CES 2017-6: Wrap-Up and Impressions

 There probably comes a point for everyone when the history of childhood is no longer in the peripheral field of vision, but rather pulling away quickly in the rearview mirror. A visit to CES can engage that shift in that perspective.


I remember (and that phrase, itself, indicates such a shift) dropping Kodak 126 film at Cochran’s, the neighborhood drug store, and then waiting a week for the prints to come back. Over ensuing years, I advanced to 110 cartridges and then a series of 35mm cameras, and remained a devoted fan of film even after digital photography became mainstream. It was mostly a clerk at a Washington CVS who precipitated my recalcitrant shift to digital: when I brought a 35mm canister in for processing, he waved the bar-code reader over the DX coding on the side of the canister, mistaking it for a UPC code. When I explained that the film was being submitted for processing, his vacant stare convinced me that the world had moved on without me. Within a month, I was holding a digital SLR, and its film-eating companion was sitting on a shelf.

Perhaps no other innovation than digital photography, coupled with consumer-grade printers capable of producing prints, should have been the death knell for Polaroid. To be sure, Kodak suffered greatly, if not ironically, given their invention of the digital camera in 1975 and their first-to-market DC40 in 1995. But, Polaroid’s mark was instant photography, even if the image was what might now be considered a thumbnail 3” x 3.5” ratio.  And, although connecting a camera to a computer to print a picture may be more cumbersome than simply pulling a print out of the camera itself, digital photography still offered far more instant gratification than even 1-hour photo processing, if for no other reason than the ability to adjust the image before printing.

CES 2017-5: Next Year, I Will Wear Comfortable Shoes

​ ​​  CES spans several venues in Las Vegas. In my opinion, the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) remains the grand-daddy of the venues, since a major portion of the conference programming is collocated there with an enormous trifecta of three immense areas of expo space. To lend perspective, the LVCC provides golf carts to transport attendees from the South Hall to the Central Hall.

The LVCC is where most of the “fun” stuff resides – Sony, Samsung, Monster, and other entertainment firms occupy large swathes of real estate, and the atmosphere is somewhere between a circus and a carnival, tripped out in neon with the volume turned to 11.

The Sands Exhibition hall, about a ten-minute bus-ride away, is where some of the smaller home health care and fitness players camp out. It is also home to Eureka Park, which features vendors displaying wares that are often not yet to market. It is as crowded, but somewhat less frenetic than LVCC.

I split my time yesterday between those venues. And, if I had to sum my impressions, they are consistent with the ones that I formed last year. Except that this year, they are more intuitive.

CES 2017-4: Our Connected Life

  CES seems too big to be distilled into a single statement. This year, however, the small reporter pads that are distributed to media feature a single word on the cover: Whoa! And, it is that exclamation that pervades so much of what is seen here.

This morning, I shared a ride with a lighting manufacturer whose company is entering its 25th year of business. There is perhaps nothing more rudimentary than a light bulb, be it an incandescent, fluorescent or LED. But, everything is connected, and even this simple device is the subject of many CES displays.

Several trends for 2017 were presented at an opening session yesterday morning at which the scope of CES was described. CES has 1,000 more registered media then the Olympics; of its 3,800 exhibitors, 20 percent did not exist three years ago; it is no longer viewed as a “technology show,” but as “connected life show.” So, what are the trends?

CES 2017-3: With All of Our Complexity, We Desire Simplicity

  (Las Vegas) In a session devoted to millenials' use of technology, a panelist took a spot poll and asked members of the capacity audience to text the most important criterion they would seek in a smart home system. As the word cloud refreshed several times over the next minute, one word emerged and remained the largest: simple. A revolution that is expected to hit $3.5 billion in annual revenues and reach 29.2 million units (increases of 57 percent and 63 percent, respectively) is at its core intended, or desired, only to make things easier. And to make things easier easily.

CES 2017-2: The Smart Cane Revolution

(Las Vegas) Although PR materials for CES indicate a four-day conference, it is preceded by a day-and-a-half of media-only programming, as well as a full schedule of formal conference programming (I am not in Vegas for the full show; I think that only the most resilient of people could stand such a stretch of time in this city of sensory-overload; add the glitz and neon glare of CES to the mix, and the prospects become quite frightening).

Yesterday’s media day kicked off with a keynote that addressed global trends in tech, including various regions and their respective growth potential. That and other general sessions were followed by an evening expo of new products and “innovation award” winners. As I worked through the hall last night, I tried to view what I saw through the lens that I introduced in yesterday’s post, specifically, what is technologically meaningful. While kids would probably argue that the “smart hairbrush” should appeal to me, I saw some other devices that demonstrate how the incorporation of sensors and connectivity can offer elegant, if not brilliant, solutions to everyday challenges.

