Will.i.am a Camera

Jan 18, 2013 No Comments by

So, boys and girls, here we are again (well, we were when this was written….) at CES in Las Vegas battling hordes of drooling geeks and a badly-timed dose of man flu.  The Fogey-ish thing to have done would have been to have stayed at home and availed ourselves of all the many thousands of blog posts and tweets about the show and all the bits and bobs that are being launched but we had a whip-round and here we are.

The thing about CES (and we can’t call it the Consumer Electronics Show because the organisers have decreed thus) is not so much the attraction of any individual product, although there are lots of shiny toys on the show floor,  but prevailing moods and trends.

One over-riding impression TF has acquired is of scrutiny.  Not so much the CCTV nose-poking that’s so ubiquitous in the UK (more so than any country in the world, Big Brother fans) but the proliferation of sensors for myriad purposes.  The Nike Fuel Band has been around for a while and is one of the more innocuous examples of the monitoring movement.  You wear it and it tracks all manner of information about your body and its performance – actual and average heart rate throughout the day, calories consumed, steps taken etc.  Where it gets interesting is when the inherent competitiveness of human beings kicks in.

The Fuel Band has an accompanying app for your smartphone and such physical stats as it can monitor are automatically uploaded via Bluetooth.  You can then decide whether to keep the information to yourself or share it with other Fuel Banders.  TF has always been slightly perplexed at human beings’ willingness to share information about themselves.  We think much of social media is monopolised by desperate show-offs who think the world needs to know how much fun they’re having skinny-dipping in Barbados or cycling across Vietnam.  Tell your friends and family, fine, but who else gives a shit?  TF has a YouTube channel but there’s nothing tech on it; it’s just videos of our dog, uploaded so Mr and Mrs Fogey Sr can watch them.  We don’t expect total strangers to be remotely interested in a cavorting mutt.

Soon there will be sensors in everything.  They will be small enough to contain their own CPU and have their own IP addresses; mini computers in all but name.  Some of them will simply remove the need for human thought, such as telling you when certain items in your fridge are about to go past date code but a few minutes lateral thinking will suggest many more areas where discrete sensor monitoring can have significant benefits – healthcare, for example, where on-going conditions can be analysed by a doctor remotely rather than the patient having to traipse to the surgery and hang around surrounded by dog-eared copies of Hello and people who smell of wee.

CES is impossibly huge.  Even if TF had a small army of blogging munchkins covering the show like a reportage rash we’d barely scratch the surface of what’s on offer.  And that’s just the displays on the various stands that occupy halls at the Las Vegas Convention Centre, The Venetian hotel and the Las Vegas Hilton – we haven’t yet touched on the many platform discussions and keynote speeches, the latter of which are usually given by industry big nobs such as Katsuhiro Tsuga, president of Panasonic and a dead man talking if ever there was one.  Panasonic is doomed.  They thought they could front up to the Koreans (LG and Samsung) but they were wrong.  As were Sony.  The rising sun is setting before dawn.

Rich, clever people talking

The best platform natter we came across was The Next Generation of Innovators Keynote  featuring the solo brainstorm that is Will-i-iam. The man seems to have no off switch and probably sleeps while dictating ideas into a recorder embedded in his jaw.  Will-i-am was on a panel moderated by Jeff Jordan, partner at Andreessen Horowitz that also featured David Lieb, creator of the Bump app (over 115 million downloads and counting and, in 2009, the billionth app downloaded from the app store), Cyrus Massoumi CEO of Zoc Doc (no idea and he was no chatterbox, so let’s forget he was even there) and Eric Vishria CEO of RockMelt Inc whose website and app promises, ‘Rockmelt brings the best of the internet to you. When you open the app, you’ll find an infinite, image-rich stream of great content – personalized exactly how you want it.’  Notwithstanding the obvious contradiction between ‘best of’ and ‘infinite’ TF is always slightly non-plussed by apps that make such claims.  We don’t have a smartphone, so we’re hardly their target audience but why does great content have to be ‘image rich’?  What happened to words?  Who decides what constitutes ‘great content’? Me?  RockMelt?  Here’s another bit of the blurb-pitch: ‘Search everything.  Simply type what you’re looking for into the search bar at the top to search the whole Internet. At the same time, we’ll search through the content you follow and your social content. You’ll get the best of all content and find exactly what you’re looking for.’  This sort of screed is what makes TF slightly reluctant to go down the social media route.  We’re not on Facebook or Google+, we have two Twitter accounts but rarely update and, as mentioned, our YouTube account is given over to puppy madness.  The whole notion of having ‘followers’, being ‘followed’ and ‘following’ others just seems to make no sense.  TF really doesn’t care what you had for breakfast and can’t see why you’d be interested in our boiled egg.  We’re not trivia prophets and we don’t need advocates. Plenty of the sagely opinionated tell us we’re mad not to embrace social media and that it makes business sense whether we like it personally or not.  But it feels like being told to paint your house shocking pink or it won’t sell.  It’ll look like shit. Before ebay people used postcards in local shop windows to flog their tat.  Some still do.  Now, imagine that instead of selling old issues of Private Eye we used that in-window postcard to convey some sort of random information about our day – ‘walked the dog, she heaved out three dog-logs of diminishing magnitude.  Only had two pooh bags. Please don’t step in the third turd.’  That’s 135 characters.  A Tweet.  If someone posted that in a shop window you’d think you lived in the same locale as a certified mental, so why do it online?

