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CES 2015 - Concepts in Device Forms

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Day 1 of CES 2015 somehow blurred into day 2 as if we were all sucked into an electronic device time warp. With certainty day 1 kicked off with Teardown.com walking in the Sands (yes, pun intended), and at least one of us was able to end the day without any blisters on our feet.

Aside from the unexplained quantum leap, devices abounded across an area equivalent to a small city. However, when day 3 began a sort of panic came over us as there was still so much to see, leaving us to hoping we would find a time machine in one of the 3000 booths and have it take us back just one more day for more time.

Day 3: Happy Birthday, Elvis – and "thank you, thank you very much…"

CES 2015

 Figure 1 - Die Mark of Elvis found in our Die Library at Teardown.com

..to the likes of Raspberry Pi and all of the sensor and wireless radio semiconductor manufacturers like InvenSense who are playing an integral role in the Wearable and IoT world, or as one speaker said, it is not an “IoT world, it is now an Io ‘Me’ world.”

Looking at the vast sea of exhibitor booths was proof we are far past the ‘can we connect’ to ‘how and why we connect’ portion of IoT, IoE, (and IoMe). Fitness bands and wearable clothes, smart phones, thermostats, smart lights, and even cars – all are customizable for the user, and all have at least one sensor, one wireless radio IC, or both.

CES 2015

Figure 2 - Muse Brain Sensing and Training Headband

As was expected there were plenty of wearables, some looked like they offered the same as the others, some made no qualms about having the same offerings but instead stood apart with style, as was the case with the Withings Activé, with an analog face and leather band option.

There were plenty of stylish wearables, but the smallest wearable with an actual touchscreen display was the Mota, a smart ring with a display large enough to at least display an icon.

We came across a second ring which is a 2015 CES Innovation Honoree winner, and to be honest, the concept is pretty cool. The Bluetooth connected Ring from Logbar was first introduced right here in Austin, TX at last year’s SXSW. It is a multi-device controller using shortcut gestures you make in the air as you point to the device you want to command with your ring finger. Does this mean pointing will no longer be considered rude, but hip? We shall see.

CES 2015

Figure 3 - Withings Activité Watch

As we just slipped in, for fitness and stylistic wearables, Bluetooth is predominantly the choice for connecting. However, we did find HearNote’s booth and got a look at their non-Bluetooth, wirefree solution using Kleer radio technology.

CES 2015

Figure 4 - The Ring from LogBar

CES 2015

Figure 5 - HearNotes Wirefree Earbuds

Kleer technology has been around for awhile and has some advantages over Bluetooth such as providing uncompressed audio, using less power, and it is less susceptible to interference than Bluetooth 2.0. There are receivers in each of the HearNotes’ earbuds, allowing for a truly wire-free earbud product, something we did not see in other Bluetooth earbuds or headphones. The HearNotes earbuds communicate with the transmitter piece (the one front and center above) which plugs into your device’s headphone jack.

Kleer technology looks like a viable alternative to Bluetooth for audio devices, especially with its advantages for audio quality and battery life. Hmm, intriguing, indeed… we will have to teardown the HearNotes in order to better understand how this tech is being utilized today after being introduced almost eight years ago.

Even though Bluetooth connectivity is the preferred tech for wearables, the choice for the Digital Home device market was not so clear.

Connected Home and Connecting the World

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There was a good showing for the connected home and devices like lighting at both Tech East and Tech West. Most devices touted connectivity via WiFi or Bluetooth, but at both sites, ZigBee and Z-Wave were nicely represented as well. For most consumers, WiFi and Bluetooth may seem like a safe bet because of their familiarity with both technologies, or at least with the familiar terms. However, both the ZigBee and ZWave alliances were doing their best to educate the masses on their respective protocols and technologies, throwing around terms like mesh-networking, longer battery life, and longer range.

CES 2015

Figure 6 - Philips Hue Lux LED Bulbs

With the battle of the bands, there are a couple of products which caught our eye and which will eventually secure their place on our lab tables. One such device was the Venstar Voyager thermostat which allows the user to choose (again the customization feature) how they want to connect: WiFi, Bluetooth, or ZigBee. Noted, the Venstar has a very basic design and probably did not have as high a cost for enclosures as the thermostat from Trane which uses Z-Wave. This leads us to mention our observation: digitally connected home devices are not only trying to figure how to talk to the rest of the IoT world, but they are also fighting the same battle the wearables are fighting which is how to connect, be usable, and do it all in style.

