Visions of the Future from CES

I’ve been fortunate in being able to avoid the Las Vegas trade show world for the last couple of years. It was no small sacrifice, therefore, to bring you this week’s column from the heart of the beast itself.

As I write this, I’m sitting in the Las Vegas airport waiting to board my plane back to New York after spending three days trooping around the Consumer Electronics Show in search of the future of rich media. (They tell me there’s nothing wrong with a Las Vegas trade show that a few days of soaking in a sensory deprivation tank won’t cure… )

As you recall, my theme last week was that the Internet is disappearing into appliances. Of course, all my suspicions were confirmed at the show this week, where everything – no matter how ridiculous – was considered an Internet appliance.

According to the vision of the future presented at CES, every device, conveyance, appliance, or available square inch of surface area will be blasting out the Matrix in 5.1 surround sound while you’re checking your email.

Sony is even making it possible for you to carry around a sort of personal media bubble wherever you go. Using their Memory Stick, you can download, say, “Kenny G Plays the Matrix” onto your computer and then transfer it from device to device (cell phones, PDA’s, portable MP3 players), maintaining a tight, protective Matrix seal against the world. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to take over one of those abandoned Y2K bunkers.

As the Evangelist for a rich media cursor company, you’d think I’d be the last to stick my nose in the air over another technology that is trying to expand the definition of rich media. Nothing, however, would make the folks at Digiscents happier.

If you are like me, friends, at one time in your life you’ve had the idea of bringing the sense of smell to the Internet. Then you sobered up and got on with your life. But not so Dexster Smith and Joel Bellenson, who have founded DigiScents, which allows gamers, advertisers and e-commerce sites to incorporate the sweet smell of success into their offerings.

Before all you perfume marketers get all hot and bothered at the prospect of stinking up the dens and offices of America, DigiScents needs to overcome a couple of major hurdles. First, the hardware: A scent synthesizer called the ISmell needs to be attached to your computer. There is also a client-side software control called ScentStream, which needs to be downloaded (and which, apparently, will be bundled with a future version of Real Player).

In order to get replacement scent cartridges for their ISmell synthesizers, customers will need to log on to DigiScents’ smell portal called – and I am not joking here – a “Snortal.” The business model smells a bit thin at the moment, but who knows, maybe every failed marketing device from the 1950’s movie industry will eventually make a comeback on the Internet. I’m sure John Waters is checking this company out.

If DigiScents represents the goofiest rich media technology I saw at the show, PacketVideo represents the best and most intriguing. PacketVideo is a developer of rich media software and services for wireless mobile devices. The engineers at PacketVideo have developed proprietary video compression routines that allow video to stream in at an acceptable five frames-per-second across a 14.4 wireless connection. Dick Tracy, here we come.

At the show, PacketVideo was suggesting a number of applications for its product. Using the ability of the wireless device to triangulate your exact position, video feeds from local traffic cameras could be downloaded to keep you on the move in a strange city. A NannyCam application is also on the drawing board.

But as I look out over the Las Vegas airport, I think I know where PacketVideo needs to focus its energy. Imagine you are a Road Warrior, like me, who hasn’t seen his children’s faces in days. With my trusty Casio Cassiopeia in my hip pocket (the current Palm devices can’t handle the video display at this point), I could look in at my son (Jake)’s and daughter (Emily)’s smiling visages from the road.

I can tell you – now listen up, you advertisers – I would watch endlessly promos for the new Matrix Life-Size Action Figure Dolls as a pre-roll to seeing the Jake and Emily show on my wireless handheld any day. Seeing the soul-drained, far-from-home faces of my fellow Las Vegas convention refugees, I don’t need a DigiScents ISmell synthesizer to smell very big business here.

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