CES 2017-1: This Year, It's Personal

  (Las Vegas) I activated a new phone yesterday. I will test-drive it at CES this week. My theory is that away from home, away from the office, walking miles (literally, it is an enormous event spread across several venues) will provide a robust, if not brutal, testing ground for the new device. It is a more technologically advanced phone than I currently use. The question is whether those advancements are meaningful when measured against the way I use my device.

Last year's CES opened with a challenge to consider whether technology is introducing meaningful changes. The exponential increase in sensor-driven technology can drive advancements in medicine, while applications that send alerts when egg or milk cartons are near empty might elicit less enthusiastic responses.

From the End of the World to Your Town

New Edge  In 2010 I interviewed Wayne Pearson, former president of the Smethport, PA chamber of commerce, for an article I was writing for NTCA’s Rural Telecom magazine entitled “Can Broadband Save Rural America?” In response to a question about the potential benefits of broadband to rural areas, Pearson responded, “If you can do your job from anywhere, why not choose small-town America?"

Why not, indeed?

In the years since that interview, more and more freelancers have come to the conclusion that rural America is the best place for them to ply their trade. In a Fast Company article entitled “Why These Freelancers Ditched Cities for Rural America,” author Amy Loehr takes a closer look at this phenomenon.

Loehr cites statistics from a survey conducted by Upwork and the Freelancers Union which shows that 55 million Americans—35% of the U.S. workforce—have done some form of freelance work in the past year. Further, 73% of freelancers say that technology makes it easier for them to find work.

While 35% of freelancers live in cities and 47% in the suburbs, 18% reside in rural areas. But as freelancing is “considerably more popular among millennials and gen Zers than with older age groups,” that rural percentage will likely increase as younger workers decide to put down roots and choose where they want to spend their lives and raise their families.

Change With Us

What do a JP Morgan report on Nordstrom, a White House report on artificial intelligence, and the Crock Pot have to do with rural broadband? To learn more about the changing needs for connectivity and how you can help rural communications infrastructure, keep reading.

  Somewhere in the not-too distant recesses of my mind I have memories of standing outside the Lazarus department store in downtown Columbus, Ohio, waiting for the doors to open at 10:00 a.m. Although I could not find an image or reference on-line, I remain convinced in my recollections that the front of the store facing High Street featured an immense set of pocket doors that retracted into the walls, leaving an expansive opening to the street. And, although I was or am too young to remember personally that customers could leave their cars for services appointments while shopping for clothes, I do remember ordering eyeglasses there and playing with the bank of Wurlitzer organs in the piano department. And, when I was older, visiting in between the time I got off work from my summer job and when night school began, looking for bargains in the Final Countdown section on the sixth floor.

The record department at Lazarus.
(Image courtesy Ohio History Connection and the State Library of Ohio).

These are memories my children probably will not have, and not because Lazarus closed more than a decade ago. Rather, the department store, generally, is in decline, according to many reports.

Jim Cramer of CNBC reported earlier this week that JP Morgan downgraded Nordstrom, noting that foot traffic in the retailer’s brick-and-mortar stores are at their lowest point in more than 40 years. Cramer observed, “The better Nordstrom’s website becomes, the less incentive you have to actually go to their stores. In other words, they are cannibalizing themselves.”

Why You Might Want to Invest in Noise-Canceling Headphones

  Last week, I sat next to a lovely woman on a flight from Chicago to DC. I do not know her name, but I know where she lives (the city, at least) and what she does for a living (she is a nurse whose company contracts with the VA). Her daughter (whose age I also now know) is in nursing school and working at a veterinarian clinic to support herself, and has brought home numerous animals as temporary pets. I came to know all of this because I failed to don my noise-cancelling headphones at the beginning of the flight (the big bulky ones that nearly scream “anti-social; please leave me alone”).

Now, having said that, I must confess that I enjoyed our chat and found quite refreshing the opportunity to engage in the lost-art of striking up a conversation with a fellow passenger. But, if newly signaled Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) standards emerge as expected, you might be shackled to such opportunities – except that you might hear only one side of the conversation.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

New Edge  “If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”  - A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

“The Grinch hated Christmas—the whole Christmas season. Now, please don’t ask why; no one quite knows the reason. It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight. Or it could be that his head wasn’t screwed on just right. But I think the most likely reason of all…may have been that his heart was two sizes too small.”How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Dr. Seuss

Few holidays stir the same depth of feelings amongst Americans as does Christmas--both positive and negative. A particularly interesting 2013 Pew Research Center poll looked at Americans’ Christmas traditions, and the stresses the holiday can bring. It’s well worth revisiting.

Pew found that 92% of all Americans celebrate Christmas, including eight-in-ten non-Christians. One-third of Christians view Christmas as primarily a cultural, rather than religious, holiday.

The survey found that several long-standing holiday traditions are not as prevalent as they once were. For example, while 79% of those celebrating Christmas planned to put up a tree, which was down from the 92% who did so in their childhood. Sixty-five percent planned to send Christmas or holiday cards, down from 81% in childhood. And 31% planned to pretend that Santa Claus would visit on Christmas Eve, down from 72%.