CES 2015

Figure 7 - Venstar Voyager Thermostat

CES 2015

Figure 8 - Trane ZWave XL624 Thermostat

Lights, Camera...Action!

GoPro has some competition from the likes of Kodak, Sony, and Garmin, to just name a few. The action camera market is getting as interesting as the moments they are made to capture.

CES 2015

Figure 9 - Garmin Virb Elite Action Camera

But GoPro has some allies in the sky. There were several drones which are “GoPro ready” and with (horizontal only) auto-follow features. One such drone is the Ghost from Ehang who just announced raising $10 million dollars through Series A funding. This brings their total funding to over $10.6 million dollars thanks to their additional funding received through Indiegogo.

CES 2015

Figure 10 - Ghost Auto-Follow Drone

Besides the auto-follow feature, the Ehang Ghost separates itself with its control app and tilt control feature which uses the controlling smart device’s accelerometer (read: accelerometer = sensor).

And no, pink is not the only color of the Ghost seen at CES. We just thought we would add a photo of something that wasn’t black, silver, or white.

Not everyone needs or wants a camera to record death-defying feats or follow them around for a jog around the park. There are cameras which are marketed for the jungle of social life, too, like the HTC Re (and it should be mentioned, the HTC Re was their ‘showcase’ product for CES and not the rumored M9).

CES 2015

Figure 11 - HTC re Social Media Action Camera

Basically, there are HD video cameras marketed for those which are physically active and socially active, and all are capable of sharing with friends and family almost immediately. This once again plays well into the Io’Me’ of the IoE / IoT world.

3D Printers and the Their State of Affairs

3D printers had a good showing this year, too, with desktop models in action to show they can be useful even in a smaller size. Today 3D printers are still rather pricey for the average consumer to purchase for home use, and up until we ran across a display depicting a 10ft modeled scene from historic Nantucket, we assumed 3D printers could only be fully utilized within engineering departments, architects, and anyone who creates models for a living.

What was explained to us by the 5th grade teacher whose class made the model display, the MakerBot 3D printer used at their school has been integral in class projects. The point is: even if 3D printers are not ready for the average consumer, they are finding plenty of homes in our children’s classrooms at school. And if anyone is doubtful this is not smart product marketing by MakerBot, look at the popularity of Apple laptops among the younger generations who had Apple laptops available in their schools since kindergarten.

Yes, there were TVs, too

What would CES be without TVs? The concept of ‘curved’ and 4K UHD was seen at all of the major TV playgrounds, with a good chunk of real estate taken up by the likes of Changchong, LG, Hisense, Panasonic, Sony, and TCL, the latter displaying the largest curved TV in the world, a 110” monster.

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Figure 12 - TCL 110" 4K UHD TV

If you sat in the TV conference on Monday, you would have heard what we heard: TV sales are forecasted to decline by an estimated 3 million units here in the US, but the Chinese demand will help counter this, with estimates of the Chinese market accounting for more than half of the total sales. Teardown.com will definitely be analyzing TVs in 2015 to understand who really owns the display panel market – is it indeed LG Display? And if so, how do the other companies like Sharp, Sony, and even Samsung compete and compare?

CES 2015

Figure 13 - Toshiba 55" 4K UHD TV with Toshiba Glass

Now if you are not sold on the curve rave, don’t worry. There are still plenty of flat alternatives like this creative 2-for-1 product placement of a Toshiba 4K UHD TV advertising their Toshiba Glass wearable device.

But wait, wait, why in the world did the TV manufacturers spend the printing ink to put ‘UHD” next to 4K, isn’t this the same redundancy as saying RAM memory? In short, yes, but to keep the confusion to a minimum Teardown.com will conform to how the TV manufacturers refer to their TVs as 4K UHD, and when we analyze a TV which is not 4K but is UHD, we will be diligent about indicating such data in our reports. (Cliff Note: UHD means anything above 3840 x 2160 pixels, thus all 4K TVs are UHD but not all UHD TVs are 4K, get it? Got it? Good.)

Routers and Extenders – Making Connections

So we’ve covered wearables, cameras, TVs, and connected home devices, yet no one has asked yet how do we connect everything together to join in the IoT? With routers and extenders, my dear, that’s how. With the vast number of connected devices (in home and office), 2.4 GHz and 5GHz will be fully utilized and much needed for speeds and bandwidth to support all of the connected devices. When we happened across the Qualcomm’s display of products they have their ICs in, it was very obvious to us they have truly committed to being a part of the IoT world and not just through mobile devices.

