Archive for the ‘Consumer Electronics’ Category

Is Apple still disrupting the Industry?

Saturday, September 20th, 2014

Graphic oneI recently attended the CTIA 2014 “Super Mobility Week”, a week-long technology conference in Las Vegas which hosted thousands of mobile professionals and executives, 1,100+ exhibitors, as well as 1,000+ media and analysts from across the globe.

In recent years, both CES and MWC have developed into high profile showcases for the technology industry, and consequently it has become difficult for CTIA to justify the value of the exhibition side of its event. Recognizing the importance of convergence technologies and in an attempt to compete, this year’s event partnered with smaller independent IT and telecom conferences, and wrapped them around the CTIA exhibition to attract greater attention from the industry – and it seemed to work!

What interested me in particular about this year’s conference was that, during the keynote speeches on the second day, time was allocated for beaming Apple’s live announcements directly from Cupertino, California. During this streamed video, there were four highly respected analysts on stage interpreting what these announcements meant for the industry; they included wireless industry expert, Chetan Sharma, and columnist and commentator, Shelly Palmer.graphic two

The much anticipated introduction of the new iPhone 6 brought no surprises: the screen size had been increased, its battery technology had been improved and the device now included NFC. Following these announcements, comments from the analysts on stage were reiterated by a series of ad’s from Samsung and comments in the press, all concurring that none of this was new technology.

graphic threeWith the introduction of its new smart watch, however, Apple demonstrated how it has incorporated fashion and luxury as a key part of its strategy going forward. The Apple Watch comes in two sizes and three different styles, and with changeable straps. More significant was Apple’s user interface design rethink utilizing the traditional watch crown, along with touch to control the screen and displays; the intent is to encourage users to really embrace and engage with this new device. graphic fourSome from the watch industry have dubbed this a “beginner’s step” but nonetheless Apple seems intent to move the bar. If they succeed, the army of developers and the size of early majority users that are Apple fans could result in this becoming the catalyst for change in the smart watch space.

The introduction of the Apple Pay system aroused much attention at the conference and even seemed to trump the excitement over Apple Watch: the utilization of a thumb print, combined with Near Field Communication technology to verify purchases, provides a slick simplification of the payment process. graphic fiveAnother interesting and simple mechanism introduced was the ability to add a credit card to your existing iTunes account. You simply take a photograph of the credit card, and the cloud reads the details from the card and verifies these with your bank, then syncs this with your phone and your iTunes ID account. The whole emphasis is on simplifying the payment process. What was also extremely impressive was the fact that Apple has 220,000 outlets signed up for this already, and that AMEX, Visa and MasterCard are all supporting the process, along with major banks, including Citibank. Supporting retailers include Macy’s, Bloomingdales, Walgreens, Whole Food, Subway and, of course, Apple retail.

The conclusion I came away with from CTIA 2014 was that, while Samsung may be the technology leader in the device space, Apple, with the introduction of Apple Watch and Apple Pay, is continuing to foster business model and value chain transformation. This legacy capability, as demonstrated by Steve Jobs with the introduction of iTunes that subsequently blew up the music industry, appears not to have been lost with his passing, but is seemingly being diligently pursued by the current Apple management team.

Steve Bell, President, KeySo Global

Connectivity – The Space Between

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

How WiGig, a new standard, could fill the gap

This year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona (MWC 2013) provided an opportunity to foresee the future of wireless technology, not just for mobile phones but for all connected devices.

As this picture confirms, the average computer invariably needs to be connected to numerous other devices in order to perform its multiple daily tasks. Increasingly, the converged world is blurring what content and applications can be obtained from what device; films are available on tablets, Internet on the television and video conferencing on PCs. For those of you who embrace these new opportunities there is invariably that moment when you need to swap from one device to another or share content simultaneously between two devices; at this point you’re scrambling to find the right connector, adaptor or cable. In the very near future this situation may be a thing of the past. Connecting the space between devices and enabling easy and rapid sharing of data, video and connectivity became a step closer to reality over the last three months with the unification of the WiGig and Wi-Fi Alliances.

