What we can learn from what didn’t happen at CES

Last week’s weekly update was entitled Things that didn’t happen, and what that means, which was directed toward 2013 in retrospect. I am keeping to that theme this week, and trying to read between the lines of the non-event that CES seemed to be last week. Here’s a tweet I posted on the 8th, where I said:

Screenshot 2014-01-13 08.14.27

[Note that the American Dialect Society chose that way of using ‘because’ as the word of the year. Ben Zimmer, the chairman of the New Word Committee said,

“No longer does ‘because’ have to be followed by of or a full clause,” he said in a statement. “Now one often sees tersely worded rationales like ‘because science’ or ‘because reasons.’ You might not go to a party ‘because tired.’ As one supporter put it, ‘because’ should be word of the year ‘because useful!’ ”

Also note that last year, Ben Zimmer was the one that did the sleuthing to determine that I was, in fact, the person who coined the term ‘hashtag’, as a result of discussions with Chris Messina and others about his ‘Twitter channels’ idea, now known as ‘hashtags’.

I am biased, but I think ‘hashtag’ is bigger than ‘because’, because hashtags.]

Notably absent from CES are the dominant players in the technologies that underlie the modern workforce, and which are impelling new changes in the structure and shape of work.

Microsoft wasn’t there, although it might have been a good place to announce a successor to Ballmer: the company seems to be endlessly circling the airport, running out of fuel, never landing. And the rumors about ‘Threshold’ — the next big release of Windows — underscore the terrible response they are getting to Windows 8:

Paul Thurrott, “Threshold” to be Called Windows 9, Ship in April 2015

Windows 8 is tanking harder than Microsoft is comfortable discussing in public, and the latest release, Windows 8.1, which is a substantial and free upgrade with major improvements over the original release, is in use on less than 25 million PCs at the moment. That’s a disaster, and Threshold needs to strike a better balance between meeting the needs of over a billion traditional PC users while enticing users to adopt this new Windows on new types of personal computing devices. In short, it needs to be everything that Windows 8 is not.

[…]

In some ways, the most interesting thing about Threshold is how it recasts Windows 8 as the next Vista. It’s an acknowledgment that what came before didn’t work, and didn’t resonate with customers. And though Microsoft will always be able to claim that Windows 9 wouldn’t have been possible without the important foundational work they had done first with Windows 8—just as was the case with Windows 7 and Windows Vista—there’s no way to sugarcoat this. Windows 8 has set back Microsoft, and Windows, by years, and possibly for good.

Two comments: 1/ Way too late to stem the defections of Windows users to iOS and Android tablet, and 2/ this is a canonical example of a dominant company being disrupted because it cannot stop trying to support the past successful model. If Microsoft is going to hold onto *any* territory in office applications — Word, Excel, Powerpoint — they need to get them on other platforms ASAP, and not pretend that companies and individuals will wait until April 2015 for Microsoft to really fix Windows 8.

This could be the end of Office, and that completely undercuts Microsoft’s potential role as a leader in the work management marketplace.

The weak market response to Xbox is not a direct impact on Microsoft’s enterprise solutions, but Sony’s strong lead in this generation’s console wars — selling three to one over Xbox — is an argument for spinning Xbox out as a separate company or selling it, and focusing away from consumer technology.

Last week Google stepped in it, with an unartful power play that opened up the possibility of Google+ users being able to send email to Google+ IDs that they didn’t have email addresses for. And they made it an opt out option (see Google’s broken social strategy with Google+ and Gmail). This had all the maladroit insensitivity that accompanied the conversion of Youtube comments to requiring Google+ IDs. It seems that Google has a plan to infiltrate Google+ into everything, even if we don’t want it forced down our throats.

I wrote about the rise of wearables and how that might play out in the workplace (see Bring Your Own Wearable), even though all the wearable that debuted at CES last week seem far too clunky and limited. I made the case that wearables will accelerate BYOD by increasing the value of smartphones without increasing their risks, and that this is going to also lead to an increased desire to move to the cloud, and decrease IT staff headcount. BYOW only awaits the arrival of iWatch and a few compelling android tools, like a low-cost, more mature Google Glass. This will be as large a change for the workforce and the way of work as the desktop revolution was in the ’90s.

A week of missteps and rumors instead of world-beating debuts and announcements, which suggests that CES is becoming just another Comdex, a conference that faded as the big players decided it was no longer cost effective, and stayed home or just rented suites to hold meetings. It appears the same is happening with CES, today.

