The Consumer Electronics Show is really all about consumer products, of course, but a lot of the companies had enterprise offerings at the show, anyway. Of the vendors I visited (there is no way any human can visit them all as this show is the biggest in Las Vegas and the city currently leads in large-scale shows), Panasonic had the greatest depth of content. Granted, with tablets, phones and PCs often crossing that line, a number of products could make it into the enterprise, but tablets and phones were mostly absent this year. Since Panasonic had the most content, I’ll cover what they showcased, and I’ll end with some of the really interesting products, including one that may be pure vapor.
Let’s talk about business products at CES 2015.
Monitors and Projectors
Panasonic actually dedicated half of its keynote to business products and it is deeply penetrated in a number of areas.
One thing stood out sharply from the pack for me, likely because I was in a consumer electronics frame of mind, and that was the floating conference room monitor. Apparently, Panasonic has figured out how to embed a monitor into a window wall (where you have a huge glass panel, often in a conference room, rather than a solid wall). The result was stunning.
I’ve often wondered about the architectural sense of having glass-walled conference rooms. You can’t keep what you are presenting private, the folks walking around them are distracting to the speaker (who typically faces them), and the audience sees them out of the corners of their eyes. In addition, if you use the glass walls for any purpose, it typically makes them look like crap and you have to have someone clean them. However, if you can put your presentation on them, at least you gain back the wall space. And if you can keep the traffic down behind the wall you are using, it can be rather impressive.
Panasonic was showcasing some 8K displays used for signage or for engineering work that could be wall- or table-mounted. 8K displays have no real entertainment value but if you wanted to show things in very high detail, particularly useful for engineers, at large scale, or present products to discerning customers, this could be pretty handy. 8K or even 4K displays, when viewed at a distance, provide little real value, though (our eyes just aren’t that good). So using these for high wall-mounted displays, say, in a call or support center, would likely be a waste. But close in, they could be incredibly valuable for the right use case.
Short-throw projectors that could be used to throw images on water would seem to have a lot of affinity for Las Vegas in particular and could be used by an architect to create unique presentation capabilities for conference rooms or digital signage.
If you are looking for monitors, Panasonic showcased a new line of studio quality monitors that were priced in line with standard monitors. Video clips showcasing most of this can be found here.
Head-mounted cameras are most often seen as part of a sports effort and are increasingly hardened. But they are increasingly used by law enforcement, military and field employees who need to share what they are seeing. The Panasonic TS6 4K hardened camera might be worth looking at if you have such a need. Panasonic is known for its hardened Toughbook products (no new announcements from this division this year), and it should be best at providing a solution that works equally well for personal or professional use.
For more typical digital camera use for those like insurance adjusters, realtors or forensic investigators, Panasonic had the connected LUMIX CM1, which had built-in LTE capability, assuring the pictures made it back to the office even if the person using the camera did not. Another interesting product was the WX870/970 family of HRD video cameras, for those who need to capture high-resolution video in a traditional way. The 570 appeared uniquely suited for business because of an advanced wipe capability, which is useful where these videos need to be kept more secure. (For some reason, I’m thinking of this as an ideal gift for some celebrities.)
Panasonic had a number of prototypes on display that should be useful for some businesses. Noise-cancelling microphones could be useful for drive-throughs, though I often think that many of those folks choose to misunderstand me on purpose. Electronic shelf labels for stores were also on display. Perhaps the most interesting was a spotlight that, when connected to a customer management system, would lead a customer around a store to highlight what they were looking for. An interesting idea, but could be a bit creepy if it wasn’t done right.
RX Robotics MEDi
For the health care industry, there was a specialized robot called the MEDi from RX Robotics, which was designed for small children facing a frightening hospital experience. Children are often traumatized needlessly in hospitals and this robot befriends them and keeps them distracted. I’m also traumatized in hospitals, and I kind of wish they’d develop a robot that would distract me, but I think it would be very different.
Amplicity Modular Computer from Hive
The most interesting PC at the show wasn’t from any of the big brands but from a small company, Hive, which showcased a modular computer called Amplicity. Basically, this is an Intel-powered full PC the size of a smartphone that could be carried and plugged into a display, keyboard and mouse to create a full PC experience. I was a huge supporter of this concept when IBM first proposed it in the 1990s, but the technology just wasn’t there yet. Given Intel’s huge move to mobile, now you can create something small that performs in line with something much larger. Amplicity is the best implementation. It is coming to market under a rental plan with charges around $100 for six months of use, and it comes with 1 Terabyte of cloud storage. By the way, once the six months are up, you can trade the machine in for a new one, if you like.
HP’s 3D Printer
The 3D printer was showcased in Intel’s amazing keynote and if the HP 3D printer does what is promised, it could corner the business market for 3D printers. However, this was also the only product brought to the Intel stage that didn’t work, and the second mock-up of a non-functioning product I’ve seen from HP of late. Public prototypes are very rare and this is largely because they are often used to make things appear more real than they are. With this class of hardware, folks are more interested in how the products work now than how they look, and this looked like a top-loading washing machine, a form factor that wouldn’t be appropriate for a high-volume printer that likely would need some sort of belt feed instead in order to benefit from the high speed.
Wrapping Up: Reaching the Business
While this isn’t a business show, Panasonic stepped up and provided the broadest selection of business products. I think this is because CES is starting to evolve toward business, as Comdex evolved toward the consumer years ago. Initiatives like BYOD and the fact that buyers, at least those tied to stores and distributors, often buy products from both classes are important factors, and this is a way to get to these buyers earlier.
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+