For the past five years, the Wireless Gigabyte Alliance (WiGig) has been developing a new wireless standard that operates at 60 GHz and can deliver data rates up to 7 Gigabits per second – approximately 10 times the speed of the fastest Wi-Fi technology currently available. One of the major proponents behind this technology is Intel which envisions a future of all your devices cleverly synchronizing masses of data, and without effort on your part. High definition video and images will be instantaneously sharable between PCs, televisions, tablets and other consumer electronic devices. Another proponent, Panasonic, has already demonstrated their prototype WiGig-enabled SD card, showing how it will only take one minute to wirelessly transfer a full DVD video from a wireless controller to a display mounted within a car.

The memorandum of understanding between the Wi-Fi Alliance and WiGig Alliance comes shortly after the IEEE has approved the WiGig standard as 802.11ad, thereby encompassing it within the Wi-Fi family. It is hoped that this unification and standardization will help drive the mass adoption that the Alliance has been aiming to achieve by changing the “perspective of end-users that it was two different standards and two different brands” according to Dr. Ali Sadri, President of the WiGig Alliance, when I interviewed him at MWC 2013 in March.

With multiple manufacturers planning to install WiGig technology into devices across a broad spectrum of consumer electronics products, this will not only increase the speed of massive data and video file transfer but also – through improved and efficient protocol adoption layers (PALS) – facilitate enhanced applications for HDTVs and other consumer electronic devices in the future.

Another potential benefit of WiGig could be seen in large venues, such as shopping malls, sports stadiums, hotels or conference facilities, where high speed, ubiquitous coverage for high volumes of users is difficult to provide using current Wi-Fi technology. The 802.11 ad / WiGig standard will allow five access points instead of the single Wi-Fi access point currently in existence, thereby allowing approximately 50 times more capacity. In addition, the range is controlled utilizing sophisticated beam-forming antennas with a footprint of about 10 m so that overlapping footprints can be created every 10 m or so, enabling users to connect and shift seamlessly between access points while maintaining a high speed data link connection.

Needless to say, key players in the semiconductor industry such as Intel, Broadcom and Samsung will be aggressively marketing this technology. They may not have to push too hard because the huge appeal of being able to wirelessly connect devices and seamlessly share ever increasing amounts of content is bound to drive rapid consumer adoption. Finally a solution to all those trailing wires and connections!

Steve Bell, President KeySo Global

Are New Players Forcing the Mobile Industry to Change?

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

As much as this year’s CES was about the influence of mobile at the center of consumer electronic growth and development, there was little that was outstanding from the perspective of new mobile device introduction.

Certainly Qualcomm, Samsung, Nvidia and Intel talked about enhanced chip set technology that has increased performance and graphics while cutting back on power consumption, and Samsung showcased their new flexible screen technology; but apart from the above, no real breakthrough or “wow” products were announced.

Most mobile device manufacturers tend to hold off until Mobile World Congress (MWC) in February to showcase their new product portfolios for the upcoming year. Increasingly a minority of the big guys have premier events before MWC. Apple has done this is past years and in all probability RIM is planning to introduce its new Blackberry this year. The audience at MWC is made up of global operators that provide the purchasing power and the ability to make or even break manufacturers with decisions to range their products and link them to new services and subsidy provision.

The dawning of a fundamental shift in the composition of the mobile industry may, however, have been observed at this year’s CES. The two major Chinese infrastructure manufacturers that have struggled to gain market position in the U.S. – and in one case is being actively barred – are working on building their customer brand and device portfolio. ZTE and Huawei both had large stands and comprehensive product offerings at CES, and the two companies showcased their new products that clearly targeted the Samsung S3 and Galaxy Note. ZTE launched its Grand S LTE unit and seemed determined to let everyone know that they are now the number 4 smartphone manufacturer worldwide. Huawei’s main product introductions, however, lack LTE capability which is a little surprising given the North American market focus on LTE growth. I am sure that there will be an announcement at MWC, or possibly later at CTIA in May that will address this hole in the U.S. portfolio. The real point is that these two companies are striving to build brand awareness and become household names; at the same time they are targeting Samsung which, together with Apple, is taking a 90% chunk of the profit currently generated in the smartphone market.