Bring Your Own Wearable

The trend lines for BYOD (bring your own device) are running up and to the right pretty fast. July 2013 research suggests 80 percent of respondents agree that BYOD is the “new normal” (even though only 45 percent have a formal BYOD policy in their company). My bet is that the security concerns that have hindered more widespread adoption will decrease. The recent enhancements of iOS 7 relative to enterprise concerns has led to large increases in buying plans for iPhones and iPad, for example, (see Amazon Workspaces now on iPad).


The additional cost of wearables and the complexities in their use make it harder for companies to ask their employees to switch to company gear. Besides, at least at this point, the average company is unlikely to feel that it should shell out hundreds or thousands of dollars for wearables for its workers. But that doesn’t mean that they won’t be happy to gain whatever productivity increase comes from their use.

The recent CES conference has stirred a great deal of excitement for wearable devices, despite the fact there really weren’t any world-beater products released there. But the geeky otherworldliness of Google Glass and the yearnings for iWatch are leading to a great deal of speculation about the wearable world to come. So, here’s a few observations:

Wearables will accelerate BYOD — The increased reliance on companion devices (so-called mobile: smartphones and tablets) will only increase when people acquire wearables. Some devices will only pair with certain OSs. Google Glass pairs with Android and iOS devices, and may pair with others they recommend only those two at present. We can expect similar pairings with Apple and other companies’ products. As a result, people who have acquired a smartwatch or some headgear that works well with their iPhone 6 will be even more disadvantaged and unproductive if they have to take off their rig every morning.

Note that since these wearable connect to smartphones and other devices, there don’t introduce a great deal of new security issues. That means they will speed not slow adoption of non-wearable devices in the business setting.

The additional cost of wearables and the complexities in their use make it harder for companies to ask their employees to switch to company gear. Besides, at least at this point, the average company is unlikely to feel that it should shell out hundreds or thousands of dollars for wearables for its workers. But that doesn’t mean that they won’t be happy to gain whatever productivity increase comes from their use.

BYOW undercut centralized IT even more than BYOD has — Since companies *won’t* take on the burden of outfitting these devices — which may wind up being some of the most used communications devices that people will be using — IT will start to look less and less central to the provisioning of the workforce, and more like the way that IT originally started: tending enterprise applications in the back room. The rise of desktop computers and networking pulled the dweebs out of the basement, and inserted them intot he foreground of everyday business operations.

Many companies had a Vice President of Electricity in the early 1900s, when electric power was a breakthrough and an esoteric innovation that few understood and which powered expensive machinery that only trained experts were permitted to touch. But with respect to ‘computication’ devices — like laptops, tablets, smartphones, and now wearables — the opposite is the case. Everyone knows how they work. They are low-cost and ubiquitous. So the time has come to chase the IT guys out of the building, and to aggressively move all enterprise software as fast as humanly possible to cloud services, and where companies will rent IT expertise by the hour, and it will be of higher quality and more up-to-date.

Wearables will be like the future, unevenly distributed — Some functions in business will adopt Google Glass-style headgear as fast as possible. Military, obviously. A great proportion of field workers, like construction, warehousing, security, policing, and the like, will likely be outfitted with headgear since it will free their hands, and allow for easy sharing of visuals. But I expect will see very fast adoption in retail, medical/hospital, and other customer/patient/client facing roles, so that information pertinent to customers can be readily accessed, and when connected to tablets, can be shared with them in real time. In these cases, the companies (or governments) will pay for the gear. And at some much later date, a trip to the DMV might have a clerk say to me — before I’ve said a word! — “Hello, Mr. Boyd. Are you hear to get a license renewal? I see you only have a few months left on your current one.”

Smart watches will spread even faster, because of their lesser geekiness factor and lower cost. I predict this will be the fastest adoption curve of all time, with hundreds of millions sold in the 12 moths following the release of a killer product, like an iWatch (2014) or a low-cost second generation Glass (2015?).

Wearables are the ultimate in the personalization of technology, often called consumerization. These gizmos will be touching our skin, perhaps 24 hours a day. We will be wearing them in the bathroom, while eating, while making love, and, yes, while in meetings with clients, and while doing a talk’n’walk with a colleague. They will become indispensable immediately, the way that laptops did for the mobile worker in the ’90s, and smartphones did in the ’00s.


The time has come to chase the IT guys out of the building, and to aggressively move all enterprise software as fast as humanly possible to cloud services, and where companies will rent IT expertise by the hour, and it will be of higher quality and more up-to-date.

And they will increase the value of smartphones in a non-additive way, making us less reliant than we might otherwise have become on tablets. Tablets are now — in a world about to be swamped with wearables — more likely to be seen as a replacement for laptops and desktops, rather than a big smartphone.

The implications of wearables for business are very, very rich, and they will become the foreground of communications in business very, very quickly.