Archive | January 2016

My overview of CES2016

IMG_9089

Here are some personal observations from the floor of CES2016 in Las Vegas. I was too busy shooting videos and finalizing Predictions for its launch on January 13 to see any of the fine work done by my Deloitte colleagues on the panels or at the dinners, so I can’t comment on those aspects of CES!

I need to start by saying that my thoughts below are as a former technology venture capitalist and investor. It is likely to be very different from everything else you read about CES, and does not reflect consensus views. If you want consensus reporting, there are literally thousands of CES overview articles out there. Most of the stuff you read about CES is either written by the media (who sell ads) or investment bankers (who sell deals.) In their world, everything on the show floor is great, and it will all be massively successful, and every single one of these new markets will be the next big thing. That kind of positive bias drives web traffic and deal flow, and good for them.

But as someone who invested hundreds of millions of dollars into tech companies over the years, I know that most new products fail. Most new categories end up being much smaller than the initial projections. Some are bigger (and as an investor that’s where you try to make your bets!) but you need to be very realistic about what is mostly hype and what is actual. So forgive me if I seem a little too pessimistic at times! That only comes from watching $20 million of your investors’ money go to zero…several times.

Disclaimers over. The hot new products for 2016 are…TV sets and laptop computers. Yup – everything old is new again!

TV sets are big. And thin! That whole “death of TV” thing can’t be true. The stroking, caressing, ogling, lusting and moaning from the crowds in front of the TV displays at CES was louder than… (I probably shouldn’t finish that sentence.) 🙂

The most coveted devices were big screens (over 80”), OLED screens, and the 8K displays (double the pixels of 4K sets.) Compared to last year, I would say that there were fewer curved TVs, but the real “wow factor” were the ultra-thin versions. Seriously – there were 80-100” sets that were less than half an inch thick at the edges. This thinness probably doesn’t matter in most consumers’ homes…but it does look really cool. Equally, I suspect 8K and 4K sets only really show off their pixel count when you walk right up to them, and from normal viewing distances the extra resolution would be wasted. But that doesn’t mean that hundreds of people weren’t looking at these sets and talking about buying one. That is probably a reliable indicator of future demand.

[I should add something here. There were also cool displays at CES of self-driving cars. I believe that technology will be huge, but I have to be blunt and say that you really can’t tell much about a self-driving car by looking at one parked on the Las Vegas Convention Center show floor! (If they could demo an autonomous vehicle that handles the traffic outside the Sands Convention Center, we would all be impressed.) Equally, lots of the CES crowd love taking pictures of the drones and the 3D printers: they have high “gee whiz” factors. But the people taking the photos don’t tend to be experts at 3D printing or drone technology – they are not likely to be terribly good judges of what they are seeing. They’ve probably never bought a drone or 3D printer.

But that’s not true of TV sets. The people who are ooh-ing and aah-ing over the new TV screens are very knowledgeable buyers. They have purchased many TV sets over their lives, they know what makes them open their wallets, they know how to judge a good TV picture, and the CES floor is almost as good a location to evaluate a TV screen as their living room.

When I see a thousand people admiring a TV set at CES, I think that is a meaningful and useful indicator of probable real world buying behaviour. But when I see a thousand people taking photos of a ball-shaped drone, I am less confident that their actions will translate into sales.]

Ultra-thin laptops. If you ask people what they want in a laptop, they will usually answer “better battery life and good keyboard.” But when I wandered around CES, the laptops that were getting all the love could double as cheese slicers. I am not sure why, but something about these ethereal devices seems to draw a crowd, regardless of high price points and lack of practicality. I was intrigued by one article, which put it this way: “Physically speaking, these Windows PCs are pretty much tablets with the keyboard permanently attached.” That feels right to me: we have our large screen phones, and we love our light and thin tablets…but we also like the bigger screens and full keyboards of traditional laptops. No evidence that we are in the post-PC era.