The Chinese are known for their long term strategic plays and it is likely that they will be the root cause of a complete shake-up of the mobile space that we are about to witness. The Apple’s and Samsung’s will undoubtedly survive but will be under increased pressure to maintain their brand and technology prowess, and at the same time sustain the margins that Wall Street has become accustomed to. Those manufacturers in the middle of the mobile market will find it a struggle. HTC, which showcased a star product at Mobile World Congress last year, now has non-existent profits and has failed to maintain its technology and brand presence. At CES this year, rumor had it that a major European / U.S. carrier was considering deranging and dropping HTC because they no longer offer hero products or have the brand to support them.

Amongst this turmoil, RIM will also face the challenge of re-establishing itself in the market, despite the introduction of its new Blackberry 10. Both LG and Sony may be forced into a niche, and Nokia could become to Microsoft what Motorola has become to Google – a hardware capability but with no direction or insight into how to recreate the Apple model.

Playing in the background are the major equipment manufacturers, such as Foxcomm, which build products for major smartphone, tablet and PC manufacturers. Within the last year Foxcomm has acquired the brand, Sharp, primarily for use in China but, one would suspect, ultimately as a potential global distribution channel.

With the stage set, the next 18 months could prove to be pivotal in terms of the strategic scenarios that play out. More significantly, the role of the mobile operator as orchestrator could once again be changing to the role of king-maker or breaker as they decide to support the upstarts or partner with the incumbents. Watch this space!

Steve Bell, President, KeySo Global

 

Can Small Innovators Take Center Stage at CES?

Saturday, January 12th, 2013

I’ve just returned from Las Vegas where, as an analyst, I attended the largest International Consumer Electronics Show ever. Having walked not only the 1.92 million square feet, or 37 football fields, of exhibition space but also the 1.6 miles between the Venetian and the LVH Convention Center every day, it quickly became apparent that it was going to be impossible for me to get to see all of the 3,250 exhibitors with their 20,000 new products.

In an exhibition of this size, three very different methods of announcing products and demonstrating innovation have had to evolve. The first approach that flagship brands adopt is to create a “wow factor” for their product reveal to keep it top of mind. Here the product is placed center stage on massive booths, features at the center of elaborate and expensive keynotes, and is the focus of high visibility “invite only” press launches and parties, examples of which have been hitting mainline media all week.

The second method of product announcement is to facilitate one of the many closed door discussions that take place in ritzy hotel suites across Vegas; high ranking company execs are ferried back and forth to meetings by retained limos, and a bizarre and almost ritualistic protocol determines who meets with whom, according to status. Whatever the end result, these movers and shakers have a full dance card for the entire time they are in Vegas and have little or no opportunity to see the third, and in some ways most interesting, type of product exhibition.

Here an ecosystem of small domestic and international manufacturers and innovators prevails. Their products and developments are displayed in the hope that the right buyer, scout, analyst or media representative will serendipitously stumble upon them. These displays are not the fancy booths of the larger players but are instead the pop-ups you find at the Venetian or the periphery stands in the big halls of LVH through which, sore feet allowing, you sometimes wander.

So if innovation is at the heart of CES, as their press release suggests, then maybe a rethink of the conference and exhibition format is needed in order to expose this tertiary ecosystem of small innovators, and enable them to become the powerhouse of growth for tomorrow’s consumer electronics industry.

Steve Bell, President, KeySo Global   

For additional perspectives on this year’s CES contact me at steve.bell@keysoglobal.com or at 847-478-1633. Visit our website at www.keysoglobal.com