CES 2014: Unbelievable Tech, Disturbing Trends
Every year the technology industry converges under the bright Las Vegas lights for the largest expo in the world - The Consumer Electronics Show. It’s importance as an event is questionable and its timing right after the holidays always irritating, but there’s no doubt many of the announcements and products displayed here signal what’s to come for the entire tech industry over the next year.
First up, the cool tech…
UHD Displays Flex Their … Themselves?
Every year since the initial debut of HDTV, the CES show floor has been littered with the latest and greatest televisions sporting whatever technology fad TV makers were throwing out there that year. Some fads stick; many don’t. Years’ past have brought us the rise and fall of Plasma TV, the reign of 1080p, Internet connected displays, 3D, Smart TVs with apps, 4k, and now huge OLED displays that bend inward when you press a button. Why? Because bendy TVs are cool… or so they tell me.
NVIDIA’s Kepler K1 Mobile Chip is a Beast
Nvidia used CES to show off its next mobile processor in both 32-bit and 64-bit flavors, and it is incredibly impressive. Running demos of the game engine Unreal Engine 4, the Kepler part managed to handle high-resolution 3D graphics with loads of dynamic lighting effects and other DX11 features, thanks to its integrated 192-core GPU. Major advancements in mobile processing technology shouldn’t come as much of a shock year-to-year, but with the high end moving slower, the difference between gaming on PCs and mobile devices is coming closer than ever.
Intel also isn’t letting the next wave of mobile devices get away from it thanks to Edison, a 22nm processor package (essentially a kit PC) the size of an SD card that’s poised to power the wave of microelectronics and wearable gear coming to a Wal-Mart near you.
The Cloud at Home
The cloud isn’t going anywhere, but it’s also not going to be the only game in town for a while, because new desktop storage devices offer up way more capacity than is feasibly possible in the cloud. The 4/5-bay desktop NAS is a particularly heated category. LenovoEMC, for example, showed off its new 4-bay px4-400d for $729 base with loads of features. ioSafe followed up the awesome N2 hardened NAS with the 1513+. For a 5-bay NAS it’s pricey at $1,599, but not until you notice that it’s expandable to 15 drives, and it’s basically disaster proof against fire and flood.
If it’s Tech, You Must Wear It
The wearables craze is back! And it’s better than ever! Booths full of wearable “life” bracelets that track your movements, read your heart rate, and log your steps are everywhere. Smart watches are clearly the next area of real innovation, and now everyone and their competitors are building space-age watch prototypes. It doesn’t matter if you wear it on your head, your ears, your fingers, or your clothes, 2014 will be the year OEMs release dozens of doo-dads for you to feel silly wearing.
3D Printing – 2014 isn’t the year, but it’s getting really close.
I’ve been watching the cost of 3D printers drop steadily over the past two years while the quality doubled. They’re still too expensive to bring rapid prototyping and custom Lego brick manufacturing to the smallest businesses and homes, but at these rates good-quality 3D printers will be available for less than $1,000 by next year’s CES.
MakerBot, for example, unveiled its fifth-generation 3D printers that include three distinct models starting at $1,349 for a 100-micron extruding 3D printer. Meanwhile, WobbleWorks showed of the 3Doodler, which (literally) lets you draw 3D objects in thin air.
Until 3D printers are as ubiquitous as ink-jet models, companies like Sculpteo are offering up 3D printing as a service to SMBs and making customized 3D printing just as easy as making customized coffee mugs for grandma. Upload a 3D file, change the size and dimensions of the object directly within the browser, select a printing material, and order the design to be 3D printed and shipped.
And finally, some great and disturbing trends to look out for in 2014…
Microsoft Doesn’t Have Any Friends
In some ways, I feel kind of bad for the folks in Redmond. They have always gotten picked on by end users for a wide variety of reasons, but at least their OEM friends have largely stood by them through thick and thin. Walk around the show floor of CES 2014 and it’s quickly becoming clear that Microsoft’s former pals are now buddy-buddy with the enemy - who we’ll simply refer to as “G Homey.”
