrations at CES. The first is a camera manufacturer named Amaryllo. The company makes a range of peripherals for smart phones, but the real interest is in their web cameras. At CES, they were showing a new video camera called the iCamProHD that uses WebRTC. The second company I visited was businessfriend (why do all of the new companies insist on not using capital letters in their names?). Businessfriend is a business communications and collaboration package using WebRTC as the basis. It provides four basic services, social integration, communications, contact management, and cloud storage. The product is offered as a free service for low cloud storage capacity with premium paid offers for added storage. I talked with Freddie Pierce, VP of Product, about the platform and he indicated that using WebRTC was critical to developing the platform. I believe this is an indicator of many developments in this area as developers take advantage of the speed and innovation that WebRTC can offer to create platforms for the business user. In the large enterprise space, the Circuit product/platform from Unify is similar. The interesting question is how pricing and business models will change.
Overall, I found CES incredibly exciting. The range of products and technology is astounding. Innovation is everywhere. At a more general view, I concluded that 2015 (and beyond) will become much more challenging for profitability in consumer technology as a wider range of categories are competing for the consumer dollar. CEA predicted that overall spending will increase around 1% this year; US spending is predicted to grow by less than 3%. The fact is that consumer income is not increasing rapidly and fixed costs (housing, food, transport, etc.) are increasing faster than income growth (excluding the recent drop in fuel prices). The result is that discretionary spending is flat at best and decreasing for many. The emergence of multiple new technology categories means that spending in many categories will drop. For example, Samsung quoted a survey that said 32% of consumers are interested in Smart Home technology, but less than 2% have invested. I see this as the interest versus income gap. If you have $500 to spend, do you buy a NEST thermostat and home automation, a new mobile device, a 3D printer, a drone, a robot, a ..., you get the idea. In consumer electronics, competition in categories has driven margins in many categories (think DVD players) to razor thins levels. I think the same will happen across categories going forward. The result is that many primarily consumer companies are looking to business for growth. This was evident in the Samsung booth were there was a large area dedicated to using Samsung displays in business applications.
My conclusion is that many of the technologies that seems expensive for Enterprise Communicants and Collaboration will become both affordable and integrated. For both vendors and enterprise IT staff, having a clear view of these technologies will be critical for the near future and beyond. Your users, managers, and executives will see these technologies at home and will expect you to have them available in your solutions.