Mobile Enterprise's View of the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show

By Tony Rizzo, Editor in Chief — January 17, 2012

The 2012 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that took place in Las Vegas all of last week was huge. To say the least - 1.8 million square feet of space is a lot of space, especially for those of us who actually managed to walk all of it. I attended the show primarily to get first hand looks at what the mobile industry has been cooking up from an enterprise perspective and keeping under wraps for the last few months. Ideally I would have preferred going out to Mobile World Congress (MWC) next month, but timing is such that I would not be able to attend this year, so CES  - a place to both see and be seen - was a useful alternative.
 
Most of the newest technology that will be shown at MWC from an enterprise perspective - tablets, smartphones, and this year in particular, the new crop of "super ultrabooks" (driven in large part by Intel, which continues to seek its old "Intel Inside" magic) - was on display at CES. And Nokia did introduce its new Lumia 900 (shown on the right) - a very cool 4.3" AMOLED screen, 4G-LTE, Windows Phone 7 smartphone that is exactly what Nokia needed to deliver in order to finally get into the enterprise BYOD game in North America.
 
We weren't able to actually check out the software (only Nokia representatives were allowed to use the current software), but we were allowed to hold it. The 900 feels great in the hand, screen quality is outstanding, and along with Nokia's usual best in class high end camera capabilities (Carl Zeiss optics and 8 MP camera) the company finally has a true BYOD piece of hardware in hand for the North American high end market. The polycarbonate shell (I definitely prefer it in matt black to powder blue) that appears in its smaller shipping siblings is seamless and provides a sweet profile. It's a phone I would consider if I had a desire to replace my iPhone 4S (I don't).
 
The other major Windows Phone 7 player at the show is HTC, which continues to deliver "Titan" devices true to the name. The newest member of the family might easily be classified as a greatly downscaled tablet in my opinion. It may very well find a place in the enterprise where particular mobile applications (on the floor business intelligence where graphical data views are critical comes to mind as an example) may dictate its use. But it is far too big to earn a place as a BYOD device.
 
All of the usual Android suspects were on hand - from LG, to Motorola to Samsung - the new Droid 4, the latest Galaxy - and I took careful stock of all of them, with my reference point simply being: "Am I willing to give up my iPhone 4S?" The answer is no. For all of the myriad new smartphones on display, the overwhelming sense continues to be, "more of the same Android stuff." When Nokia made its decision to go with Windows Phone 7 (leaving aside all of the Microsoft-Nokia management connections) one of its primary reasons for doing so was a hope that it would be able to differentiate. And the Lumia 900 does. The Droid 4 and Galaxy don't.
 
Behind all the whizzy marketing of these devices, much looks and feels the same across every manufacturer, even factoring in the proprietary operating system overlays that Samsung, for example, employs. I've been testing a Samsung Stratosphere for a good while now…and I'm not a convert. True, it isn't the latest version of Android, but stepping up to Android 4.0 devices certainly hasn't changed my mind.
 
Was there a "silliest in show" smartphone idea? Well, yes. Shown on the left is a Porsche-designed Blackberry Bold, made of forged stainless steel and sporting a leather back. It's all yours for $2,000. I'm not sure where either Porsche (which is a huge BlackBerry shop) or Research in Motion plan to go with this device, but it certainly won't be in any enterprise outside of Porsche. 

We also got a glimpse of BlackBerry OS v7, but there isn't really anything to say about it. What is more important isn't what was at CES for RIM, but what wasn't - namely BlackBerry v10. 
 
Ultrabooks and Tablets
 
As was advertised prior to the show, CES delivered on a wealth of ultrabooks, by which the industry generally means laptops with extremely thin profiles, light weight, and a variety of high end specs, including fast Intel processors and a strong emphasis on user interface features. The emphasis on the UI is actually being driven by Intel, which has come around to understanding that look and feel is perhaps more important than emphasizing underlying hardware.
 
That said, nothing from the players at the show - Lenovo, HP, Acer, ASUS, and so on, with the exception of the Samsung Series 9 (shown below), was of any particular interest from an enterprise perspective. A large part of this comes down to these machines primarily being Windows 7-based. Until Windows 8 and its Metro UI are finally in delivery, ultrabooks will continue to play a distant second fiddle to the MacBook Air, which cannot be beat on either look and feel or really even price at this stage of the game.
 
On the tablet side, as with smartphones, the key question remains: "Would I ditch my iPad 2 for any of these?" Sadly, no - again there is a real sense of the entire tablet market never quite catching up or in any way surpassing the iPad - at least in my opinion. Research in Motion's PlayBook 2 finally got an airing out in public, but it certainly can't compete against the iPad standard (interestingly, RIM's booth had a separate QNX section, along with a car, showing off a number of mobile features - and this is where the crowd was). As for the rest, even those devices sporting Android Ice Cream Sandwich (v 4.0) did not capture my imagination. Every one of them still seems "derivative" and lacking in terms of the cachet that iPad owns.
 
As with ultrabooks, I absolutely believe that the real game for tablets - that is, in terms of challenging iPad's leadership position - won't come into play in the enterprise until Windows 8 tablets sporting the Metro UI become real. Until then, as much as the Android-based device makers and RIM want to believe they have the potential to grab real market share (whether driven by the enterprise itself or through BYOD), it simply isn't going to happen. Enterprises can rest easy that they will not go wrong in focusing their efforts first and foremost on building iOS-based enterprise apps over the next 6 to 12 months.
 
The Fun Stuff
 
It wouldn't be CES without vast collections of truly cool things - none of them having to do with enterprise mobility (at least not yet) - I beg a little forgiveness for a bit of indulging here. 3D TV is at the pinnacle of cools things (and there was one vendor showing off a 3D screen on a mobile device that required no 3D glasses but wasn't quite ready for prime time). Half inch thick 55" OLED TVs from Samsung were high on my list. As were Sharp's new 80" LED TV along with its new fully interactive TV. WiFi-based wireless video camcorders, at least those from Samsung, are also high on my list. Numerous cool mobile apps were everywhere - almost all of them consumer in nature (of course). If you happen to be a former amateur photographer (as I am) Nikon's newest 4D SLR attached to a 600 mm lens was also a thing of beauty.
 
Finally, the niftiest device I crossed paths with is the latest generation of Microsoft's Surface touch technology - which the company is partnering on with Samsung and its SUR40 technology. Here the Microsoft/Samsung effort is ahead of Apple in more ways than one. The table has cameras built into it that detect the orientation of peoples' hands and fingers and places objects on the table oriented to where people are standing relative to one another. Very cool.

It is technology that will find its way into the mainstream enterprise marketplace - not only as a table-based technology but overall as a user interface. How it ultimately ends up interacting with and through mobile devices will be fascinating.

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