By John Latta
WAVE Issue #0153 12/13/2001
Keynote - Sony President Kunitake Ando
The major announcement at the keynote by Sony President Kunitake Ando was the agreement with AOL to jointly develop equipment for online experiences. Specifically:
Sony will develop for AOL a home gateway with the following attributes:
Sony and AOL will jointly develop a browser with the following attributes;
Sony and AOL will explore how AOL can provide Internet (broadband) access to Sony's networked CE devices.
Ando-san implied, during the news conference, that we can expect more from this announcement. One area he hinted at could encompass the media properties held by AOL TW.
In addition, Sony also made a number of other statements.
For example, Sony will integrate the Internet in virtually all of its
CE in the future and the basis will be IPv6;
Sony will create the networked home environment using
Bluetooth was largely taken for granted by Sony. It showed up in devices and on the presentation charts. This is consistent with what we saw at CEATEC. One must assume for low bandwidth applications including hand held controls and small devices communications will be via Bluetooth. For broadband and content between home CE it will be via 802.11a;
Sony announced the Ubiquitous Value Network;
Sony announced its new interface technology code named Feel;
Sony showed a home content storage device, it looked like a piece of living room furniture, which:
Sony showed the Networked Handcam for the US market;
Sony showed how its Playstation 2 could be used to
Sony showed networked game play on a PS2 done over broadband;
Sony also showed how the wristband technology, apparently
using Bluetooth, could be used as an universal communicator with devices;
Sony for the first time showed a wrist device which combines many functions including a camera, display, and wireless;
Sony showed the first phone from the partnership with Ericsson;
Sony announced a new relationship with Nokia;
Keynote - Cisco - John Chambers, CEO
We got a glimpse of how Cisco has morphed in the new economic environment at NGN 2001. At COMDEX we got an earful. For 55 minutes John Chambers went non-stop without notes and at the same time he ran the visual presentation. He walked among the audience for much of the delivery. It was riveting.
In one of the most compelling presentations at COMDEX he showed a fully connected automobile. It could:
On the Show Floor
Samsung - Wearable Keyboard
Showing both creative design and technology Samsung had multiple demonstrations of Scurry. Based on MEMS (Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems) technology for both accelerometers and gyros this is a wearable keyboard. The basic unit fits on the wrist and there are 3 units, which fit around the fingers. The user interface enables the selection of characters from the alphabet on the screen from finger movement. The user can choose multiple methods of input. So far the input is only for one hand but two hand versions are coming. Also in the booth was a very slick design 2nd generation version. What was striking was price $30 with availability in Korea in 2002 (early?) and the US shortly thereafter. Impressive.
They had on demonstration the 802.11a access port. There was no Air Board in the booth. We expect to see this at CES. The Network IP Handcam will be on sale in the US in January. Also shown, under glass, was the wrist communicator shown in the keynote.
Samsung - 40" LCD TFT Display
As a technology demonstration Samsung had one of the largest LCD displays we have seen - 40". The color and video quality was outstanding. Samsung would not state a time for product availability.
This is a company that takes a different approach to large panel displays. They combine two low cost LCDs into one larger display panel - the size of 37.5" display. It is intended to complete with plasma displays, at least initially. The advantage is that Rainbow can use low cost LCD panels and replace plasma displays. We were very impressed with the quality - one could just not see the seam. However, the price is $10,000 for the panel. They expect to market in vertical markets such as point of sale and trade show displays. However, at $10,000 the price point is only slightly lower than a plasma. The resolution is not adequate for a computer monitor. Very good engineering but they are in a race with LCD panels such as those shown by Samsung.
Showing the PaceBlade system which combines a tablet PC, a Notebook and a LCD PC this is a display panel with detached keyboard. The first units will be in production in December, potentially one year in advance of the Tablet PC software from Microsoft. We continue to be impressed with the ID and integration of the unit.
National Semiconductor - Geode Origami
This is cute. Basically a mobile communicator or a PDA that does just about everything. The industrial design is such that the unit can be folded and contorted into multiple form factors including a buried micro-keyboard. This unit includes:
In spite of all of this we are still baffled by the National Semiconductor business model. Geode is basically an X86 microprocessor left over from the fire sale of this technology to Via. National continues to believe in the PDA, Information Appliance market and to jump start it they create reference designs. Yet, it is not clear that this has gotten them any traction in the market. We certainly do not see the reference designs surfacing as products with any volume.
NextLink. To - Bluetooth Headset
NextLink. To has an innovative Bluetooth based headset. This company has at its core hearing aids and is located in Denmark. The headset, is tiny and fits into the ear. They claim, using the CSR chip, that the production unit will get 6 - 8 hours of use. Today the sample prices are $500. They forecast that in 2002 that wireless Bluetooth headsets for cell phones will be going for $100, but cautioned that their headset would not be priced so low when it begins initial production. The headset also works very effectively as a microphone. Using bone conduction the headset set can pickup the spoke word and retransmit this to the phone. We saw a very effective demonstration.
Maui - Hands Free Mouse
Addressing the market for individuals with restricted mobility Maui was showing a pointing device that used head tracking. With IR technology and a head worn reflector and PC based transmitter it is possible to control the PC with just head movements. There is a version for game play also. Price is $699 with availability this month.