Smartphones and tablets were a bit meh: Everybody has one of each (or more), but 2016 didn’t feel like an exciting year for either device category at CES. Now that’s being a bit unfair: the really big show for mobile devices is Mobile World Congress in Barcelona (Feb 22-25 this year) so I suspect the device makers may have been keeping their powder dry for product launches next month. Still, I look at the sales forecasts for tablets and smartphones for the next couple of quarters and I think saying we are entering a bit of a lull would be a good way of putting it. Don’t misunderstand me: we are using mobile devices more than ever but there don’t seem to be any buzzy new technologies in the mobile device space in 2016. I suspect 5G might change that pretty quickly, but they are still arguing over what 5G wireless means, so it will be a while yet!

Smart appliances are a ghost town. The following is a true story. Getting from one part of the LVCC to another can take 20 minutes or more. Some of that is because these places are huge, but another is that the aisles are JAMMED with people walking slowly, stopping and looking at cool tech stuff, and taking selfies. So when I and my ace Deloitte video crew (yay Divyesh and Michael) were trying to get to a specific location in a hurry, we got frustrated. But luckily, we were able to take a short cut through a smart appliance section…there were almost no people. We zoomed right through, although I did stop to pat a sad and lonely smart fridge on the way. This experience played out at every other smart appliance display we passed over the days: the folks attending CES just aren’t that interested in this technology. The media loves the fridge that opens its door for you, but it doesn’t seem to compare to drones, VR or 3D printers for mass appeal.

Eye candy, or breakthrough technology? As I said above, things such as drones, virtual reality and 3D printers look amazing on the show floor. The idea that you can print out a Lego head with your face on it makes for great video footage. But very similar displays last year drew equally large crowds — there were tens of thousands of people admiring the 3D Systems booth and their $999 home printer last January at CES2015. And on December 27 on 2015, the company announced they were getting out of the “factory in every home” consumer space (although they are still a leader in enterprise 3D printing.) So while I will keep my eye on all of these technologies, I am not willing to get too optimistic based on the CES crowds alone.

The FAA had a booth at CES: nice guys, lots of beards, cute hats. Not a single person talking to them, despite the fact that the FAA is going to require drone registration going forward, to keep an eye on the idiots who are flying in front of jets and interfering with forest fire fighting planes. My point is that the people taking pictures of the cool drones might not actually be planning on buying, flying, or registering them!

I also need to report back on VR headsets. The crowds of gamers were lined up again, but I really wonder if CES is the right indicator for mainstream success. Will VR goggles be snapped up by hard core gamers? Absolutely, but I am very sceptical about wider adoption. Have you actually tried a pair? They are still pretty heavy, make you look weird, and make it almost impossible to interact with people around you. This is NOT the official Deloitte view, but I think VR goggles will be as massive a success as home 3D TV was. I.e. big splash at CES, but relatively low current usage.

Gaming is huge. Between mobile, PC and console games we are talking a $100 billion market. Now CES is the natural habitat of the gamer, but I see no signs this industry is about to start shrinking. Lots of fanboys and fangirls, and all looked ready to drop some serious coin. This market is one where VR headsets (even at $600!) will do well.

So are accessories, especially sound. We tend to focus on the hub device with the big processor and screen…the smartphone, tablet, TV set or PC. But there are so many different accessories that make the hubs better. Cases, earphones, selfie sticks, remote controls, enhanced keyboards, extra batteries and so on; adding up to tens of billions of dollars per year, or more than every dollar spent on drones, VR goggles and home 3D printers added together! Spending even a few minutes walking through CES is a great reminder that (for example) while the smartphone is a big market; it also supports an entire ecosystem of accessories. That’s been true for years, but as I look at the changes in 2016 compared to 2015, I noticed the growth in the number of speakers, headphones, and other near-audiophile gear being offered and engaged with by people on the floor. I sense the beginning of an acoustic wave, where we have all upgraded our screens, and realize that a pair of $40 speakers just won’t cut it. In 2016, perhaps “audio is the new black.”

The interstitial moment: going, going, gone. I have been attending tech tradeshows since 1995. That makes a bit more than 20 years, and I noticed something new this year. Las Vegas has these moving sidewalks…like escalators, but flat. They aren’t fast, and even a few years ago, people would walk on them to get where they were going more quickly. In 2016, it isn’t that people are in any less of a hurry…but the second they hit the slidewalks, they stop walking and pull out their phones. It’s only 15 seconds of smartphone time, but they still want to spend that brief time on their phones. Waiting for an elevator? Use the smartphone.

