Typically, when one speaks of the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the conversation evokes imagery of a sprawling arena filled with booth upon booth of hardware.
But hardware isn’t everything this year. CES 2012 will be the first CES where apps show up in a major way.
Every new television or set-top box that boasts a smart TV interface is essentially a platform for app use and discovery. Android apps now run on Google TV, and next week’s CES will play host to a handful of Google TV announcements. What’s more, all of the major TV manufacturers now have a “connected TV” platform that plays host to widgets for Netflix, Amazon, Pandora, Twitter, and similar appy content sources.
Appliances are getting into the apps space too: LG’s ThinQ appliances directly connect to mobile apps for remote user control. And at this year’s CES, you’ll see automobiles stuffed with apps connected wirelessly to the cloud.
Yes, apps will be everywhere in Las Vegas next week, and the Consumer Electronics Association has added “Software and Mobile Apps” as a new product category this year, a nod toward the importance of apps in the overall electronics experience. Today, a consumer electronics company needs much more than hardware to succeed. It also needs an elegant user interface, and a quality selection of apps to distinguish itself from the competition.
The Synergy of Apps and Hardware
“Like CDs and DVDs in the past, apps are tied to the hardware,” said Robin Raskin, founder of Living in Digital Times, a CES Partner Program. “It’s becoming intrinsic to the hardware experience.”
For instance, children’s toymaker Wowwee will debut a line of collectible toys called AppGear at CES. The toys connect to mobile devices, mirroring the real world with the virtual world. So, if you’re playing with one of the line’s small foam airplanes called “Foam Fighters,” you can pretend you’re piloting a WWI airship using the accompanying app.
Transgaming is another company that’s bridging our interactions with hardware through mobile devices and apps. Transgaming has developed a platform that lets you play games using your mobile device and your TV — a rising trend known as multi-screen gaming. The company wants to use CES to broadcast its platform to service providers, content developers, and independent developers.
Vikas Gupta, CEO and president of Transgaming, described a few gaming possibilities: Playing a game of mobile-to-TV Scrabble with your family, or similarly, a game of poker, with your cards on your personal display, and the poker table up on the TV. At CES, Transgaming will be showing off a custom game called Ants at a Picnic, which lets you squash virtual insects on your TV by flicking and swiping bugs on your mobile device.
Approximately 60 percent of Living in Digital Times exhibitors are showing off apps in the sports, fitness and digital health sector. What’s more, in the section for kids products, 80 percent of exhibitors include apps as part of their presentation.
For the third year in a row, CES will be holding a Mobile Apps Showdown, a contest that pits submitted apps against one another for the popular vote. This year, developers entered over 100 apps into the contest.
Titles that have won in past years include Drive Safely, an app designed to curb texting while driving,Swiftkey, a personalized, predictive keyboard app, and Line2, which adds an extra phone line to your mobile device. Robin Raskin, the founder of a CES Partner Program called Living in Digital Times, says the top 10 is a good cross section of app offerings, ranging from video to healthcare to biking pedometers and geofencing.
For the first time, CES is also including a fixture called the Wall of Apps, housed in the show’s North Hall.
“It’s like a self-serve museum exhibit,” Raskin says. In its inaugural year, the Wall of Apps will show off 20 apps on various devices selected by the app developers. Titles like Line2 and Zinio, a global magazine service, will be on display for attendees to take for test drives.
App Launches and Demos
Standalone apps demos will also appear in booths at Pepcom (a major press preview event), and in the iLounge section of the CES show floor.
Scrible, an HTML5 app that will run in-browser on mobile Safari, is a fully featured webpage annotation and online research system for tablets. The service is already available for desktop browsers, but at CES, developers will be debuting the tablet version.
“Folks now recognize that the apps that run on the hardware are important to the user experience and, therefore, the success of a mobile device,” Scrible CEO Victor Karkar says. “The excitement for tablets will continue this year. We’re a part of that, and want to ride that wave.”
Chris Holbert, CEO of SecuraTrac, is a three-year veteran of CES. His company will be exhibitingSecuraFone, a safety-focused iPhone and Android app that uses GPS tracking to prevent distracted driving. In addition to being a good platform for developing new business relationships, CES is a great opportunity to connect with customers and suppliers, and scope out where the electronics industry is headed, Holbert says.
With apps of every form and flavor showing up at CES this year, it looks like more than just company employees are going to be energized. Apps are revving up to be a huge part of 2012.