This is the first installment in our 3-part series reviewing InfoComm 2015. Please check out the other installments, UCC Solutions Summit: What We Learned At InfoComm 2015, and InfoComm 2015: Products and Technologies That Captivated.
If you read our InfoComm 2015 Preview Guide, you know we had big expectations this year, and InfoComm did not disappoint. With a 5.6% increase in attendance from last year, InfoComm 2015 supported 39,105 attendees (click here for additional stats). The AV Industry as a whole, and the collab space in particular, is enjoying growth and continued mainstream adoption. The traditional vendors have evolved to meet the changing trends, and countless new players have joined the space. We have even welcomed entire new subcategories (drones being the obvious example).
With far too much to cover in a single article, I will focus here on the Keynote session and the big trends I took away from the show. Please check back soon for parts 2 and 3, where I will share what I learned at the many amazing educational sessions, as well as what I heard directly from the vendors themselves during my extensive booth crawl.
Big Trend: Confidence and Certainty
In previous years, the big trends centered around big questions. Does high definition matter? Is telepresence the future? Will software kill hardware? Does enterprise want platforms or services? Is the cloud our savior or a step in the wrong direction? The fear and doubt was pervasive. Not only did the session titles all end in question marks, but the vendors seemed nervous. Of course, everyone is always proud of their latest offerings and excited to share the latest news, but the industry was stressed out. Everyone was openly acknowledging that they were taking risks with their strategies. The technology and user expectations were changing too quickly for real time adaptation, so vendors were forced to guess two or three steps ahead without the benefit of a clear road map.
There was a very different feeling in the air this year. Of course, it isn’t as if every question has been answered. We can still expect further change and turmoil, but some of the dust has settled. The new strategies have been in place long enough to know that they are working. The industry as a whole is growing. Many vendors are doing very well and some are just killing it.
It is a great time to be in this industry. We survived the painful development phase, when we used to say “this technology will make our lives better once it becomes affordable and reliable.” Then we survived the frustrating market acceptability phase, when the stuff did work, but the users still remembered their experiences from the phase 1 solutions. After that, we trudged through the confusing implementation phase, where the technology had worked well enough and long enough for the users to get on board, but we were in the woods as far as understanding what kind of consumption model makes sense for all of our wonderful new toys. Now, we are crossing the Moore adoption chasm and entering the wonderful growth phase.
Some pundits have been writing that they are disappointed with the lack of revolutionary change at the event, using terms like “boring.” I think they are missing the point. If you are on the right path, you don’t need a revolution. Right now users aren’t looking for a magic new product, or the next telepresence. We like where the industry has been going for the last few years, we want it to continue in the same direction of more flexibility, affordability, adoptability, with a workflow centric focus.
There are several smaller trends worthy of discussion. Workspace, workflow, touchpanels, huddle rooms, persistent team messaging, etc. Please check back for part 2 of this series, as many of these trends were the subjects of the IMCCA Sessions we plan on covering. But the big trend is the success based confidence behind our current path.
Even the new technologies and offerings at the show were somewhat expected and largely uncontroversial (with a few notable exceptions which I will cover in part 3). For example, there is no debate about 4k along the likes of the previous debates about 720p and 1080p. It is an inevitability. The hardware will support it, the software will support it, and the users will love it. It’s already happening, hardly worth taking the time to write about. Speaking of inevitable technologies, let’s go right into the Keynote which covered the Internet of Things (IoT).
The Keynote: Internet of Things
This panel discussion was moderated by Nick Bilton, Lead Tech Writer at The New York Times. Panelists included:
Fred Bargetzi, Chief Technology Officer, Crestron Electronics
Ron Gazzola, Vice President of Marketing, Samsung Electronics America
Dr. I.P. Park, Chief Technology Officer, Harman International
Mike Walker, Director of Operations, Global Customer Experience Center, Cisco
It was a great discussion, entertaining and informative. A technical difficulty with Ron’s microphone gave Nick the opportunity for the ultimate laugh line at an InfoComm Keynote, “Is there an AV pro in the house?” There were also many jokes at the expense of iWatch owners, including those on the stage (look for the people standing up for no reason every hour). But the humor was tongue-in-cheek, there was no doubt that whether or not Apple gets it right, we will be adopting wearables.
The topic of IoT may be more futuristic and wild than any previous keynote topic, but it was presented with a calm tone of inevitability. Unlike previous keynotes, this wasn’t about predictions, projections, and guesses. This was almost observational. The IoT is, at this very moment, building itself around us. While the rest of the world will massively benefit from its implementation, our industry stands to massively profit by being the implementors.
I was a bit surprised when the conversation started with drones. But after some thought, I believe there were a few good reasons for this choice. While any WiFi enabled device could potentially be a “thing” for IoT purposes, drones are sexy and a good way to get the audience’s attention right from the get go. The fact that video has become a core component of drones really does make it a part of our AV world. Our existing skills and knowledge can certainly help the development and implementation of these devices into real business applications. Also, giving the drone discussion so much time during the keynote may have helped the old school AV folks to accept this new subcategory into our world. Not to mention justifying the presence of a big drone pavilion on the InfoComm show floor. The discussion actually went far behind the expected list of fun things to do with drones and went into predictions for the next generation of drone tech, as well as other far reaching changes that may get spurred by this new entry in our AV space.
The next big topic was about standardization. This is all on our vendor friends. Do we want the IoT to be an interop mess in the background or can we work together now as its building to get it right? One way or another, in a few years I expect to get an alert on my wearable if my fridge breaks and my food is going to spoil. If the fridge, the network, my wearable, and everything in between is speaking the same language, we would be off to a good start. The bad news is that we aren’t starting with a clean work surface to build the IoT. We already have a number of existing standards and protocols, and a lack of consensus on which ones should be used moving forward. The good news is we have very active standardization organizations working hard to solve these problems. Another bit of good news is that the vendors recognize that the IoT is consumer driven, not vendor driven. The consumer expectations are in place, and we will be held accountable if it doesn’t work the way we expect. That should provide some incentive for us to come together on standards.
The panel also spent a good amount of time discussing implementation. While the fun discussion for IoT centers around all the amazing uses and benefits, the AV community needs to really dig into the nuts and bolts that will make it all happen. I think a lot of us will be adding IoT related language to our LinkedIn profiles in the immediate future. It is up to us to become the experts.
Finally, the panel delved into the privacy issue. Basically, it is the same conversation we have had for previous tech advances. It is a simple trade off of privacy and convenience. I used Google Maps to drive to the show. When I look at my phone, I see a little arrow on the road showing where I am. Well, if the Google app knows where I am, that means Google knows where I am, right? And if your Apple Watch knows where you are, then Apple knows where you are. While it is still a serious topic worthy of discussion, it appears clear that we, as a society, are choosing convenience over privacy. I am ok with the Nest company theoretically having data on when I am home or away, if in return I have a perfectly heated/cooled home at all times. I am ok with Facebook knowing that I was in Orlando, if in return I have a convenient way to share all the pictures with my friends. We are already living the privacy/convenience compromise. The IoT is just more of the same.
Overall, the keynote reflected the mood of the event. There was no CEO jumping up and down on stage trying to convince us by the force of his excitement that his company’s vision of our future is the right path. We had a panel consensus that we are already on the right path, and the excitement isn’t around convincing the world, but about making it happen. If I had to sum up in one phrase everything I pulled from the keynote and the event as a whole, I would have to say, “It is a great time to be a part of the AV Industry.”