It’s been over a decade now since I’ve actually attended a CES in Las Vegas Nevada, but I was there this year virtually, thanks to my fiber connection and Vimeo. For those that don’t know, CES is one of the largest consumer electronics shows on the planet, debuting new consumer gadgets every January since 1967. Folks attending past shows have been the first to see the Laserdisc Player (1974), the first Xbox (2001) and more recently, the first 3D HDTV (2009). Keynote speakers include the likes of Bill Gates, who in 2005 was demoing the then new Windows Media Center when his machine went belly up – displaying the dreaded “Blue Screen of Death” to all attending. Almost as embarrassing was this year’s Keynote speaker John Chambers, CEO of CISCO, interacting with Sarah Silverman, a comedian from Saturday Night Live.
While this pair fell flat extolling the virtues of the Internet of Everything (IOE), they did poke at some pretty interesting predictions: “The Internet of Everything is going to change EVERYTHING - and change my life!” So went the script for Sarah, “I just want my life to be a little less of a pain in the ass.”
Enter stage left John Chambers, with a new spin on his every-device-is-connected speal that we have all been hearing from him since the turn of the century. “IOE is connecting data to machines to people, at the right time,” said Chambers, but this time added, “We are talking about a 19 trillion-dollar global industry by 2020.”
19 trillion! That woke everyone up. In short, Chambers predicts that the market for connected devices, data and people – that will introduce new products such as clothing that indicates the wearer’s health and when the item is dirty or smells bad – will dominate the consumer electronics world over the next decade. Trash cans that tell trash collectors when they are full, wallets and purses that tell us if we are broke or not, or have left our keys on the counter, as well as cars that connect themselves to our houses and our phones and to other bad drivers (#Get off the road fool!) - are all future products that Chambers predicts will revolutionize our lives 10-fold over what the Internet has already done for us so far.
Indeed. Think about that... what set of products or services could possibly generate 3 trillion dollars per year over the next 6 years, when today my coffee pot still won’t shut off by itself, and instead, boils my coffee to death every morning? Will my toaster, knowing that my horrid coffee is just about perked, start browning my bread and make my life any less a “pain in the ass?” I don’t think so, but CEOs of major electronics manufacturers have been spouting such tripe for as long as I can remember.
I say, show me the money. Or show me what could make that kinda money; is it LG’s 105” Curved LED 4K TV demoed this year at CES - or the $1300 USD one-wheeled skateboard dubbed OneWheel that will begin this upward business trend? What about the Oculus VR Headset, a bulky twist on the absent-this-year Google Glass? Hmmm... if anything, I think it would be products coming from the Consumer Fabrication booths and not the Wearables department, such as the early prototypes that were cranking out food and jewelry and other consumables this year. For example, 3DSytems ChefJet and Cube desktop printers were making giveaways in real time, as confections and toys thrown out to the souvenir-hungry attendees.
Consumer fabrication products may be the one area that really explodes this decade, as these items may truly make our lives a “little less of a pain”. Imagine if I had a 3-D printer that could manufacture a replacement part for the one in my coffee maker that is currently causing fluids to sputter everywhere, or if I could go down to Durbar Marg and open up an all digital “German Bakery” that prints custom cakes and sweets with the ChefJet 3-D Printer? In other words, one of the things predicted by Chambers – the connection between consumers and manufacturing – may be the one that disconnects us from traditional supply chains. Take that Mr Chambers!
What if the 19 trillion dollars doesn’t go into the pockets of electronics manufacturers by 2020, but instead, went into the pockets of consumers - in the form of savings – as we become disconnected from shopping malls and online storefronts? Let me make my own size 46 Bigfoot shoes I say, and save me a trip to Amazon to purchase those. It’s an interesting twist to IOE, when the consumer becomes the producer of his or her own things.
That is perhaps the only real takeaway for me this year, as I look at the list of boringly “new” 2014 products demoed on the floor: the new and improved Rumba (a robotic vacuum cleaner), the questionably immersive and unaffordable curved screen TVs, the bigger tablets, the smaller phones, the one-wheeled skateboards and 3-wheeled commuter trikes... the #1 product that interested me was a pen that was kicked off originally on Kickstarter.com and not at CES - the 3Doodler. The 3Doodler is a $99 pen that draws actual objects in 3d space – imagine a hot-glue gun on steroids – that makes trinkets limited only by your imagination and supply of thermoplastic.
I love this idea, which flies in the face of traditional business sense – to sell products that make products, thus reducing our dependency on retailers that provide the same junk - ad infinitum. John Chambers did not specifically mention this in his dream titled “The Internet of Everything”, but I sure can dream up a world where everything is made by me, based on the unified ideas of others, and where I can finally say piss off to big business. Go your own way making all those new curved improved higher-resolution dingbats year after year, while I just stay home and fix and make whatever I really need using a home fabricator, or in other words, a new 3-D printer.
Jiggy Gaton is a quirky kinda techo-expat happily living in the Kathmandu Valley with his Nepali family and friends, and predicts the next big consumer war to be between manufactures and consumers armed with their very own means of production.