CES 2013: The future of the IT tech industry

Sure it's called the "Consumer Electronics Show," and yes there are smart TVs and robot cars here, but you can also see the future of IT from the CES floor.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor
CES 2013
Sure, it may be a consumer show, but you can see IT's future from the CES show-floor.

Las Vegas – While some people—cough, Jason Perlow, cough—might think that CES is a waste of time, I think that if you look past the consumer hype you can see IT's future from the showroom floor.

If that sounds silly to you, consider for a moment that the rise of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) sprang from consumer technology. Some IT managers may still not like BYOD, but the simple fact is that consumer smartphones like the iPhone pushed out RIM's Blackberry because of BYOD and tablets came to many offices because home-users loved their iPads. 21th century IT administrators ignore consumer tech at their own risk.

Take, for example, the points that Shawn Dubravac, CEA's Chief Economist and Sr. Director of Research made during his presentation, CES 2013 State of the Consumer Tech Industry pre-show keynote.

See also: Complete CES 2013 coverage on CNET

According to Dubravac we're moving into the "post-smartphone era." He pointed out that when Apple released the iPhone in 2007, the emphasis was on its use as a phone. Today, "65% of the time we spend on mobile phones is not communications. Even adding in e-mail, texting, and so on, smartphones are no longer about communication."

So what are they about then? They're becoming interfaces to services. The smartphone has become “the viewfinder of your digital life." What that means for IT is that, like or lump it, you'll need to be develop more smartphone-friendly apps. The smartphone is becoming the 21st century worker's first computing tool. 

At the same time, smartphone and tablets will be continuing to add sensors, such as multiple cameras, microphones, and accelerometers. They are also becoming hubs for other sensors such as blood-pressure and glucose monitors. All this data is going to be put to use.

As Dubravac said, "Data is the new currency." We're used to this idea on the Web, but Dubravac pointed out that we're already seeing data gathered from devices being used in the real world. Progressive Insurance already has a program, Snapshot, that can give you as much as a 30% break on your car-insurance rates if you install a black box on your car that lets the company monitor how often you slam on the brakes, how many miles you drive, and how much time you spend driving between midnight and 4 AM.

Take this technology to the next logical steps: Insurance companies offer their best rates only to drivers who will let their driving be tracked. Do you decide to use similar technology monitor your truck-drivers in real time? Do you set a program to keep an eye on your teenager's driving and install a software governor on their "smart" care to make sure they don't speed?

It's a slippery slope between breach of privacy and making the best use of employee real-time device data, but it's a slope we will all be navigating sooner than you might think.

Dubravac also noted two separate trends that spell change ahead for network administrators. The first is "high pixel density spill." By this he means that we're going to see a continued shift to ever higher resolution, such as Apple's Retina Display, on all our devices. With all our screens showing 1080p video, we're going to demand even more bandwidth from our already straining networks.

At the same time, Dubravac said 350 million devices with IP (Internet protocol) addresses will ship in 2013. So, do you still think you can get away with delaying your IPv6 migration? I don't.

Dubravac also said that we're becoming "digital omnivores." We're consuming more and more data from multiple screens.

While Dubravac concentrated on what this move to the "second screen" means for the living room, what sprang to my mind is how we're going to need to work to smooth workers' transition from one screen to another.

For example, say someone reads something on their smartphone they want to use in a report they'll write on their PC. Both Microsoft, with Windows 8, and Canonical, with Ubuntu Linux, believe that presenting users with a common interface for all these screens is the way to smooth a worker's path.

Finally, Dubravac sees gesture and voice, especially voice, becoming increasingly important in how we work with our devices. He believes that Apple Siri and the like are only the start to a path that will lead us to Star Trek-style computer communications.

This, however, doesn't mean that we'll need quieter workplaces. He also commented that thanks to all those sensors in our phones, such as the rear-facing microphone on the iPhone 5, our devices are getting better at "listening" to us.

Put it all together and -- while Dubravac didn't use the term  e clearly sees us moving into an era of pervasive computing, where most of the devices around us communicate with us and each other and are "aware" of us.

Google Glass looks to a future where we'll wear our computing displays within our glasses. Dubravac sees a future where everything around us, even our windows or mirrors, can serve as displays, where all our devices are watching us even when we're not actively using them. What will our offices look like then? Indeed, what will our world look like?

I don't know, but I do know that it's easier to come up with questions like that from CES' showroom floor than not.

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