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Trends emerging in consumer electronics may have an impact on businesses

Here are the big trends announced at this year's Consumer Electronics Show. What do increased consumer expectations mean for CIOs driving business initiatives and product advancements?


A CIO can’t just focus on that next internal software upgrade or hardware rollout. As the “technology champion,” the CIO must also be in tune with new technology and the expectations that it places upon the company’s products and services.

IT leaders need to keep up with what’s happening in the market, and there’s no better way to learn what consumers will demand from technology than to attend the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Yet the trip was probably a tough sell for most executives last month given the economic climate. So, in this column, I’ll share what I learned at CES this year—the two important consumer trends likely to impact most organizations and how your organization can prepare for the fallout these trends will create for businesses.

Trend #1: Putting information on any device
The number and type of devices to access either internal corporate information or information on the Internet will increase dramatically this year.

For example, system builders using Intel’s new Centrino chip will be able to easily create new low-power, wireless laptops that support existing 802.11b standards. By the end of the year I think that every laptop sold will support 802.11b out of the box—and many will include 802.11a (54-MB version) as well.

If you don’t already have a strategy for supporting wireless devices, you need to start working on it now. And don’t just consider internal employees. You’ll need to consider two other scenarios: guests using Internet access in your facilities and employees needing to access data from other locations (including places like StarBucks). And in addition to the standard laptop, there were three other major wireless platforms announced at CES:

The WristPC
During his keynote address Bill Gates presented the first line of personal accessories based on Microsoft's Smart Personal Objects Technology (SPOT). Gates demonstrated a new generation of watches built by Fossil Inc., Suunto, and Citizen Watch Co. Ltd. that all use SPOT.

These “WristPCs,” masquerading as watches, offer features like customizable watch faces, access to personal messages and appointments, and the ability to receive up-to-date news, traffic, weather, and sports information. Although the devices are primarily receive-only, the technology to make them two-way capable is months away. But even in their present state they would be useful in business scenarios where field personnel (drivers, service technicians, etc) need to be notified without using cell phones or pagers.

The PhonePC
While Microsoft’s Smartphone 2002 operating system has hit a few bumps in its initial deployment (like the premiere manufacturer, Sendo, backing out of its agreement to produce the phones), several device manufacturers have announced support for the phones and even delivery dates for their models.

More importantly, several software developers announced that their products would work with the phone and take advantage of its unique features. In addition to basic Windows CE capabilities, SmartPhones will support the Short Message Service and a custom version of MSN Messenger out of the box. For companies who want to use other IM Services like AIM, ICQ or Yahoo, Mov Software has announced a version of its JabberCE product that will connect to multiple IM services simultaneously.

Given that products like these will increase the demand for corporate IM services, companies that haven’t begun implementing corporate standards and enterprise versions of these IM products will be under a lot of pressure to get there quickly as these new devices begin to proliferate.

The MonitorPC
Microsoft used CES to announce its new Windows Powered Smart Displays. The Smart Display includes a processor, an 802.11b radio, memory, and an embedded version of Windows CE that communicates with a Windows XP machine using its native Remote Desktop capability.

You can use the Smart Display as your PC’s primary monitor when it’s docked. But when you remove the LCD panel from its docking station, the PC switches its display from a local VGA connection to a remote desktop connection using the embedded 802.11b radio inside the monitor. Now you can move around the home or office but stay connected to your PC as long as you’re in range.

In a corporate environment, where you have good wireless coverage inside your facilities, you could move anywhere in the facility and have access to the files and applications running on your desktop PC. This kind of capability would be useful for executives who want to take their files to a boardroom but don’t want to deal with a laptop PC, or for warehouse managers who want to move from their desk to the warehouse without having to pick up an unwieldy laptop and carry it around the warehouse.

All of these new form factors emphasize the need to be well connected internally; i.e., you need to have extensive support for standards like 802.11b, SMS, IM, etc.

Trend #2: Improvements in Windows CE
MP3 players made it easy to take an audio library on the road, and the next logical evolution is portable video. Although many manufacturers announced support for distinct players in different form factors, Microsoft announced a new platform—called Media2Go—upon which many manufacturers will build their next generation portable video systems.

Media2Go enables portable, handheld devices to download, store, and play back any digital media content including photos, music, and video. Manufacturers can use the platform to create small form-factor devices with embedded hard drives and/or high capacity media storage cards. Consumers can store home movies or media and can also download copies of their favorite television programs recorded with a product like the Media Center edition of Windows XP.

The devices hold over 150 hours of VHS quality video and connect to PCs using high speed ports like Firewire and USB 2.0 to allow for rapid media updates.

Given that this is a Windows CE-based platform, this announcement sheds some light on Microsoft’s thinking for the entire CE platform.

One of the platform’s biggest advantages over the current generation of similar devices (like the Archos Media Player) is that it is software-driven and upgradeable with new media formats.

The need to push large files between the device and the desktop signals two additional improvements that corporations using Windows CE should expect to see during 2003.

First, CE devices should be getting larger and faster storage. The rise of Secure Digital (SD) media as the preferred replacement for Compact Flash (CF) was evident at CES this year. By the end of the Q1 2003, you’ll be able to get SD cards as large as 1 GB for either a PocketPC or a Palm device. Although companies are still producing larger capacity CF storage cards (some 3-GB cards were announced at the show), the size and power consumption of CF versus SD will eventually doom CF to the same fate as the floppy drive.

Larger and faster storage will also come in the form of internal hard drives for Windows CE devices. When Microsoft adds support for internal hard drives to the Windows CE platform to support Media2Go devices, Windows CE device manufacturers will begin adding internal hard drives for general Windows CE use. This will open Windows CE up to a whole new class of applications that were previously unrealistic given the platform’s storage limitations.

The second major CE improvement will be the addition of high-speed data transfer capabilities.

The existing Windows CE devices use a cradle connected with either USB 1.1 or a serial port to move data between the PC and the device. Most companies who use Windows CE extensively have invested in either SD or CF drives for PCs or have put network cards in Windows CE devices to move data from the PC to the CE device faster.

These configurations are more difficult for consumers or corporate end users to use and more difficult for IT to support. So CIOs should expect to see Microsoft include FireWire and USB 2.0 support for the cradles in upcoming CE devices. This means, of course, that you should be looking at minimum standards for new machines introduced into your organization. At a minimum, I would require that all new machines purchased in 2003 have either a FireWire or USB 2.0 port (including laptops), and I would look for laptops that have a built in SD card reader as well.

 

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