Saturday, November 6, 2010

Tech Impressions from SEMA

Tech impressions from SEMA
I was recently in Las Vegas for SEMA (Special Equipment Market Association), which is an automotive specialty product trade show. Whenever you attend one of these conferences you expect to be blown away by various uses of technology but that was not exactly my experience on this trip.

I expected to see iPods, iPads, iPhones, Android phones, Android tablets in use both on the convention floor and also integrated into car dashes. In reality I saw a just a handful of iPads in use at booths to input attendee information and a few random people using them to take notes while walking around the convention. The SEMA passes which all attendees had to wear had a QR codes printed on them so the exhibitors could quickly collect and transmit contact information with potential customers. Android phones have a great QR reader called Barcode Scanner and I’m sure there are more than a few iPhone apps which do the same thing. I didn’t see any exhibitors using mobile devices to scan QR codes. Personally, if I was one of the exhibitors, I would have paid someone $20 just to walk around with an Android phone scanning all of the QR codes they could see. SEMA is so big that there is no way for anyone to see everything there. There were a lot of potential customers missed simply because they didn’t make it to your booth. There were just a few booths using iPads to manually input user information and it was tedious to say the least. The women that were using them were just your typical “Booth Girls” who are just there for guys to snap pics of them along with the vehicles they had displayed. These women probably received a 5 minute brief on how to use the iPads and were put to work. I was giving one of them my information and she told me, “That’s not working. I’ll just skip that part.” two different times.

There was widespread use of QR codes at SEMA this year. Every attendee had a QR code printed on his or her SEMA pass used so exhibitors can collect your contact information without having to manually input it into their computers. There were quite a few display booths and vehicles that had QR codes printed on them. This Hyundai Genesis Coupe from JP Kustoms had a QR code printed on the airbox under the hood which is a great idea to get your company name out there without having to print out business cards.

Cell phone cameras have evolved to a point that almost every phone coming to market has at least a 5mp camera or better. I was expecting to see a lot more attendees using cell phones to take pictures like I was doing on my T-Mobile G2. There were plenty of people using cell phones but most of them were average joe consumer just snapping quick pics to text or email to buddies back home. Most serious photographers where still using DSLR to take quality pics. I guess the gap between professional cameras and cell phone cameras is still larger than I expected.

Despite the dominance Apple has in the MP3 market, I can’t recall anyone using an iPod on the monorail or walking around the strip. I can only recall seeing one guy using an iPad the entire week as a media device. It looked crazy to see a guy on the plane using an iPad with an inch thick rubber case on it as a media device. I really wanted to tap him on the shoulder and tell him that an iPod Touch could have done the same job in a lot smaller form factor but I assume he already knew that.

At SEMA, people from small and large companies surround you and it was almost smothering the number of BlackBerry phones that crawled the Vegas strip. I saw everything from older 83XX Curves and 96XX and 97XX Bolds and one lonely 9800 Torch. I have long felt RIM was on deaths front door but after being around 10’s of thousands of people over the last week I have to change my tune. Although I didn’t see many new BlackBerry devices I think RIM will be ok if they can get half of the consumers they have now to purchase another BlackBerry as their new phone, they will be good for many years to come. Considering most people are scared of change and just want a phone works, I don’t see RIM not accomplishing this goal.

If I had to guess the market breakdown of mobile phones at SEMA and around Vegas based on what I saw last week would have been 75% BlackBerry, 20% iPhone, and the remaining was Android and feature phones. Maybe this highlights RIM’s strength in the business segment, but we are talking a large diversity of business. Secondly, the tech world has been calling RIM and its BlackBerry phones dead in the water for months now. The number of Motorola Razrs I saw shocked me. No one would argue the Razr is beyond its prime, but this highlights the upgrade challenge with the average consumer. The sad truth is consumers don’t upgrade their phones as often as the ‘tech world” does. I personally have had four phones in the last year but I am not the norm. Based on what I’ve seen the last week BlackBerry isn’t dead and maybe OS6 will be the savior for BlackBerry or at least the “holdover” until QNX can be implemented.

One great selling point of BlackBerry is the battery life. While I was in Vegas with my T-Mobile G2, I was constantly looking for ways to save battery life; fortunately I borrowed from SMR’s HTC Battery tips and I was able to maintain battery life all day long. I changed my mobile settings to 2G only, turned off WIFI, Bluetooth and GPS and even on my longest day, I was able to make it home with 30% life left. My friend who had a BlackBerry 9630 didn’t change any settings and made it through a day just fine. Luckily on most days I would get back to my room and recharge when I had 40-50% battery left. In contrast, my friend wouldn’t charge her BlackBerry at all during the day and still awake the following day with 30-40% charge left. I can only attribute this difference to the massive screen on my G2 compared to her BlackBerry Bold 9630.

BlackBerry isn’t as dead as most of the tech world (and myself) thought. They are firmly cemented in the market and will be there for years to come, even if the tech geeks know that BlackBerry is behind the times. Ease of use and battery life will keep current and new BlackBerry users happy for many months to come. For the tech hungry consumers who want more out of a phone, they will change devices with the slightest technology breeze. When you switch to a smartphone you need to give up hope for good battery life, unless you own a BlackBerry.

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