Amid the chaos, the Digital Everything arrives

Five years ago we boldly forecast the “Digital Everything,” a future where information, communications, entertainment, business, home life, transportation and the interconnected pieces of personal, daily living are conducted in an always-on mediascape.

That future arrived in Las Vegas this week at the Consumer Electronics Show. It comes to your homes, offices, vehicles, and life spaces in weeks and months ahead.

While the show lacked a must-have, wow product – no Apple iPhone or Nintendo Wii – it packed a more powerful punch this year. Most of the thousands of products introduced or displayed in nearly two million feet of exhibition space represented incremental improvements or significant technical advances that enhance what is known as the consumer experience. The aggregate impact is mind-boggling.

Put all the high-tech enhancements together and you’ve got climate change. The products introduced at CES represent billions of dollars in annual sales. More significantly they are a response to, and an indicator of, consumer behaviors in transition. This year’s show is a tipping point for all things digital.

Coming at you: richer information, sharper images, bigger sound and elaborate functionality all designed around individual preferences. Your stuff becomes a signature for who you are. You control an array of capabilities streaming from communications devices, music players, high-def screens, sound systems, cameras, kitchen appliances, game consoles, electronic toys, clothing, jewelry, automobiles, massage chairs and Internet services. All from your personal comfort zone.

And everything looks so cool. The new models seem to have been inspired by the iPhone and Design Within Reach. Black and thin remain the vogue, but stark white environments with bold red or orange highlights are 2008 chic. The marriage of sophisticated form and function in an era that owes to the pocket-protector crowd marks a turning point for digital electronics. Product designers and marketers have applied the Design Dividend – the ten-fold financial advantage that well designed, leading-edge products have over dowdy competitors.

Over-stimulation denies a more temperate perspective. CES is over-the-top noise, hoopla and confusion – a lot like life in 2008. Press releases and briefings come by the hour. Deal-making is round-the-clock. About 150,000 of your closest friends, all afflicted with A.D.D., bounce through the cavernous exhibition halls like balls in a pachinko machine. Amid dazzling electronics and endless arrays of monitors flashing color-saturated images, the shilling is hypnotic. Everyone seems on the verge of a seizure from information overload. By comparison the scene in Vegas’ casinos is positively soothing.

We were all eyes, ears and senses. Through our filter, additional matters of consequence at CES:

Content. Organizers billed this year’s event as a content show and touted partnerships between hardware developers and content providers such as media, cable and phone companies. But the sizzle exceeded the steak. Few products showcased meaningful content or innovative information interfaces. The promise of immersive, quality content that truly enhances knowledge and understanding remains unfulfilled. Opportunity looms for content providers to fill a void in the vast space across digital platforms and devices.

Digital rights. During a largely overlooked discussion on digital piracy at NBC’s booth, ISPs and aggregators conceded the time was right to start protecting copyrighted content at the network level. Digital filtering and fingerprinting techniques are in the works, largely aimed to protect the motion picture and recording industries.

Surface media. The new HDTV screens are ridiculous. You can lose yourself in Panasonic’s 150-inch screen, three times the size of the one that dominates my small, media room. Take back the wall. Light-sensitive panels will project broadcasts, art, photos, video and programmed information, all in high-definition, on walls. They’ll also sense and control environments in homes and offices. Touch-screen tabletop computers will replace coffee tables and those granite countertops in your kitchen.

The wife factor. Women are in charge. Mary Peskin, who has known that for years, immediately saw the influence of women in the consumer electronics on display. CES stats show that women make 40 percent of the buying decisions and influence another 21 percent. The new crop of flat panels from LG and Samsung feature rounded edges, clear plastic frames and red accents burned into the bezel – TVs that actually coordinate with the décor in the living room. The new computers are bright cases, not those putty-colored industrial designs of the past. Phillips’ new line of designer jewelry embeds personal data devices and music players.

A final forecast: I’ll be in trouble come Valentine’s Day if I can’t find the Swarovski-designed crystal pendant containing a USB flash drive.

You may also like