CES Isnt the Whole Show

Opinion: Automakers want to be in the technology driver's seat.

I had a lot of fun last week covering the Consumer Electronics Show by not covering it. I wrote a series of "Im not at CES" blogs in which I tried to not only hit on some CES highlights but also talk about other major shows and events of the week. I think there was something to be learned by trying to do a big sweep of coverage beyond Las Vegas.

Here are some top items:

Id argue the major show of the week was the International Auto Show in Detroit. Ive always found the most interesting parts of covering the technology industry involve the intersection of high tech and the physical world. Im sure many readers are interested in sub-nano-scale chip lithography, but watching how computer and communications technologies continue to expand into new areas is something you can see and experience.

Will the recent agreement between Ford and Microsoft to offer Sync software in 2008 help turn around Fords fortunes? Will the ability to allow drivers to connect to a variety of Bluetooth and USB devices, including PDAs, smart phones, music players and cell phones, be a sales differentiator or a checklist item that all cars will have by next September? And what about that Volt electric concept car being displayed by General Motors?

More and more automobiles are looking like a shell surrounding a sophisticated electronic control system. The automobile environment calls for a rugged, reliable and easy-to-maintain-and-manage computer network that makes the systems running in an air-conditioned server room look like beginners practice.

The battery technology being developed for cars could mark a real turnaround in the development pace for technology systems. Rather than being systems first developed elsewhere and either made more rugged or less costly for the auto industry, the innovation could start with automakers and then spread to other industries. Will GMs Volt car really bring about the advances in lithium-ion battery technology that laptop makers need for their next generation of mobile computers? Maybe. Will U.S. manufacturers embrace of technology help close the widening gap between them and foreign competitors? Possibly.

And while a lot of attention was on Las Vegas, one of the more interesting events for the business-to-business world was NCRs decision to spin off Teradata. eWEEK Senior Writer Chris Preimesberger did a good job covering the story.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read more about Teradatas split from NCR.

However, while much of the news Hewlett-Packard was trying to make last week dealt with its product introductions at CES, I couldnt help but think the Teradata spinoff would catch HP CEO Mark Hurds attention. Id argue that it was Hurds successful stewardship of Teradata that won him the attention of the HP board when it was looking to replace Carly Fiorina. Teradata would certainly fit well into the HP portfolio. This one bears watching.

And, finally, Apple CEO Steve Jobs probably gets the award for the most news coverage surrounding a rather mundane product introduction. Apples new iPhone is a quad-band multimedia device that scrunches audio, video, music and Internet access into one handheld package. While the iPhones combined functions and touch-screen interface set it apart, there are a couple of points to keep in mind:

The iPhone, at about $500, is a substantial investment, and it wont be available until June. That lengthy gap between product announcement and delivery is a real change for Apple, which would like to be able to meet demand generated by the introduction. Id bet youll see a lot of similar devices introduced between now and June by Apples competitors. The touch-screen interface will have to prove itself in the tough environments (like lint-filled pockets, beer-puddled bars and coffee spills) where mobile phones must operate.

Its interesting that in the consumer space, the best way to rise above all the product noise coming from CES may have been not to go to CES at all.

Editorial Director Eric Lundquist can be reached at eric_lundquist@ziffdavis.com.

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