Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Our best CES yet

Anecdotes and observations from the QNX booth at 2013 CES

As a wrap-up to last week’s Consumer Electronics Show, I would love to regale you with all the cool technologies and nifty gadgets that I saw. But over the course of the entire four days, I rarely left the 20’x40’ patch of white carpet that was the QNX booth — with brief exceptions, of course, for bodily maintenance. The booth was just too busy for me to get away. If you checked out the QNX booth webcam, you know what I'm talking about.

Paul Leroux and Nancy Young have already posted a lot of information and photos about the show and the new QNX concept car, which is based on a Bentley Continental GT. So let me provide my personal view of CES through assorted anecdotes or observations collected at the booth.

  • As you’d expect, the Bentley got a lot of attention. But our reference vehicle, based on a Jeep Wrangler, got more attention than I thought it would, even though this is the third time we’ve shown it in public. Many of the people interested in the Jeep just wanted to see what our QNX CAR application platform looked like “out of the box” without customization. And some were confessed Jeep or truck aficionados, without the “luxury brand lust” experienced by most.
  • People in the auto industry knew who we were without introduction. Non-automotive people didn’t know who we were until I mentioned that “we are a wholly owned subsidiary of Research In Motion,” at which point most of them said “Oh, you’re that QNX.” Seems that your average person has heard quite a bit about QNX in the context of BlackBerry, but has no idea that the same company is doing things in automotive — or in anything else, for that matter. I usually then spoke about our 30+ year legacy in life- and mission-critical systems. When people learned that an OS used for mission-critical systems will also power their next potential phone, their reaction was “wow—that’s really cool.”
  • Tanner Foust is a really nice young kid. (Actually, he’s not that much younger than me, but he sure looks young!) I didn’t know who he was when he was being filmed in the booth, surrounded by a throng of admirers. But since then, I’ve watched a lot of his YouTube videos and boy, can he drive! He's an accomplished race car driver, TV personality, and stuntman for lots of famous movies, but it’s nice to see he hasn’t let it go to his head.
  • We wanted to make sure that our concept car respected the Bentley brand. To do that, we ran our design sketches by the folks at Bentley and they occasionally suggested some tweaks. It was all our own work, however, and the Bentley folks never saw it before it hit the show floor. When they came to the booth, they were very happy with what they saw — enough so that they said “it looked like we did it.” That, to me, was the ultimate compliment.
  • Most frequent question: “Are you giving this away?” As it turns out, it’s something that people have said for every concept car we’ve done to date. Second most frequent question: “Can I drive it?” Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, the answer to both is “No.”
  • I was a little surprised by the enthusiastic response to the car's video conferencing. Of course, it works only while the car is parked, and you only get audio while the car is in Drive. But the part that seemed to impress people the most is the audio: two channel stereo and a full 20Hz to 22KHz means that the call sounds so much better than your typical hands-free call. You could see the reaction when the our director of acoustics Phil Hetherington started talking — you don’t know what you’ve been missing until you hear it.
  • Bentley wanted us to add our video conferencing solution to the technology concept car. Because many Bentley vehicle owners aren’t necessarily the drivers, this feature makes a whole lot more sense for rear-seat systems than you might initially imagine.
  • I was really impressed by two members of the media: Brian Cooley of CNET and Craig Peterson of Clear Channel. Both could receive a five minute technology core dump, quickly digest it, and talk intelligently about it on video or live radio (respectively) with no stumbles, questions, or missteps. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing both in action before, but their consummate professionalism is really quite amazing.
  • I and every other QNX’er was delighted that we didn’t win the CNET Best of CES award! Instead, our customer, Chevrolet, won it for their MyLink system, and we couldn’t have been happier. Two out of the three nominees were QNX-based systems (the Garmin K2 was the other), so our odds were good. I’d rather that we never win another Best of CES award if it meant that one of our customers could always win instead.
  • A number of people asked about the RIM booth and its absence. I explained that RIM was focusing on their launch at the end of January, and that since they wouldn’t have a new product to show the public, it didn’t make sense to be there. (It’s notable that Microsoft wasn’t there either, and Apple never is.) RIM was in Las Vegas in a hotel outside the convention center, giving media private previews of the upcoming phones that seemed to be extremely well received. And we had a few of our RIM compatriots helping us out at the QNX booth as well.
That’s all I’ve got to say about CES 2013 — our best show yet. See you next year!

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