CES: Monday Keynotes


If you’ve never attended a keynote speech at a major expo, it really is quite an experience to behold. Especially in Vegas. What you get distilled from the bloggers and journalists in attendance is just that: distilled, but actually being in the audience and witnessing how they go about trying to make sure what gets distilled through the receptive minds the of bug-eyed witnesses the spectacle is something else entirely.

The build-up is perhaps my favorite part. Forgetting for a second the layers of security one must weave through in order to take a seat, once you do, you get to watch a nice, subtle light show punctuated with drilling, sexy dance techno music. If you’re not careful, you may start to move to the beat, just a little, and that’s when they’ve got you. At that point the lights aimed right at your face, the ones pulsing on and off in a slow, random pattern, start to slightly hypnotize you, flaring at the edge of your vision, blurring the contrast, and giving you the false impression that you’re being dazzled by an empty stage. Then, when the speaker of the day enters the room, takes the podium in front of the giant logo projected across a mauve background, it’s all gravy. You’re theirs.

And I’d like to say it didn’t work on me, actually, or that since I knew it was happening, I resisted the urge, did not drink the Kool-Aid and emerged ready to tell the world how completely full of crap these guys are. But I can’t. This morning I attended the keynote speeches of Gary Shapiro, President of the CEA and Ed Zander, CEO of Motorola, and what these two gentlemen said quite literally impressed the hell out of me.

Shapiro, for starters, reminded us all that in the 40 years that CES has been presenting the hottest, newest technology, the world and how we view it has quite literally changed, in no small part because of the very devices premiered at CES. Speaking about cable television, VCRs, digital cameras, radios and all of the various other technologies showcased at CES in years past, Shapiro said, “What these products and technologies have in common is that they change the status quo.”

But in today’s keynote, he touted the beginning of a new trend for CES and consumer electronics in general. Whereas the buzzword for previous CES conventions has been “convergence,” according to Shapiro, 2007 and beyond is about “new” convergence, and as stupid as that may sound, he’s right.

The new millennium has brought incredible advances in entertainment technology, but now that technology is seeping into other areas. From health care, to transportation, to the military, the technology we use to connect and be connected to is also helping those who serve us, and the very machines they use, to connect to us and each other. Shapiro had a lot to say about IPv6, the latest version of the staid Internet Protocol, which will eventually allow various devices (like our cars) to communicate through the net to various sources of information (traffic control, service stations). While these technologies are still in the nascent stage, another technology, called Bluetooth, which promised similar things, albeit on a smaller scale, is already here. And when the word Bluetooth first started floating around, several years ago (at CES), it, too, was similarly hard to imagine.

Not so today. Ed Zander, CEO of Motorola, demonstrated an excellent use of Bluetooth technology live on stage today. Using one of Motorola’s newest phones, Zander had someone capture a photo of himself, and then transmit it, wirelessly, to a printer which printed it out. He held up the result for us all to behold and it was awesome. But Motorola has so much more up its sleeve.

After joking around that “fat is back” by displaying one of Motorola’s legendary Dynatech cell phones (The Brick), Zander spelled out how his company is helping to bridge the next gap in connectivity. “We’re in the 1st inning of an immense digital buildout,” he said, referring to device-to-device connectivity, and the WIMAX wireless broadband standard, which promises to bring broadband “to the masses,” or to developing economies, where standard infrastructure isn’t available. To a similar end, Zander also displayed Motorola’s new, low-power, no-frills phone, the Motofone, which has a 5 day standby time, and can be powered with a small dynamo attached to a bicycle, which Zander demonstrated by riding onto the stage. He also said the magic words “China” and “India,” which left little doubt where Motorola is headed on that bicycle.

But the most exciting display of the morning was from Marco Boerries, of Yahoo! Yahoo! And Motorola have partnered to develop Yahoo! Go, a web browsing portal and software package designed, as Boerries says, to bring “the internet to the phone, and not [as has been the case until now] the other way around.”

Yahoo! Go is a true portal, the likes of which we haven’t seen in many years. A single click of a phone button will bring up search information, location-aware maps and weather info and any number of well-designed info pages the likes of which I’ve never seen on a phone. What’s also new is the navigation. Having attempted to browse the internet on a phone before, it’s now something I no longer do. Because it’s hard. The small buttons and tiny screen of the phone combine to make the effort an exercise in frustration. Yahoo! Go promises to change all of that, and even (perhaps more excitingly) make it possible for you to instantly upload photos taken with your camera to your Flickr account, to share with others.

Yahoo! Go is currently in beta stage, and you can download it from Yahoo! Boerries promised it will be available with certain Motorola phones almost immediately, and with up to 400 new mobile devices by the end of 2007.

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