A Few Products from CESMonday, January 26, 2009
There have been thousands of articles written about this year's Consumer Electronics Show and virtually every device and service that was on exhibit or even being shown in hotel suites. But there was a lot of sameness at CES this year with too many companies touting wireless picture frames and whole-house wireless distribution, and not nearly as many wirelessly embedded consumer devices as I would have thought.
I did find a few products I think are interesting. Two are commercial and the third is just now beginning to be noticed. First, Goodyear, which was sharing a booth with another company, was showing a series of Personal Navigation Devices (PNDs). On the surface, they appear to be simply more of the same-PNDs are being built by others-but when you look at the information loaded onto them, it is easy to understand they are aimed at truckers. Goodyear's PNDs are loaded with information about bridge clearances, truck stops, weigh stations and other subjects of value to over-the-road truckers. I can see that these will be popular with the trucking industry and suspect that most of them will be sold at truck stop stores. Adding value to a basic PND is a great concept, and most of the added value to other PNDs at the show was in the form of Bluetooth, real-time traffic, and the ability to store and show pictures and other graphics. I did not see any that made use of full two-way communications for additional features and/or updates.
In the BlackBerry booth, which is a must stop for me, I saw a device I knew I had to have! California recently made it illegal to read or send text or email while driving and I have been struggling to stop my hand from automatically reaching for my Bold every time I feel it vibrate. What I found was a product made by Intelligent Mechatronic Systems, Inc. (IMS) that is called iLane, which certainly does not describe what it is or what is does.
iLane is a small black box that is mounted in your car. It connects via Bluetooth to your BlackBerry (and soon other smartphones) and to a BlueAnt Bluetooth headset. Once it is set up, which requires a client in the BlackBerry device and a subscription to the iLane website (less than $8 per month), the device uploads your BlackBerry address book and can be used for hands-free dialing and answering incoming calls, but then you can already do this with most Bluetooth devices. This is what is special: iLane will sit quietly until a new email is received, at which time it will tell you in a pleasant voice that you have a new email, who it is from, and the subject. You can respond with "read message" and iLane will read the message to you. You can then forward it or reply (includes a pre-canned, "I am in transit" email), record your voice and send an audio file as an attachment to the email, or you can call the sender back with a simple voice command.
It also announces calendar appointments and works with SMS (text) messages as well as email. You can ask iLane for news and weather and hear about the weather for any location and news concerning subjects about which you want to be informed. After you are done with a transaction, you simply say "good-bye" and iLane sits in the background until summoned or until there is new message or call. Or you can put it into a quiet or do-not-disturb mode.
I have used iLane for about 8-9 hours in my car and I find it to be a great product for those of us addicted to our BlackBerrys. There are a few quirks you quickly learn about and I am told there will be updates for new devices and capabilities. Even so, at the moment, I have found my new best friend to ride along with me.
The third product I saw is a software product that is just beginning to reach the market. The company is Next Access and the product is YourKey. This is a very slick sign-on screen for touch screen smartphones that is about ready for the iPhone and Android phones. Demos are available on the YourKey website (http://G1.yourkey.biz)
What is the big deal about a sign-on screen? Most of us don't like having to sign on whenever we want to access specific information using our mobile devices. But we should get into the practice of password protecting our information and YourKey might encourage more of us to do so. YourKey can be used for any type of login, to your banking, your email, or anything else you have password protected. And it's fun to use. You can replace numbers and letters on the keypad with your favorite companies' logos or pictures. (Wireless providers or other companies charge those who want to post their logos for you to download for free.)
This is a fun way to set up and use passwords. You select logos you want to display and they're added to the keys. Then you choose a password, for example, you could type in "A" (Starbucks) "4 U" as a password, a standard password, or Coke, Starbucks, BMW, AT&T, or any combination of letters, numbers, and corporate logos. You can also replace the keys with pictures of your kids, your dog, or anything else you like. For those who have touch screen phones, YourKey quickly becomes a must have. As an added level of security, each time YourKey is invoked, the letters and symbols appear in a random pattern and as you type in your password, they change locations on the screen.
YourKey is an effective way to keep your mobile phone or computer secure, and I expect to see it available for iPhone and Android phones in the very near future and for even more smartphones by the end of the year.
A final thought about applications for smartphones. There are literally thousands available. Many are generic and many more are designed for very specific applications. But how do you make them known to the general user population? You put them up on a store site with a reasonable price tag and then hope those who might be interested in them stumble across them. There has to be a better way for small developers to have their applications considered for inclusion in the installed base.
Case in point, Keith Crozier, who wrote the first file synchronization software for PC to handheld data synchronization (IntelliSync), has written an application for diabetics, people who want to lose weight, or people who are interested in enhancing their sports performance by tracking foods from many different categories including the glycemic index, carbohydrates, calories, protein, and fat analysis. It was written based on the book The New Glucose Revolution and it provides past meal tracking as well as future meal planning. The software (GI Meal Planner) is $9.95 in the Apple App store. Keith is only one of many who have written software for the iPhone, and soon for Android phones, whose work is buried in app stores' lists.
I am still looking for a good expense module for my BlackBerry Bold. I am hoping WorldMate Live will decide to build in an expense report function since it has one of the best user interfaces I have seen. I receive all of my travel info, synced with my Outlook, and the program checks flights, weather, money conversion, and more without my ever having to get near a browser or do any web surfing.
Now what I want is to be able to try out a program on my computer screen before sending it on to my BlackBerry. There are so many programs out there that I don't want to have to download trial versions onto my Bold only to try them, figure out they are not what I want, and then go through the process of getting rid of them.
Once we figure out how to make software easier to find, try, and buy, those who spend their time coding their programs can reap the benefits of their labors more quickly and probably make more money.
For the rest of what was at CES you can do a Google search and read articles from the hundreds of press who were in attendance, and even then you won't know about everything that was there. In fact, if you spent all week at the show, you still would not have been able to cover all of it. Wireless is growing in importance at this show, but it still has not reached critical mass when to comes to consumer products. Perhaps by next year we will see more consumer products with embedded wireless.
Andrew M. Seybold