Atheros has been shipping product since September. As far as we know, and booth discussions supported this, this is the only company supplying chips (2 chip set) in volume for 802.11a. In the booth they confirmed the following customers:
It was also stated that more customer announcements would be forthcoming shortly.
Wireless Market Segmentation
A market segmentation is happening rapidly:
Home - 802.11a - support for video and multiple video streams;
In the near term, each solution in the home market are likely to be independent implementations. This very similar to the A/V control protocols which run on 1394. For example, expect that Sony and others will add their own proprietary control to avoid conflicts between the data streams. Sony's 1TB storage appliance takes the form of storage but it can also hold DVDs and CD Audio. Thus Sony must address how to manage all the data flow in a busy home wireless network. Will they care about 802.11g for QoS? - only if it meets their needs.
However, we do not believe this segmentation, by home and office, will be long term. That is, as prices decline, and hopefully competition ensues on these RF chip sets, there will be dual mode implementations - 802.11a + 802.11b and even triple mode adding Bluetooth. This makes a lot of sense given the ability to control interference and data flow at the chip level. Further, there is no reason that with sufficient processing power that the baseband processing could be combined for all three into a single baseband chip.
The most important point now, is to get into the market and not let a preconceived notion of the "right" technology to use hold back doing anything. We expect that this will be a fluid market for at least 24 months.
Is this the end of COMDEX as we know it?
Three years ago we said this show had reached crazy unsupportable proportions. No computer show could last that was this big, awkward and hard to function in. It was all true and now it is ending more rapidly than anyone predicted. This was the year that COMDEX imploded - collapsed of its own mass, a pain to just attend and a set of surrounding events, which spells death to the event. COMDEX killed the NCC shows by ACM and COMDEX has killed itself. Why are we so down on COMDEX?
It is shrinking in size. The Sands convention center was built by the original management of COMDEX to handle the growth of the show. This year there was nothing at the Sands, the show had shrunk that much. There were many areas of the show floor just vacant and the isles were very wide. All the signs that exhibitors had walked away in droves.
The foreign exhibitors had moved into the main halls. There is a Korean, Hong Kong and Taiwan exhibitions, with many companies, that, in the past, were in outlying halls or in the Sands. One was left wondering where are the mainstream companies. Intel was not on the floor. Dell was not here. HP had a booth and it was not clear what the message was. The MS booth was smaller than last year.
This show is seen by many foreign companies, especially small ones, as an entry point to the US market. The heavy foreign participation this year is a testament to this. However, this will not sustain the show.
The quality of the attendees has dropped significantly. This was originally a show for the distribution channel and then morphed to the IT buyer and now who knows what. Joe and Jane public were all over the floors. It was like Computex on Saturday - public day. In conversations with one exhibitor he said that the only day with quality attendees was on Monday and they were not to be found after that. Tuesday began with the "tire kickers."
The show has tried but not been able to adapt to the changes in the market. As the market shifted to Information Appliances COMDEX tried but the market was not large enough to sustain this thrust. The Internet was a hot area but this has faded. Thus, the PC as the center of the industry is not sufficient to sustain this show and attempts to "move on" have not had staying power.
The economy has created an environment where a costly trade show exhibit must be justified to a level not experienced before. COMDEX is not worth it for many exhibitors. With no buyers and no exhibitors what is the trade show?
The show guide addendum said a lot. There were pages of last minute booth shifts which we read as booth shuffling to better cover the floor. The guide did not, as is normal, have a list of cancellations. We expect, by the number of vacant booths, that there were many.
Security here creates a barrier to participation. We saw a number of individuals just walk away at the security barriers. As much as the Key3Media management has touted in its statements - " we are back to normal," the show attendees would not agree. One of the most telling episodes was the long line for entry into the Bill Gate's keynote for the media. All the press had to go through the metal detectors and bag search. The US press took this in stride however, the Japanese press took no end of pictures. Key3Media was sending a message, unbeknownst to them, do not come here.
Security implementation reminds me of Mayberry RFD. Barney Fife runs the security operations here. It seems that every company with any claim to security experience was here. There are K-9 patrols, body searches and bag inspections. The rules are fluid and change on a case-by-case basis. After spending 1 hour in line on Sunday to get a pre-registration Media badge (which was mailed to me) "scanned" I went into the pressroom for access to the Internet. Going only 25' from the scanning and ID check process I was physically patted down. This was the only time this happened and the rules were different after that. At the entrance to the Cisco keynote, a dog walked past a group in front of a metal detector and once done everyone piled past the detector and into the auditorium no matter how much the metal detector went off. I could only assume a dog is better than a metal detector? One barks and the other beeps. At least they are different.
Jerking the media around. For nearly two hours the media and analysts were hijacked by Key3Media prior to the Bill Gates keynote. We were told that one must attend a presentation prior to getting tickets to the keynote. The implication was this related to security and was a requirement to get in. It turned out to be a panel discussion by industry "luminaries" such as Esther Dyson and Tim Bajarin. The feedback I got from some of the press was - wait and see what I am going to write about on this. Once the press finally got into the event they were told that tickets for the keynote would not be passed out until the end of the panel. Groans.