It’s bigger and more frenetic than ever, and somehow it seems very suitable that Bill Gates gave his last ever keynote as the chairman of Microsoft at Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show. I guess Microsoft can probably be picked out as the company that made computing and / or IT most usable by the masses, and right now is doing so much more than a lot of IT folks realise to compete again with a new set of consumers who hold none of the old preconceptions of Microsoft. As I pointed out last week to an Industry Analyst it’s interesting to see Microsoft following the path of other companies in using different names for its new markets, in this case I was thinking of PopFly, so it can really ‘change its game’ without impacting too much on its main stream market. By the way Popfly just won a prize from PC World for being one of the top 25 innovative products in 2007.
Bill reckoned, and being surrounded by much improved visual devices, High Definition, 3D, etc it makes sense, that the big change is in ‘natural interfaces’, how we can give commands by waving our hands, using voice, or indeed anything else you can think of. I prefer to think of it as ‘people centric’ with the interface as just the starting point, but that also requires better, sharper definition, displays. As I keep pointing out Web 2.0 is not about IT, or perhaps I should say, not about IT as we currently understand its role and function within business, written around machines and procedures, but about enabling people. The obvious difference is ‘bottom up’ communities lack top down command and control to set up machine taxonomies so we have social tagging instead.
But why should I care what happens at the CES? (Other than my personal interest, and enthusiasm, for new electronics). My belief is that unlike the saying that the attendees will hear in the various bars, casinos, etc of Las Vegas, ‘What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas’; what happens at CES has shown a remarkable tendency to come out of the consumer world and enter the business world; from the PC to the Cell Phone, from the Internet to the Web, it’s now main stream in the business world. With perhaps two exceptions; the PDA and the Tablet PC. Mmm come to think of it, wasn’t the tablet PC about interfaces, the ability to write on your PC and not type, and who remembers the Apple Newton PDA with that flaky handwriting recognition?
Interesting and quirky point that the only ‘failures’ were the two things that tried to re-establish earlier interfacing skills, personally I never got on with either but then I type faster than I can write! Guess most of the new generation of technology users will say the same….?
So what can we make of CES this year? I think it comes down to two things; communicating and displaying, both of which are weak spots in most business environments today. Sure we have phone and e-mail but we want so much more than this, we need to communicate more widely and in different ways using different content and that means display technology needs to improve. CES was offering that improvement for the home, and that curve of many people having better technology at home than at work is already established. It’s the effect that causes users to bring relatively in expensive consumer technology into the work place, the ‘shadow IT’ that every CIO I have talked to admits is happening.
Why this way round? Because people find it easier to establish the value of a piece of technology to their lives than business finds it to work-out how to use the same technology to same money. But maybe that’s the problem; it’s not about saving money. Most of the new CES technology that is finding its way into business is actually about making money through selling better, be that the abilities of the Web 2.0 technology to use intimacy with customers to improve sales conversion rates, or the sheer numbers of available users making new business markets. If you want to know the size of this tidal wave coming over your business go to and see nearly 1000 different companies with Web 2.0 products aimed at users.