The Tide Shifts at CES

by Doc Searls

So I'm sitting in the rather vast "press" corner of a CES keynote audience, waiting to see Paul Otellini, President & CEO of Intel, give a keynote. Two years ago I sat at an Otellini keynote here. As I reported in What's Intel up to with VIIV?, it was disappointing. Will this be different? Sure hope so.

Back then the pitch was for More Television, essentially; and better ways of flowing crap to consumers. Here's a sample of my notes from the talk:

There's a kieretsu of sorts here. DirecTV, for example. AOL. NBC...

It's being presented as the Complete Replacement for TV.

"A chance for broadcasters and rights-holders to extend their franchise".

"More choices for us as consumers. And more choices for content-makers".

"Premium films to the home, over the Internet".

What about non-OEMs? Good luck...

"A chance for broadcasters and rights-holders to extend their franchise".

"More choices for us as consumers. And more choices for content-makers".

"Premium films to the home, over the Internet".

Clickstar. New company bought by Intel. Delivering Hollywood goods. Very loudly.

They just brought out Morgan Freeman and an executive of some sort. Morgan is reading from the prompter. Sad.

He's introducing danny devito, tom hanks, others. Lordy. Will they be 'prompted as well? Not hanks.

Today Clickstar is still in beta and only runs on Windows anyway. VIIV is nowhere (that I've noticed.) Will Paul rehash any of this? Or will he catch the flow going the other direction?

The talk opens with a video take-off on the Buggles' Video Killed the Radio Star. Lyrics: Internet made the video star... Internet rocked the broadcasting star... Internet stunned the camera star.

Paul says we now live in "the era of the 'go to' Internet". That is, "In this model the Internet reacts to our requests". In the next model, he says, "the Internet will come to us." Meaning, "a new level of capability and usefulness", procative, "context aware".

He sees four obstacles in the way: lack of wireless infrastructure and ubiquity, context, electric power, and a natural UI. He sees the next generation of devices and services building out a new ecosystem with those four problems solved.

Now he's showing some pretty slick stuff, such as a portable device you can point at a Chinese sign that automatically translates the sign into English. The image sign itself turns into English. No subtitles. Does the same for menus. Records speech and translates it.

Now he brings up Steve Harwell of Smash Mouth, to show off several products that allow band members to jam over the Net with no apparent latency delay. First with audio and then with video, where avatars created from photos of Steve and other band members move in a Second-Lifey kind of way. Does any of it run on Linux? Hard to tell.

At the end Paul talks about the "personal" internet, and how consumers are going to be the new producers as well.

Quite a difference from two years ago. That's when I concluded my notes with this:

I think the new sweet spot in the market is in the open, non-DRM'd part — the part that's non-Microsoft and non-Apple, even if it's still Intel Inside.

Think about this. The best screens you can get in the next year will be 1080p full-HD displays. And the best source of "content" (man, I hate that word) for those screens will be high-definition camcorders. Fiber to the home is still a rarity, and even high-def digital cable and satellite aren't due to deliver 1080-grade resolution. Meaning the best source of the best-looking stuff will be: ourselves.

Once again, the demand side will supply itself. Mostly without DRM or any of that other use-throttling jive. Open will win where it matters.

Or so I hope.

At every CES up to this one, I always felt that both open source and user-in-charge were swimming upstream against a tide of proprietary "solutions" and user lock-in strategies. I always had hope that the tide would turn, but not much faith.

This year I have faith. I can feel the tide shift here. And it's not just with the likes of Intel. Lots of small things point toward increased user autonomy, originality, invention and engagement. The story isn't just about What Big Companies Are Doing For You any more. It's what you're doing for yourself, and for whomever you like.

Funny thing is, that points to a much bigger business than Consumer Electronics is already.

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