I stopped for a few days at the big IFA consumer technology show in Berlin, Germany. Once, it was technology developments in the business sphere that eventually moved to the consumer space. E-mail, personal computing and mobile phones originally found their home in the business space before branching to the consumer world. Now, the trend is reversed with products such as the iPhone, flat panel displays and cloud-based social applications first appearing in the consumer space and then finding a home in business. Here are 10 computing and technology trends from the IFA show and my guess at when, and if, they will play in the business world.
- 1. 3-D HD. Sony made a big deal in introducing its 3-D-compatile Bravia LCD television, and Panasonic introduced an alternative 3-D TV based on plasma technology. I’m not sure the world needs another standards battle, this one in 3-D, but that is currently what is shaping up. In any case, both companies and many of the speakers at IFA were proclaiming that 3-D was ready to move out of the movie theatres and into the home. Imagine you and the gang all wearing your 3-D glasses watching NFL Sunday. In any case, just as flat panels soon took over the corporate desktop, there is a role for 3-D in business. The first niche that comes immediately to mind is modeling and dispersed product development where the ability to look at prototypes in 3-D would be a real benefit. I don’t think the world is ready for real time conferencing in 3-D yet.
- 2. The next big wave in personal computing. I’m not sure the world is breathlessly waiting for the Oct. 22 introduction of Microsoft’s Windows 7 operating system, but the vendors would have liked to have the event come months earlier. The October date is too late for back to school and probably too late for a big holiday Christmas push. In any case, we are seeing computer introductions with the Windows 7 download to come later. Samsung introduced a very stylish, 9-hour battery life laptop called the Ultra-thin Notebook X420. It may run Windows but clearly its design model was Apple. The computer vendors are all stacked up waiting for Windows. I met analyst Rob Enderle who claims the upcoming Windows 7 launch will be the biggest deal in personal computing since, well, personal computing.
- 3. No PC needed. At one time both Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard tried mightily to convince consumers that the PC would be the center of the home technology universe. That didn’t happen and TVs with Internet access and video cameras that post on their own to YouTube are proving you don’t need a PC to connect with the Internet. What does this mean for business? Your iPhone or other mobile device is now connecting you directly to the company. Marketing is using Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to create and distribute its marketing messages. E-mail and applications are being hosted in the cloud and being accessed by smart, mobile devices. The PC will always be part of the corporate landscape, but as an equal player instead of center stage.
- 4. No person needed. I stopped by the Sony technology booth to see some of the technology under development. Three prototypes caught my eye. One was a prototype purchase system where a user could purchase movies and music simply by passing their smartphone near a receiver. And, yes I know that fewer and fewer people are purchasing movies and music with a phone or anything else. The second was a camera that transferred photos and displayed them automatically in an electronic frame when the camera was seated in a base. The third was a data transfer system where devices that were in range could be identified as a secure or insecure data partner based on past history and present characteristics. What struck me was that all three products operated on their own without any user involvement. This holds a lot of implications with business organizations dealing with electronic payments and device security. Maybe the security problem all along was the user who neglects security setting and warnings.
- 5. The virtual personal/company computing system. If Windows 7 does spur a wave of new product introductions (which I can guarantee you it will), the corporate CIO and business managers are going to face a budget roadblock. Users are going to want light, attractive laptops with a range of multimedia capabilities and nine hour battery life. The corporate bean counters are going to point to the grim revenue records of 2009 and say “forget the computer replacement budget.” Enter innovation where vendors anxious to sell systems, retailers anxious to get consumers back in their stores and IT execs who realize you can very easily install both a virtualized business operating system and a virtualized personal operating system on the same laptop. The Best Buy type retailers will offer corporate discounts for employees, the employee can get and keep the system they really want and corporate security execs can blow off the company’s virtualized operating system if the employee gets canned. Do I know for sure this will happen? It was one of the main topics at an IFA panel on the U.S. retail market.
Green Isnt Dead
- 6. Green isn’t dead. The green movement is still a big deal in Europe. At every press conference, the vendors went out of their way to describe in detail how their product was green. That green was reached at no extra cost to the consumer and also was captured in the lower power consumption of the products. In the United States, the green movement may have been temporarily suspended by a staggered economy, but it will return as the economy improves. This is particularly true for international vendors who find they cannot afford to build separate computer models for different world areas. Europe as a whole will contain the countries that together have the toughest eco regulations and vendors will adhere to those regs as the worldwide baseline.
- 7. Devices come, devices go. Should you develop specific applications for dedicated devices or develop specific applications to run on general purpose computers? The iPhone has shown that creating applications such as GPS location services can do most of the functions that were once the province of specific GPS devices. Companies such as Philips are coming up with devices that are dedicated to remotely monitoring the health status of an aging population. The problem with general purpose devices taking on lots of applications is they soon become overwhelmed with too many apps. While trying to maintain distinct devices can mean the user starts walking around with a bandolier of devices. In business, there will always be a need for dedicated devices. Security is still best accomplished with a dedicated device. At the IFA, one IT exec I ran into uses the Peek, a super thin, super cheap e-mail-only device (www.getpeek.com), to distribute to the IT team to get system updates.
- 8. Big trade shows aren’t dead. The enterprise computing industry used to revolve around one big trade show named Comdex. That doesn’t happen anymore and many in the United States bemoan the loss of a big event that draws the entire industry together. The IFA show is a big event that draws the European consumer technology industry together even in a crummy economy. I’m not sure whether the U.S. business tech industry will ever see a big yearly event again, but at least IFA proves it is not impossible to create a big event that is also an economic success.
- 9. Design matters. Business and the concept of design have long been at odds. Have you ever wondered why all those PCs were shipped in those beige boxes that looked like, you guessed it, beige boxes? Apple in the United States proved design matters and Europe has been ahead of the United States in using design as a differentiator. But as your computer becomes your business computer, you want a design that says you are not a boxy, beige type of exec.
- 10. There is no business that can’t innovate. Coffeemakers, refrigerators and washing machines are all undergoing a technology revolution as was evidenced at IFA. That should give pause to any U.S. business or IT exec who thinks there is nothing that innovation and technology can’t do to revitalize their business.