As the hype may be toning down a notch, CES 2016 now heads into sessions on focused topics and walks around the convention floors to view products and demos. Our coverage is bolstered with a second reporter on the scene.
The keynotes have taken place and the hype may be toning down a notch. CES 2016 now heads mostly into sessions on focused topics and walks around the convention floors to view products and demos.
Our coverage will be bolstered with a second reporter on the scene Thursday. Rachel Lerman joins Matt Day to report on companies, products and trends.
Here are some highlights of our coverage from Day 2.
- PCs used to be a huge focus of CES and the earlier Comdex. Now, with sales in a prolonged slump, their presence is much more subdued, Matt writes.
- General Motors showed off its upcoming electric car, the Bolt, which is designed to handle cameras, sensors and other tech-oriented feature.
- And, of course, tweets, retweets and more tweets. Jump to feed of CES tweets from Times staff.
HTC puts a front-facing camera in Vive to keep things real
It’s easy to believe that you really are underwater watching a whale swim by while wearing the HTC Vive virtual reality headset. But the company has now made it easier to snap out of the virtual world without taking off the equipment.
The Vive allows the user to walk around the room and see the virtual experience in 360 degrees. But HTC added a “chaperone” to make sure that people feel comfortable even as they suddenly bump into something while using the device. When the user approaches that something, a digital grid shows up in that view.
Now, HTC has added a front-facing camera that takes the chaperone element a bit further. By clicking a button on the Vive system’s controllers, the camera kicks in to show the user an outline of the furniture and people in the room.
The idea is to let people easily interact with the real world without having to take off the headset and interrupt the virtual world.
The HTC headset, developed with Bellevue gaming company Valve, will start accepting pre-orders in late February. The price hasn’t yet been announced.
Microsoft bolsters partnership with Samsung
Microsoft’s truce with Samsung hit another milestone Thursday.
Terry Myerson, the executive in charge of Microsoft’s Windows and Devices group, took the stage during a speech here by W.P. Hong, president of Samsung Electronics, to tout the ties between the two companies.
“Today we’re here to celebrate a renewed partnership between Samsung and Microsoft,” Myerson said.
It was almost a year ago that Microsoft and the South Korean conglomerate agreed to end a mess of patent licensing lawsuits. The financial terms of the truce weren’t disclosed, but the companies said they would be collaborating in the future.
Samsung subsequently put a limited set of Microsoft applications on its flagship Galaxy smartphone. And this week, Samsung introduced a tablet, the Galaxy TabPro S, that runs on Windows. Most Samsung devices are powered by Google’s Android operating system.
Myerson on Thursday also committed to joint work on making sure Windows 10 functions with Samsung’s effort to build a network of Internet connected home devices.
— Matt Day
A game changer for UIEvolution
Kirkland company UIEvolution is winning big from the connected car craze.
The 15-year-old company creates a backend framework that it sells to auto manufactures that enables apps to be connected easily to any type of car.
UIEvolution announced along with Toyota at CES that it would support SmartDeviceLink, open source software that connects drivers’ phones to their cars.
The Kirkland company also landed a $5 million funding round from the Mirai Creation Investment fund, to continue its connected car partnership with Toyota.
The expansion of SmartDeviceLink is going to be a “huge momentum changer” in the connected car industry, UIEvolution CEO Chris Ruff said.
It’s also a huge game changer for the company. UIEvolution has been “growing like crazy” and hired 60 people in the last year, bringing its total to 200.
— Rachel Lerman
Chinese giants aim to make name for themselves in U.S.
China has long been the factory floor churning out many of the gadgets at CES.
But some Chinese electronics makers, giants in their home market but relative unknowns in the U.S., are seeking a piece of the U.S. pie under their own name.
Huawei, the massive Chinese telecom company, grabbed headlines this week with a long-awaited expansion of its offerings targeting the U.S. consumer market, announcing the coming availability of a smartwatch, tablet and a pair of smartphones.
It’s not alone.
