LAS VEGAS A panel convened Monday at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) by EE Times editor Junko Yoshida explored " both intentionally and inadvertently " the ways in which users of consumer electronics might make sense of the "Internet cloud," a shape-shifting and ever-moving array of telecommunications devices and services that is as pervasive as it is confusing.
As the session ended, panelist Gregor Poilasne, vice president of business development at Rayspan Corp., brought the discussion inconclusively full-circle by saying, "You need to enable your customers."
The panel's five participants presented disparate " moderator Yoshida called them "eclectic" " approaches to that goal. Toby Farrand, vice president of engineering for a start-up called Ooma, described his company's efforts to upgrade Internet telephony to allow every consumer to "own your own dial-tone" and eliminate intermediary networks from phone conversations.
"You pay for the device and from then on, telephony is free," he said. "It's incumbent upon us to create premium services that make it worthwhile for you to pay for telephony."
Pankaj Kedia, director global ecosystem, ultra-mobility group at Intel Corp., emphasized that mobile Internet devices must become interchangeable among one another for consumers, with all devices delivering the "full Internet." Requirements, he said, must include better mobile performance, full Internet compatibility, software consistency and wireless connectivity.
"There's only one Internet," said Kedia, "not subsets of the Internet."
Jason Kridner, chief technologist for Texas Instruments, stressed the importance of building a better Internet into the semiconductors inside devices. To the three "Vectors of Value" for chips, "performance, price and power dissipation," Kridner suggested a fourth vector, "participation" by consumers and device makers.
"It's not just adding more content to the platform, but adding more information to the platform," he said. "It's not about getting to today's Internet, but making the Internet better."
Poilasne, of Rayspan, noted that shorter and shorter life cycles for the sort of hardware that both TI and his company focus on requires constant attention to price and to markets that more and more include the poorest nations of the world. He mentioned "reduced component costs and the re-use of components."
In keeping with Kridner's use of the term, "metadata," Poilasne dropped the word "metamaterials."
Maury Wood, product line director, mobile processors at Analog Devices, continued this polysyllabic trend by invoking the image of the "Internet cloud."
This is, he said, "an infinite cloud of computing capacity." He looked forward to a utopia in which numerous functions now almost inconceivable " such as humming a tune into your handset and receiving, in return, a wave of metadata about the song, including the song, in response.
He talked also of a "next-generation Dictaphone" that records every word of everyone's every conversation, the prospect of "Internet radio signal-ripping" and even "image concatenation."
From this Babel, moderator Yoshida pinpointed an area of consumer clarity: the Apple iPod and its offspring, the iPhone. She noted that these products grew from a huge realm of consumption " music downloads " that long went unexploited by legal means, until Apple cornered the market overwhelmingly.
"How did we just let Apple have it?" she asked.
However, as evidenced by the eclecticism of the panel and the various directions they were pursuing toward a common goal of satisfying the consumer, the answer might have been another question: "How could we not have let Apple have it?"
Both questions evoke the prevailing dilemma of the Consumer Electronics Show, whose very name pays lip service to the consumer by marketing executives and technologists, but who wouldn't know " or heed the words of " a consumer if he walked up and bopped them on the noggin.
The answer to this dilemma was offered by Analog's Wood, whose experience in developing products includes substantial consumer input. "It's extraordinary the number of people out there willing to contribute their time for free, just out of goodwill. We need to do a better job of exploiting people's willingness to help us," said Wood.
"And shame on us if we don't."