Anyway, back to RockMelt – ‘simply type what you’re looking for…’ so that RockMelt can ‘find exactly what you’re looking for.’  It’s a bit like phrases such as ‘fun for the whole family’.  Everyone’s part of a family, even if some are the only part, so anything for the ‘whole family’ must therefore be for everyone.  Never is.  What’s usually meant is, ‘this is a pile of puerile tripe that you will only find bearable if you check your brain as well as your coat.’  TF doesn’t know what it’s looking for.  Never has.  U2 wrote a song about it.  It’s a mystery.  Like existence.

David Lieb from Bump used the following to illustrate how cool and time-saving tech can be:  He has a smartphone app that ‘encourages’ him to exercise and knows when he hasn’t met targets he set for himself, such as going running three times a week for, say, 45 minutes.  So he finally peels himself off the sofa and goes for that run, but cripes! he realises when he’s out that when he gets back the fridge will be empty and he can’t swing by the store because he has no cash, only his smartphone.  But help is at hand because his phone has another app hooked in to his local store who know what groceries he normally buys and, at a tap of the app, will deliver those staples so they’re waiting for David when he gets back from his run.  Cool, huh?

As with so much in tech, it sounds great, but…. TF used to use Tesco Direct.  When you order from Tesco for home delivery an actual person does your shopping which is then bagged up and delivered to your house.  So far, so ordinary.  But once too often we’d order a week’s worth of grub only to find, when we unpacked everything, that most of the perishables went out of date-code the next day.  Utterly useless.  But what was even more useless was the lack of any person to talk to about this problem.  No phone number, no email, no physical address. So we stopped ordering.  We still get regular communications trying to encourage us to start using Tesco Direct again but there’s still no facility for a conversation.  Tech Fogey has used Twitter to moan about awful service but when you consider there are 340 million tweets every day it’s akin to weeing in the sea and thinking you might poison the fish.

But back to Will.i.am.  He had an iPhone around his neck with his own photo.sosho V.4 camera gubbins attached.  You can read more about it here.  TF hasn’t used it, so has no opinion other than it looks pretty if gold and white are your thing.

Will.i.am is most excited (very) about 3D printing.  “We’ll be able to print medicine, organs, portions of the human heart.  You’ll be able to sequence the human genome in your house (which rather trumps watching Pointless).  What does that mean?”  Will is being rhetorical.  He also reckons the occupation that saved his life – music – will no longer represent a viable career path for the current crop of teenagers.  “Music saved my life but it won’t save theirs.  Maths, science and engineering will.”

Next he’s musing about mobile communications and from whence the next Twitter or Facebook might emerge. “Apple, Google, Amazon, Samsung, Facebook – they’re all gatekeepers but people need people to identify with. Icons.  Companies need celebrities but pretty soon celebrities won’t need Samsung.”  He’s right, of course.  You’ll just need an introduction to a big man with a factory in China or maybe Malaysia or Thailand.  Somewhere labour is so cheap it should be illegal.

Anyway, if you have an hour to kill the whole session is on YouTube here.


The next post of pointless ramblings will be ‘best in show’ products.  Moist already, eh?