There was a time when opening a book or newspaper was something you did if you had 5 minutes to kill. The idea that even 15 seconds is too much to be un-entertained seems to be a new one. There used to be interstitial moments where we simply were – gaps in our otherwise always distracted lives. Those moments may be gone: the smartphone is like a vacuum cleaner, sucking up every available bite-sized chunk of time in our lives. That’s a pretty meaningful change.

10 tips on how to get started running, even if only short distances

ss-running-4

On November 1st of 2015 I wrote an article on how to stay in shape enough to run for hours at a time, any time you wanted. A lot of people liked that article, but one friend asked “Fine…but what advice would you give a 50 year old who weighs too much? I don’t want to run for hours at a time: my goal is minutes at a time!”

Running is a common New Year’s resolution, so on January 1st 2016, here are my ten tips:

    1. Walk before you run. I know that sounds obvious, but this is a critical first step (as it were.) Find an attractive, interesting and safe walking route that is at least five kilometers long. Build up to it if necessary, but begin walking as far as you can at a brisk pace. Your goal is to walk five kilometers per hour, for one hour, three days per week, for one month. Why?
      1. You are building up some leg and core strength, always good things.
      2. You may even lose a little bit of weight.
      3. You are learning your eventual running route.
      4. You are breaking in your new shoes.
      5. You are finding out NOW if you have any issues that are going to cause big problems once you start running. Many beginner runners have issues with their gait, feet, hips, knees, alignment and so on. A brisk 5 km walk three times a week will surface any possible issues, and allow you to deal with them now, rather than after you run and escalate them into more serious injuries. I learned I needed orthotics before I started running, and that was a lifesaver.
    2. Eat exactly the same. Sad but true! Almost everyone who starts walking or running almost immediately begins to think they now burn enough extra calories that they can “treat themselves” to a snack, doughnut, popcorn, or bonus slice of pizza. Nope: your 5 km walks are definitely good for you, do elevate your metabolism, and are burning calories. But as human beings we are terrible at overestimating how many calories we burn and even worse at underestimating how many calories we are rewarding ourselves with. So try as much as possible to eat exactly what you did before.
    3. Don’t diet, but every pound counts. Most people, inspired by a resolution, try to reduce calories AND start exercising at the same time. It can be done, but in my view it is much easier to focus on one tough thing at a time. So save the diet change until later, just do the brisk walks for that month. If you have followed my advice above, and not increased what you eat, you should be 2-3 pounds lighter. Why does that matter?
      1. You will feel better about yourself, and less self-conscious. That makes you much more likely to run.
      2. Weight matters a lot in terms of pace and effort. Every pound less will pay off in better speed, a greater sense of running, and much less sense of plodding or pounding.
      3. And that’s the big deal: when you start running (as opposed to walking) every pound less…is less pounding! Your legs and feet and knees will thank you. The single biggest reason people abandon running programs is injury, so not getting injured is your #1 goal.
    4. The right route is a delight. A park is great. Trees, grass, forest. Try to have as much of your route off sidewalks and roads if possible. Driving five minutes to get to the right trailhead is fine. Having a great path will help you get through the days you feel less like running…and will fill your heart with delight on the good days.
    5. Running shoes: I like them! There are those who believe in barefoot running, and that’s fine. But I am firmly in the camp that thinks that proper running shoes combined with a proper gait (mid-foot strike) are the best of both worlds. If you buy expensive shoes, and then take that cushioning and slam your heels into the ground as hard as you can? I think you will get injured. But at least in my experience, wearing good shoes while running smooth and easy and landing on your mid-foot has allowed me to run 50-80 km per week for years with few injuries. I have had great luck at the Running Room, where they help me pick out the right shoes.
    6. Everybody looks good in spandex. Get the right size, of course. But wearing proper shorts, shirt and (especially) socks is helpful. You will look better, feel better, and you will not have blood running out of your running shoes, which I think is a bonus. Running in the wrong materials as you sweat can lead to terrible chafing and blisters, so try to get the stuff that breathes right.