We’ve seen hybrid PCs that can switch between Android and Windows, but now Intel (Microsoft’s former blood-brother) has joined AMD by working in new features to promote dual-booting hybrid laptops between “G Homey’s” Android software and Windows. If the Metro side of Windows becomes bastardized on all hybrid laptops and tablets going forward, Windows becomes relegated to legacy status, and that will have serious implications for Microsoft’s entire developing mobile ecosystem.
Dual booting isn’t even the worst of Microsoft’s woes. Chromebooks (or Chromebases, or Chromeboxes, or Chromesticks, or whatever else you’ll see them called), are slowly eating away at the bottom end of the market. That market may not be super profitable for OEMs, but even that market can buy a whole bunch of low-priced apps. And more OEMs, like Toshiba, are joining the party.
On the living room front, Valve is continuing to gain Steam (see what I did there), and if there’s anything that Valve CEO Gabe Newell hates, it’s Microsoft. With Valve launching Steam OS on “Steam Boxes” coming from a huge number of OEMs, it’s just another added headache for one of Microsoft’s well regarded consumer brands.
Valve Invades the Living Room Through OEMs
The PS4 and Xbox One just hit store shelves and soon will have fifteen or more competitors, all powered by Steam. And, a good majority of those are significantly more powerful than both of the leading new consoles. All the OEMs that build Windows PCs are going to be building competition for Microsoft and Sony, and Valve’s Steam service is well-loved by many gamers for the excellent sales on games and other digital goods.
Microsoft is both helped and hurt by Valves efforts. Steam OS is essentially another Linux distribution, but the vast majority of top-tier games today won’t work on Linux. That means most builders will dual-boot Windows and Steam OS on machines for the time being so customers can play anything in their digital library. However, Valve is giving game developers a big reason to develop for Linux, and the more that buy into Steam’s ecosystem, and Linux, the less they’ll be buying into Microsoft’s.
What’s bad for Sony and Microsoft may actually be good for the channel, giving system builders a big opportunity to build high-margin, custom PCs for the living room. Best of all, even the little guy can take on the likes of Alienware and Falcon with a little bit of imagination and a lot of custom cooling. Take advantage of the opportunity.
The NUC Gets Some Competition
I’m a big fan of Intel’s NUC, which is a versatile DIY kit that offers 12x20 performance in a 4x4 package. It’s always good to see a little friendly rivalry pop up that pushes the form factor forward. Gigabyte is stepping up its game for 2014 by offering a DIY PC kit in the Brix line that offers professional CPU performance and improved graphics via Intel’s i7 Core 4770R processor featuring the Intel Iris Pro graphics 5200. Intel wins, Gigabyte wins, and the channel wins. Who’s complaining?
Google Is Holding Itself Back
Google is now the 400-pound digital gorilla, but the company is fighting itself in the battle for OS dominance outside of phones. Both are gaining traction, but Chrome OS is largely unnecessary when Android is more versatile - and runs Chrome.
The Carriers are Evil, and They’re Getting “Eviler”
In a single program disguised to “help consumers,” AT&T is essentially giving the middle finger to the entire concept of net neutrality. The company calls it “Sponsored Data,” but it may as well call it “Pay to Play” for the future of the Web. In short, AT&T wants companies like Facebook and Google to give them money for you to browse their digital offering without consuming the monthly allotment of bits and bytes you already pay for and probably don’t use. Whatever the service, the owner of the pipes simply can’t resist the opportunity to double dip. After all, it’s better to charge two people for the same bandwidth used than one.
Remember, once one wireless company does anything the rest will follow suit. Internet access over mobile becomes pay to play, and that puts all but the Web behemoths at a huge disadvantage. Worst of all, once the Web is pay to play, it’s not long before the exclusives start. How long before Facebook makes a lock-in agreement with AT&T to be the exclusive carrier for free Facebook access? How soon will Google pay to make YouTube access cost double data for all non-Motorola devices on Verizon? Or, how long before mobile access to YouTube becomes completely exclusive to a carrier?!
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