This last week at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas will be remembered for innovation and limitation. The show — where approximately 3,100 companies took the wraps of more than 20,000 products — was big in more ways than one. I haven’t met a person who covered the over 1.85 million net square feet of exhibit space (more than 37 football fields), but I did glean enough from the reports I’ve read about the show highlights to know this year will be huge for gadgets. Innovation abounds. But, first, let’s talk about the limitation — and what’s behind it.
In my view, technology won’t limit how we use, access and enjoy the world (digital and physical) on our wireless devices. The carriers and hardware and software makers will do that with closed approaches that limit what is possible.
For years, the carriers (mobile operators) have tightly controlled the services and featured available on handsets and delivered over their networks. Be it content or products, the carriers have acted as gatekeepers with a singular focus: look out for their interests first.
Then there’s Apple, which famously bypasses all operators and flaunts a closed Apple system. Content is only accessible using Apple devices that, in turn, only use the Apple iOS platform. Mobile apps are approved by Apple and sold via the Apple App Store. And advertising is served via the Apple platform — period.
Google is also clamping down. Granted Android is more open than Apple, but Google’s decision to beef up its search engine results gives us more reason to be concerned than to celebrate.
Google intends to add social networking results to the results we receive in response to our search queries. But don’t assume your search results will display a wide variety of results from a wide variety of social networks. No, Google is just adding the results that come via Google+, the search giant’s own social networking service (which has so far seen more buzz in the media than it deserves given the low level of member activity).
This is a huge step backward — not forward — and ignores the desire of us (the people) to have all-inclusive search results that allow us open access to everything on the Web.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time Google has limited our access.
Last summer, the company turned off real-time search results from Twitter in what was described as a contact dispute. Back then (as is the case now), we — the people seeking information through the Google search box — were the losers.
Google is spinning or in denial on the issue. An official blog post states that: “Google Search has always been about finding the best results for you. Sometimes that means results from the public web, but sometimes it means your personal content or things shared with you by people you care about. These wonderful people and this rich personal content is currently missing from your search experience. Search is still limited to a universe of webpages created publicly, mostly by people you’ve never met. Today, we’re changing that by bringing your world, rich with people and information, into search.”
The features added (as described by Google):
- Personal Results, which enable you to find information just for you, such as Google+ photos and posts—both your own and those shared specifically with you, that only you will be able to see on your results page;
- Profiles in Search, both in autocomplete and results, which enable you to immediately find people you’re close to or might be interested in following; and,
- People and Pages, which help you find people profiles and Google+ pages related to a specific topic or area of interest, and enable you to follow them with just a few clicks. Because behind most every query is a community.
How I See It: Google has proclaimed loud and long that its practices stand in strong contrast to those of Apple. Google’s Android operating system, for example, is widely regarded as being not only good for everyone in the mobile ecosystem, but also for consumers worldwide. However, Google’s moves this week tell a totally different story. Is Google becoming a closed shop? Twitter is worried. It was among those who criticized the ‘improvements’ to Google Search. “We’re concerned that, as a result of Google’s changes, finding this information will be much harder for everyone. We think that’s bad for people, publishers, news organizations and Twitter users,” the company said in a statement. Google’s version of the story? It says Twitter is not included in search results because Twitter chose not to renew its contract. Where does this leave us? According to the Los Angeles Times, a privacy watchdog group will likely step up and complain to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about the privacy and antitrust concerns this new Google search feature raises. Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, has said his group is considering filing a letter with the FTC. Where does this leave Google? It may ultimately “search” for a way to display more people-focused information in search results while still maintaining control over what we get in the end.
Innovation abounds at CES
Enough about the limitation we face. Let’s shift to innovation that awaits us.
Here is some of the stuff that caught my attention this week:
- Samsung’s attempt to hit the sweet spot was the introduction of a 7.7 inch Galaxy tablet. You may remember the company’s first effort was 7 inches. Did focus groups tell Samsung the 7-incher was too small and 8-incher was a wee-bit too big?
- From the “getting with the times” department, Polaroid introduced a camera powered by Android. Users can upload images to social networks.
- Microsoft’s Windows Phones were warmly received by many, marking a departure from previous shows where Microsoft products were panned.
- RIM announced that it is bringing native email to its Playbook tablet. Can someone explain to me why it has taken the company — that built its market prowess on email and messaging — nine months to provide us an email solution?
- Ultrabooks were everywhere, including a 2.5 pound, half-inch Samsung notebook that boots in under 10 seconds and has a 10-hour battery life.
How I See It: Having introduced products at CES, I know how difficult it is to break through the clutter and rise above the noise. At first, I wondered if mobile would get lost in a show that is physically difficult for media and influencers to report. But I was pleasantly surprised. Wireless grabbed many of the headlines, eclipsing what was presented as the latest and greatest televisions and audio products. In view of the fierce competition in the industry and the need to unveil innovative products sooner than later, it’s understandable that many more mobile companies used CES this year to show off their best and brightest. After all, CES is about the consumer and consumers are mobile. Next up is Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, which kicks off on February 27. Expect more innovation as more companies (from even more countries) use the show to debut their products and devices.