What about Mobile Devices?

Well, we’re not going to get to 50 billion connected devices without mobile, and you already knew there some mobile devices at the show. However, CES stands for Consumer Electronics Show so the actual number of new mobile devices on display was overshadowed by all the other electronic devices. We suspect that even though the Sony Xperia Z4 was announced behind closed doors (and noticeably absent from Sony’s show floor), it will be on display at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona – we hope. That is not to say Sony didn’t show off their current mobile and wearable devices as there were plenty of Smartwatch 3s and Xperia Z3s to look at as well as a few of Sony’s tablet models.

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Figure 14 - Sony Xperia Z3, Smart Watch 3, and Tablets

Before we found Sony, we had found ZTE. We had heard last year ZTE was making a play to move up the ladder in the US mobile market. They have committed to increase their marketing by 3-fold just for brand recognition. We don’t know if it is a coincidence of the ‘3s’ but their thrice marketing efforts is the same number of NBA teams they currently sponsor: New York Knicks, Houston Rockets, and the Golden State Warriors. And for the CES attendees who didn’t know about ZTE’s basketball ties, ZTE gave everyone passing their booth a small hint of their basketball love.

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Figure 15 - ZTE Booth at CES 2015

Of course, their booth wasn’t totally sport centric, as they also had a beautiful serenity display setup for a multiple of their new models, such as the new ZTE Nubia Z7 Max with its pretty impressive device specs : Snapdragon 801 MSM8974AC (which is Qualcomm’s top performer of the MSM8974 ICs), multi-mode / multi-band coverage for both cellular and WiFi bands. Yes, those are CES attendees taking photos of the live, exotic plants ZTE had next to their Nubia products because the display really was that pretty.

CES 2015

Figure 16 - ZTE Nubia Z7 Max

ZTE may have the NBA, but Samsung has the Avengers. The device of choice to back up these comic heroes was none other than the limited released Samsung Galaxy Note Edge. We had to smile when we saw the many advertisements for the Edge; it maybe slotted for a limited release, but we’ve had one in our labs under analysis already and it even made it to our Favorite Teardown Toys for 2014.

CES 2015

Figure 17 - Samsung Galaxy Note Edge with the Avengers

The My Kronoz and Burg booths we found in the CES labyrinth got our attention straight away. They were displaying cellphone wristwatches, not a new concept to us, but each of the booth managers were surprised to hear we had already “seen” such a device from LG Electronics back in 2009. Regardless of the lack of the devices’ concept newness, we are researching when we may get our hands on these new devices to see what has changed in the last six years. The Burg device was advertising Mediatek for 3G which we do know is different from the LG GD910.

There is ‘just one more thing’ for us to talk about: E-Waste

It goes without saying: 50 billion working electronic devices is going to be a milestone, but what happens when one or some, and eventually, all of these devices stop working and need to be replaced? To the consumer, it will only be a matter of cash and replacing the device with a new device. However what we heard is there are some serious financial considerations at both the front end of a product life and at the end-of-product life when the device needs to be discarded and replaced.

Even if the electronic device cannot be reused, electronic devices have a lot of recyclable materials such gold, silver, aluminum, and plastics. The OEMs pay an up-front fee for the cost of recycling their devices. In the US, the fees depend on what state the device is sold in and is usually calculated by the weight of the device. As one could imagine, there is a slight decrease in those cost for the newer TVs which weigh less than their older models.

Leaders in the recycling of electronic devices include Sprint, Best Buy, and Dell Computers, the latter partnering with Goodwill Industries as a drop-off station.

CES 2015

Figure 18 - PowerWrapper from the Paper Battery Company

Okay, we have to wrap this up. This is not to say we talked about everything we saw at CES 2015. We didn’t even cover the Polaroid smartphone making its way into the US market; or the gaming systems; or the augmented reality devices; or the advances in batteries (like this paper battery); or 3D TVs which (finally) do not require glasses. We didn’t have room to talk about battery chargers, the SSD drives from Samsung, Toshiba, and even Energizer, or the cars we saw inside the buildings and not just outside. We didn’t even tell you about Qi wireless recharging, 5G cellular modes, cool retro flip phones, retro cameras, or even the retro pinball machines; or about the robots or the amazing household appliances – there was just so much to see and plenty to talk about for the upcoming year. All we can say is farewell for now and if you want to ask or chat about anything else we didn’t mention here, please feel free to contact us by phone, email, or even twitter.

Until next year.

CES 2015