    7. The flowers that bloom in the spring, tra la! Yeah, yeah: you are the toughest and most inspired Canadian in history, and you are going to take up running in January in Winnipeg. Remember what I said about trying to diet and start exercising at the same time? This is similar: starting to work out in winter is setting yourself up for failure. Some people can work out on treadmills and good for them. But many can’t stand the damn things (I fall off them!) so why not take advantage of the seasons? Start your month of walking in March or April, and then begin the actual running in April or May. Still not too hot, but do you really need to begin your runs through a foot of snow, or on top of icy paths? Set yourself up for success!
    8. There is no such thing as running too slowly. There are some people who believe in the run/walk approach (run for nine minutes, walk for one, repeat.) In my experience, the dropout rate on that seems to be very high: I think it encourages people to run too hard, then rest up, then run too hard. That is a good training technique for some, but my own preference is to find a SUSTAINABLE pace and stay in the groove. At first that running pace may be barely faster than your brisk walk, but that’s ok too. Trust me: if you run for five kilometers, no matter how slowly, you will get better, faster and stronger within two weeks. What running goals are you aiming for, at first?
      1. Same pace, more days per week. Your first goal should be to keep going out for your 5 km route three times per week, and have one of them as a run, and two as walks. Next week should be two runs and one walk. Week three is three runs.
      2. Now a bit of pace. Your walking pace was 5 km/h, or 12 minutes per kilometer. A very nice long term goal is to run around 10 km/h, or 6 minute kilometers (10 minute miles.) But leave that for a while, and aim for doing your 5 km run in less than 40 minutes. You already may be faster than that, but as long as you are under 8 minutes per kilometer you will feel like you’re on the right track: that is an 80 minute 10K, which almost everybody can run. Some days can be faster and some slower, but try to have one day per week where you are at that pace or better.
      3. Go long! Never try to increase your running time by more than 10 minutes per week, and at your new pace, that is roughly one kilometer. Each week, add another 10 minutes/one km to your route. By my calculations, if you started this program on March 1, you are now able to run 10 km in less than 80 minutes for three days per week. You can now start thinking about playing with speed, distance or frequency, and do what you want.
    9. But they are all laughing at me! No, they’re not. Over and over I hear beginner runners thinking that people are mocking them, and they feel self-conscious. It’s not true:
      1. Other runners are proud of you. We love running, and nothing makes us happier than seeing someone who is not a runner lacing them up and getting out there. We are cheering for you, not tearing you down, even in our minds. That’s not 100% true, of course: I do sometimes think nasty thoughts about runners who are old and fat…and run faster than I do and pass me on the trails! 🙂
      2. Non-runners don’t think you’re fat. They think they are lazy! They respect that you are on the trails, and wish they had your determination and strength.
      3. People are looking at you, but nobody is LOOKING at you. We are all monkeys living on the African plain. We evolved to look at any running animal: it could be tasty potential prey, or it could be a predator. So all humans are programmed to snap our heads around when a runner goes through our field of view. This WILL happen to you, so don’t worry about it. Once they have determined you are not about to eat them and their children, they will ignore you completely.
    10. Water, Gatorade and gels, oh my. As I wrote in my other article, staying hydrated is critically important. That being said, if you are running five km, you probably only need to drink water before you run and once you get home. No need to worry about carrying water with you unless the temperature is well over 20C, or as you go out for longer distances at higher pace. But the bigger issue is sports drinks or gels. As it happens, I can run for three hours without needing either, but some runners do find them useful on runs over two hours. That is their call, but I will tell you now: no beginner runner needs a sports drink or a gel. They are filled with sugar, and you haven’t burned enough calories to need it, nor do you need the electrolytes. Once you start running half marathons you may want them, but as a beginner runner they will only cost you money and prevent you from losing a pound or two.

Why believe me on the above? Because in October of 1989 I weighed 280 pounds. I was only 25, but I looked terrible and was not healthy. I started walking at first, then walked more, then needed orthotics, then got good shoes, then started running, and everything else you read above.

I am sure there are lots of other ways to get into running shape, but this list worked for me. Happy trails!