A Week at CES

I spent all of last week at the Consumer Electronics Show.  From CES Unveiled to the obscure companies located at the edges of South Hall, I got a chance to see it all.  There are few trends that became apparent after being there for nearly six days.

The Smart Home

At the LG Press Conference on the 7th even before the official show began, LG held a press conference.  Besides patting themselves on the back about the Optima G, they also talked a lot about smart homes.  A whole slew of appliances this year will be released with features like Smart ThinQ. Smart ThinQ is a NFC (Near-Field Communication) system that allows you to upload and download information from your large appliances like washing machine.  For example, you can look up what wash cycle is best for your stained shirt with the LG Washer App and then place your smart phone near the NFC tag on the washer and boom it goes.

The Z-Wave Alliance also made an appearance at CES. They showcased a plethora of devices ,including the Fibaro Home System 2, that work at the 900’s MHz range known as Z-waves.  If you installed everything they were selling you’d be able to control your windows, thermostat, doors, lights, and anything else that used electricity in your house via your smartphone.

The trends is that more consumers want control over everything, including the very walls they live in.  I know they say this every year, but 2013 may be the year of the smart house.

More Companies Making a Play for the US Market

The Chinese company Hisense made a bit of a splash by taking over Microsoft’s old floor space in the Central Hall at the Las Vegas Convention Center.  That came front, center, and in force. They unveiled the XT880 and XT900 which are both 4K TVs.  They also showed off a smart fridge.  This is a big move because Hisense is the manufacture behind Dynex and Insigna TVs.  Now, they’ve gone full hi-end when entering the US market, unusual when dealing with a Chinese company.  However, it might not be a risky move since Hisense had over 2 billion in overseas sales in 2012.

Does CES Still Matter?

With Apple and Microsoft leaving CES for their own shows, CES has had to take a few hits.  However, it’s becoming a place for smaller and mid-sized companies to show off their wares.  Maybe not on the show floor where space can cost $20,000, but at the smaller events like Digital Experience and Show Stoppers.

I managed to attend the LG and Hisense press conferences.  At both, they tried to sell a life style rather than introduce a lot of new products.  That seems to be the trend for larger companies.  Selling a lifestyle insures a repeat customer, showing off their personality through their purchases.

All-in-all, CES had a good showing this year.

Does Your Business Need An App?

Confucius once said that the inferior man knows what would sell, while the superior man knows what is right.  Any small business owner will tell you that it’s much easier to be the superior man, because it’s hard to pin down how to sell.

What we do know is that technology often goes hand-in-hand with increases in business.  From the cash register to shipping tracking codes, technology can lower the barrier for a business transaction to occur.

It’s just common sense that the easier something is, the more likely we are to do it.
So, is launching an app a good idea for your small business?  It all comes down to: What do you want?  Apps for a small business can be boiled down to three varieties.  They either, supply information, increase exposure, or deepen consumer loyalty.

We live in the information age.  An app can supply information about your products and services.  In planning on making a purchase, knowing is half the battle.

Increasing exposure is similar, but differs in one important way: exposure is just getting eyeballs on your company.  It doesn’t have to provide any information.  It only needs to grab someone’s attention.

Finally, there are a variety of apps that deepen consumer loyalty.  Rewards, promotions, heads up on special offers all fall under the purview of enhancing loyalty.  The best of such apps create almost the air of mystic around the perspective customer.

When choosing a pre-made or designing an app for your business be sure to make sure that it favors at least one of these categories.

Enough Apps: Will Windows RT Survive?

Analysts say that for the near future, Windows RT will stay afloat.  Most of this positive outlook comes from the fact that RT rolled out with 9,000 apps.  Tablets, Microsoft’s Surface, live and die by their app stores.  The restrictions to their size simply dwarf any hardware that can be shoved into their handheld frames.

However, 9,000 apps, 5,200 of which are available to US users, are not enough to stave off the tech reaper forever.  The Surface has only been the on market for less than a month, not enough time to see if the tablet will outlast HP’s Touchpad and RIM’s Blackberry PlayBook.  Those two failed tablets were essentially dead on arrival, but the Windows RT and its source, Windows 8, are just out of the gate.

Microsoft rolled out with huge cheeks for app developers.  But will it be enough?  Only time will tell.  For now, we will simply have to suffice with the slightly substandard, but innovative hardware of the Surface.

If you’re planning on upgrading to Windows 8, be sure to have enough IT staff on hand.

Getting Into Your Customers’ Pockets

Over the last few years it’s become inescapable. More and more people can’t seem to go for a half hour without pulling a phone out of their pocket and checking to see what’s new.

Practically every business wants to find a way to make their name show up on their customers’ little screens, but many are confused about how to do it. Do you need an app? A mobile optimized site? Must you tweet, or is Facebook enough?

The answers to these questions will be different for every sort of business. Twitter is a fantastic tool for anyone hawking impulse buys. The food truck that tweets its location and daily specials has become a staple of many urban areas. Facebook is a great place to engage people in a conversation about a new product you’re selling, and many small businesses find Foursquare is an excellent way to build up customer loyalty. For many companies, the best bet may be to throw the same information up on multiple platforms since it doesn’t take much more time and may reach different audiences.

Where social media is free, getting an IT consulting firm to build you an app or a mobile-optimized website can get pricey. The businesses that have the most use for their own apps are those, like banks, that customers need to interact with frequently. Mobile sites can be helpful if your regular site has a lot of complicated information that could get confusing on a tiny screen.

In general, though, there are some easy ways to make sure your main website looks good on a smartphone. It’s important to make sure words are actually text, not part of a graphic, especially key information like your address and phone number. Avoid flash, since a majority of mobile devices won’t play it. The best way to figure out if your site works for mobile devices is to try it out. But don’t just use your own iPhone. Borrow a friend’s android phone, your sister’s iPad and whatever else you can get your hands on and check how good your site looks on them all.

Once you’ve got a decent mobile site, and a social media presence to drive traffic to it, you can be confident that everywhere your customers go, you’re riding along in their pockets.