CES, the largest American trade show with over 140,000 attendees, begins on Tuesday. One of the more interesting trends will be the transition from hardware to software, in the form of Voice and Gesture controls. Expect to see many sisters of SIRI and cousins of Kinect.
While Mobile World Congress abounds in handsets and games dominate E3, CES is where TV manufacturers make their voices heard. In recent years, despite the CES hoopla, 3D and Smart TV’s have hit the market with a thud. Less then 10 million new US TV sets are 3D enabled and most of those owners do not even use the functionality, according to Strategy Analytics. Now the industry is immersed in a wave of price slashing and rationalization. Sony’s TV division has not earned a profit in 9 years. Panasonic saw TV sales plummet 24% this year and is drastically reducing its TV business. Can voice and gesture control save the TV industry.
Expect to see many mutations of Siri- Apple’s voice assistant software for the iPhone 4S launched in October. Siri’s natural language interface simplifies near-field navigation, prompting iPhone 4S owners to devour nearly twice as much data as previous iPhone models. The data acquired from Siri’s handset launch will prove invaluable for a future Apple TV service, as far-field speech recognition is more difficult than close microphones. Also motivating TV manufacturers to introduce voice recognition is last month’s Microsoft Xbox 360 update, which added voice search to the Kinect. Market leader Nuance Communications, the company believed to be Apple‘s voice technology partner, projects that 5% of TVs will be voice controlled by Christmas, 2012. Mobile and consumer electronics manufacturers are now scrambling to integrate natural voice interactions into their products.
Unfortunately, most of the comparable voice recognition products on exhibit at CES (many are “under embargo” until Tuesday) are no more than a novelty. Smart TV’s from Samsung, Sharp and LG integrate some form of optional voice control, typically a microphone embedded in the remote control. Another approach is to skip the remote control altogether and place microphones around the living room. An effervescent PR staffer from LG (on the third attempt) made a ‘V’ gesture with voice command on their Magic Motion Remote to show recently viewed videos. A cute trick but certainly no “Apple Killer”…brace yourselves for the voice control backlash.
Gesture recognition: Building on the success of the Nintendo Wii game console, the gesture-based Kinect licensed technology from Israeli start-up Primesense and enabled Microsoft to dominate the game console sector last year. This has spurred chip makers to acquire similar gesture start-ups, including Intel, which acquired Israeli start-up InVision Biometrics in October and Qualcomm, which bought Gesture Tek in July. Grizzly Analytics analyst Bruce Krulwich notes other Israeli gesture recognition start-ups that may be worth reviewing include Omek Interactive, eyeSight Technologies and XTR. Like Primesense and InVision, Omek is hardware based, while eyesight and XTR use only software.
While at CES, look for other gesture recognition start-ups such as Brussels-based SoftKinetic, LM3 Labs of France and Los Angeles-based Oblong Industries.
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While the Consumer Electronics industry struggles to fend off Apple TV and Google TV, there will likely be an acceleration of M&A among voice and gesture recognition tech start-ups. In the interim, expect to see the big TV manufacturers promoting their own Sisters of Siri and Cousins of Kinect.