CES, MacWorld, and NAIAS – What the Knowledge Worker Needs to Know

It was a week of sensory and information overload.  In fact, I cannot imagine a stranger confluence: the Consumer Electronics Show, MacWorld, and the North American International Auto Show – all happening at the same time.

Although the connection between these three events might not be completely self-evident, there are themes which recur through all three, a kind of technological convergence.

After three years of rumors and a false start (the Motorola Rokr, jointly developed by Motorola and Apple, which limited the user to 100 songs and didn’t look terribly different than the Motorola E398), Apple introduced the iPhone and in the same breath dropped “Computer” from its name .

Before Apple’s announcement, Cisco, which has owned the iPhone trademark since 2000 through its acquisition of Infogear (which was granted the iPhone trademark in 1997), announced it was very close to a deal with Apple on the trademark.  In mid-December of last year, Cisco’s Linksys unit announced the iPhone family of voice-over-IP solutions.  Yesterday evening, Cisco filed suit against Apple for trademark infringement.  According to published reports, an Apple’s head of worldwide product marketing, Phil Schiller, defended Apple’s use of the iPhone trademark, saying that Apple was using the trademark for a “cell phone” while Cisco’s device was a “cordless phone.”

MacWorld doesn’t usually take place concurrently with CES so the iPhone announcement automatically meant that any other phone announcements were overshadowed, to say the least.  Following the announcement, Apple stock was up more than 8%, while Palm and RIM fell 5.7% and 7.9% respectively.  Motorola was only down 1.8%.

So, about the iPhone.  No surprise here: it includes a music player, camera, Web browser, and e-mail client.  It is elegant, has excellent ergonomic features (including automatic brightness control and automatic portrait-landscape switching based on how the unit is held), and without question raises the design bar for every maker of mobile phones.  But it also has its warts.  The keyboard, which appears on the beautiful glass screen, makes typing difficult (obviously there’s no tactile feedback); for data it supports Wi-Fi and EDGE (Enhanced Data rates for Global Evolution) but no 3G mobile data services.  Oh, one more thing: the iPhone’s design bears an uncanny resemblance to the LG KE850, which won a Product Design Award for 2007 from the International Forum Design.

Clearly some assumptions were being made, specifically that the iPhone was going to cut into Palm and BlackBerry sales.  But despite the beautiful design, innovative interface, and new functionality, its success is not a given.  While it includes Cingular and Apple’s new “Visual Voicemail,” which lets users (note that I am not saying “knowledge workers”) look at a listing of voicemail messages and click on a particular message, this works only with Cingular’s voicemail service, which, of course, works only with Cingular’s mobile telephony network.  It’s not unified messaging and don’t expect your corporate voicemail messages to start showing up on your iPhone any time soon”

The iPhone also lacks basic security features found in every BlackBerry and it costs three times as much (the iPhone sells for $499 and $599 for the 4 Gbyte and 8 Gbyte models respectively, compared to the BlackBerry Pearl available at $199.  These are all reasons that enterprise road warriors embrace the Palm Treo and BlackBerry design (not to mention the full QWERTY keyboard). The iPhone has as much chance of becoming enterprise standard issue as a Mac.  Another pothole along the iPhone road is that the market share for phones in the $500 and over price point is barely 1%.

Motorola, in the meantime, introduced the new Moto Q Pro, with VPN support and fairly robust security features that include complete data encryption, data wiping, and real-time event logging.  (Motorola also introduced Motomusic, a platform that promises to make it easy for users to take music from a Windows-based PC and load it on a phone.  It will also provide access to content from more than 200 online music services, along with a few new phones such as the Motorizr Z6, to take advantage of Motomusic.)

So, outside of Apple, what does the knowledge worker need to know?

Oqo unveiled their model 02, touted as the world’s smallest Vista-capable PC, featuring integrated mobile broadband capabilities from Sprint.

Nokia unveiled an updated the N93i video camera/phone hybrid, now lighter and slimmer.  It works with Six Apart’s new Vox videoblogging service.

Alienware introduced the Hangar 18, a component style PC with 1.5 Terabytes of storage, four built-in TV tuners (two analog, two digital), and a built-in 1000W amp and subwoofer.

Sharp introduced the ultrasharp 108″ Aquos LCD TV.

Zalman introduced a 3D monitor intended for gaming.

And at the North American International Auto Show, Ford and Microsoft unveiled Sync, a factory-installed, in-car communications and entertainment system .  Sync is designed to recognize all things Bluetooth and USB 2.0, and integrate them into the car’s systems.  This goes far beyond what automakers have been offering thus far; BMW was the first car maker to make Bluetooth available in its vehicles back in 2002, but the Bluetooth functionality was limited to wirelessly connecting a mobile phone to the car.  Sync supports mobile phones, smartphones, music players, USB drives, and iPods.  Using Bluetooth, a driver can wireless stream Internet radio to the car’s audio system.  From the demos Ford provided, their in-car interface looked a bit clunky but the speech recognition functionality makes up for that.  Sync supports full speech-to-text conversion not only for placing calls but also for selecting music tracks (“Play Beethoven Moonlight Sonata” or “Play Genre Jazz”).

Sync will also read text messages to the driver, allowing 20 predefined responses to be sent (“I am driving and cannot reply to your message without violating multiple traffic laws” might be one).  Sync promises to automatically transfer your mobile’s phonebook but I think this might be a bit optimistic; out of the 25 Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones and smartphones that have passed through our offices recently, fully one third did not support phonebook transfer and several refused to work with the car, in our case a BMW, at all.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

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