Log On, Tune In & Connect (Or Drop Out)

6:00 PM -- I know I’m a bit behind with CES comments, but I’ve been traveling constantly since the show. Having attended my first CES in 1984 and being overwhelmed every year, I always try to come away from the show with one or two macro thoughts about what the show meant.

Although there were smaller crowds than previous years, there was still a lot of energy and excitement. Regardless of how challenging the times, nobody that believes in tech gives up. There are still booths to be staffed, press conferences to be held, customers to be entertained, and hype to be hyped! This year was no exception.

Two vastly divergent takeaways stuck in my mind from this year’s show. Two different views on how we, as individuals, might be "living" technology ten or fifteen years out. I say a "tale of two tails," because most of us will be moderate, rational users of technology. However, if you look at any population distribution there will always be folks out at the extremes, out at the tail of a statistical distribution. And for me, this CES pointed out the potential of these future extremes.

On one hand, we are moving further and further to the vision of pervasive connectivity, pervasive wireless, pervasive computing. The number and type of consumer devices that are getting one or more radios inside is increasing rapidly, and every year more of these devices are on display at CES. Wide-area mobile broadband, Bluetooth, WiFi, personal area networks, GPS, wireless HD, wireless HDMI, wireless USB/USB 3.0 -- regardless of the challenges of the market, the party keeps on going, and folks keep on rocking.

In this world view, we live our lives with a plethora of mobile devices; we are out in the world, interacting directly with one another, interacting remotely with our friends, family, and social networks, and using all these toys to enhance our “external” personal lives and experiences. The extreme here will be all-mobile, always moving, without any "fixed place" connectivity. Always on the move, always multitasking, constantly sending something through the ether.

On the far other side, the other thing that blew me away at CES this year was seeing really, really good 3D graphics capabilities. This stuff, almost by definition, is going to be fixed for many years to come, as the bandwidth required and the computing horsepower needed is years from touching the wireless space.

The video guys like Nvidia Corp. (Nasdaq: NVDA)(GE Force 3D), as well as folks like Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC) and LG Electronics Inc. (London: LGLD; Korea: 6657.KS) and others, had 3D on existing 120 hertz displays that was the best that I’ve ever seen, and folks have been flogging 3D for years. The games shown in the NVidia booth were awesome, even for a non-gamer like myself. The 3D aquarium that I saw in the Samsung booth could have had me watching fish for hours. It was compelling and somewhat mind-blowing.

But there are two other pieces to the puzzle. In the Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) booth was a display of a reclining chair, with three wrap-around LCD screens (or curved displays, like one shown by NEC Corp. (Tokyo: 6701)), and there were numerous demonstrations of Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)’s Surface. Put these three together, and you have high-resolution, immersing 3D environments, manipulated spatially. Put these three together, you start getting closer to Star Trek Holodeck time.

This CES showed me a future where real products, not concept demos, will allow the majority of us to combine increasing mobility with new levels of fixed gaming and entertainment capabilities, and lead a balanced life between the two extremes.

But at the edges of each tail, there will be people for whom mobility and connectivity will be its own addiction with the supertexting/3,000 minutes a month crowd at one extreme, while others will never leave their immersing, 3D environments, as the real world will not be able to compete. It is going to be interesting. I'm not sure how it will play out, but I can guess which group will outweigh the other!

— Jeff Belk is a principal at ICT168 Capital LLC, focused on developing and guiding global growth opportunities in the Information and Communication Technology space. He can be reached at [email protected]. Special to Unstrung