The International Consumer Electronics Show, the giant circus-cum-gadget conference that’s finishing up today in Las Vegas, ostensibly serves as a sneak peek into the coming year’s batch of digital gizmos and blinking-lights toys — in other words, essential work tools.
Judging from the news coming out of Vegas, the show hasn’t disappointed. And field service firms can get in on the fun, too, as CES 2012 featured a slew of upcoming field-related products, from tablet computers (surprise!) to the newest smartphones, wireless payment systems and concept electric vehicles.
Manufacturers and tech companies use the show, which attracted more than 140,000 people — mostly celebrities, tech nerds, and electronics fanboys — as a venue to launch their latest and greatest gadgetry. As the name suggests, the focus is on consumer technology, but, as we’ve seen with things like the iPad, consumer gadgets have a way of finding their way into enterprise, especially field service.
John Brandon at Inc. had a great wrap-up of the most relevant trends to emerge from CES for small businesses. Here are a few that will affect service firms in the coming year:
2012 is the year of 4G – The increased speeds possible with 4G, which are twice as fast as 3G and comparable to DSL connections (and possibly faster), have tremendous implications for field service workers reliant on mobile devices. Faster data downloads will allow techs to more quickly retrieve customer information and product manuals, and for those using tablets and smartphones with front-facing cameras, even broadcast customer problems and communicate with colleagues with little to no lag time. Writes Brandon: “For business use, 4G on your smartphone or tablet means easier Internet back-ups, smooth video chats, and snappier Web viewing.”
Accessorized smartphones – Nearly every device manufacturer introduced a new smartphone, some of which may eliminate techs’ need for laptops entirely. The Motorola Atrix 4G, when connected to a dock, doubles as a full-size laptop, complete with keyboard, for those times when a smartphone’s keyboard or screen just aren’t big enough.
Tablet frenzy – Apple’s iPad is still the tablet to beat, but that hasn’t stopped other companies from trying to catch up. With more varieties on the market, look for prices to drop, allowing more businesses to at least consider equipping techs with the devices. But it wasn’t just tablets that made a splash at CES. Add-ons and accessories were a huge part of the show, several of which will make tablets even more useful in the field. Intuit, competing in the increasingly crowded mobile payment space, announced a free card reader for its GoPayment system. Engadget reports that Intuit will make the card reader available in early 2012 in Canada. No word yet when the reader will hit the U.S. market.
Electric vehicles in play – The automakers, it seems, are doubling down on electric vehicles. Nissan introduced it’s electric e-NV200 earlier this week in Detroit. Ford, meanwhile, chose to unveil the electric Focus at CES. Electric cars such as the Focus, the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf may not be suited to field techs, but it does suggest automakers are hoping to pounce as electric vehicles inch toward the mainstream. Expect to see more electric commercial vans in the coming year.
Reading about all the gadgetry to come out of CES in Vegas, it’s hard to remember that we’re still in a weakened economy. That said, service managers looking for a step up on the competition should feel encouraged by the technology available to help their techs get more work done in the field.