Hisense, a state-controlled Chinese appliance and electronics giant, has been in the U.S. for years as a manufacturer of goods sold by other brands. Now, the company, headquartered in Qingdao in eastern China, has set its sights on U.S. brand recognition and a slice of the TV market.
“Chinese players are trying to have a go under their own brand, it’s [a trend] that’s getting stronger every year,” said Bob O’Donnell, president of independent research firm Technalysis. “But let’s be honest, it’s going to be tough. They have very little or no brand recognition.”
Hisense started its effort to remedy that through an avenue as American as the big-screen television: Nascar. Hisense last year cut a deal to sponsor an Xfinity series race in Charlotte, N.C., and a Joe Gibbs Racing driver. More sports deals and community sponsorships are coming, the company says.
“We’re ramping up our investments to get our word out to consumers,” said Mark Viken, a vice president of marketing with Hisense. “The U.S. is now a key for us to grow” outside China, he said.
Like many Chinese companies, Hisense’s main advantage has been a cheap manufacturing and supply chain.
Best known for budget devices, Hisense is launching 47 new TV models this year. Twenty-two carry the Hisense name. The rest bear the Sharp brand that the company acquired the rights to in the U.S. when the Japanese company exited the U.S. market. This week, Hisense took over a former Sharp manufacturing plant in Mexico.
“It’s a challenge for them, but [Chinese companies] feel like they need to be in the U.S. to be global companies,” O’Donnell said.
— Matt Day
Sony affiliate wants to get rid of your gaming controller
Virtual reality is all the rage at CES this year, and a Sony affiliate is making a big play to get rid of your gaming controllers.
SoftKinetic, a Belgian company acquired by Sony in October, develops advanced gesture tracking technology. Using an infrared camera that judges distance with the use of light, SoftKinetic’s software can tell how a user’s body is moving.
The technology is live in Sony’s PlayStation 4, and SoftKinetic wants to take it a step further. The eventual idea is to get rid of gaming controllers and let users touch virtual, and real, objects when playing games or doing simulations.
SoftKinetic is developing technology to let users play VR multi-player games in the same environment, using a camera, headset and their hands.
“We believe we are bringing another level of immersion to VR,” co-founder Eric Krzeslo said.
— Rachel Lerman
Microsoft on a new path when it comes to Windows 10 metrics
Microsoft opened the week of CES with a curious announcement about the rollout of Windows 10. The company’s new operating system, it said, was running on more than 200 million “monthly active devices.”
Monthly active devices?
The Microsoft of yesteryear would have touted how many copies of the software were sold. A new Microsoft has changed its metrics to something in line with how Facebook and other Internet companies define success or failure.
Yusuf Mehdi, Microsoft’s corporate vice president overseeing the marketing of Windows, Xbox, and the other elements of the company’s sprawling Windows and Devices group, took a few minutes to chat on the sidelines of CES about the company’s new approach to Windows.
Monthly active devices, he says, is how many personal computers, smartphones, and Xbox Ones running Windows 10 turned on during the past month. It’s a reflection of Microsoft’s attempt to redefine Windows from something you buy in a box at Best Buy once to a product that is constantly updated. Or “Windows as a service.”
“Is ‘Windows as a service’ marketing speak? Or is it going to happen?” Mehdi said.
He answered his own question. “We’re doing it,” Mehdi said, citing a cadence of more-frequent updates to the software.
Windows 10 also means a new trove of data for the Redmond company.
The software sends more frequent, anonymized data to Microsoft on how the software is being used. With 200 million devices plugged into the operating system, that gives Microsoft more information both to improve its product and engage with application developers, advertisers, and other partners.
“It’s a real opportunity,” Mehdi said. “Say we promoted your app (in the Windows store). How’d it do?”
In prior editions of Windows, Microsoft couldn’t tell how many people were tapping in to which applications or were struggling with a clunky settings feature. If the more robust data collection of Windows 10 works right, Microsoft won’t have that problem.
“It used to be years later when we learned if we messed this thing up,” Mehdi said.
— Matt Day