CES Sleeper Tech: 3 Mobile Collaboration Breakthroughs

Now that the hyperbole haze has dissipated, let's look at three products from small, innovative startups with the potential to break some mobile collaboration barriers.

Kurt Marko

January 20, 2012

4 Min Read
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Despite the headlines, this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) wasn't just about bigger, thinner 3-D HDTVs and aluminum-clad Wintel MacBook knock-offs. Almost lost amid the 3,100 exhibitors showing more than 20,000 new products were some interesting nuggets that could improve the way we produce and share information, particularly from remote or field locations.

Sanho CloudFTP: Cloud storage services are turning USB fobs into the next CD-ROM--an irrelevant anachronism as a method for file sharing. Yet every now and then, they're a handy mode of information exchange … handy, but frustrating too, since there's no standard USB port on most smartphones or tablets. If you're carrying an iPhone or iPad, the only way to read files on a USB stick is through Apple's overpriced Camera Connection Kit; if Android is more your style, I hope you remembered to pack a micro-to-full-size USB adapter. Such cabling kludges will soon be history as the Sanho CloudFTP turns your choice of USB storage device into a battery-powered wireless NAS, kind of like a Pogoplug without the plug. The CloudFTP creates a private, secure Wi-Fi hotspot for as many as three clients, or it can join an existing WLAN, where it not only shows up as a network share, but also can automatically back up and sync to popular cloud storage services like Box.net, Dropbox, and iCloud. It's about half the size of an iPhone, runs five hours on a rechargeable battery, and lists for $100. File sharing on the go just got easier.

Swivl: One of the promising uses for smartphones featuring dual front and back cameras is impromptu videoconferencing and recording--kind of a Flip-meets-cellphone. Yet there's still the problem of actually framing and maintaining the shot. Sure, the iPhone works fine if you're sitting down and want to strike up a video chat, but what if you want to record something else, like, say, your interview with another person or your demo of a new product? In the old days, you may have waylaid some unsuspecting passerby as cameraman. No more. The Swivl, which bills itself as "your personal cameraman," turns any iOS device, or even the beloved Flip, into a mobile, sensor-tracking camera. You just hold or wear a small sensor, stick your iPhone in the motorized base, and the Swivl follows your every move in both horizontal and vertical axes. Better yet, the sensor has a built-in microphone plus basic controls for video start, stop, and stills, all for $159 and shipping this quarter. For video bloggers, political activists, or uber-mobile reporters, the Swivl means the end of shaky cellphone videos; plus, you don't have to worry about that unknown helper walking off with your shiny new iPhone. Mobile video is about to get a big boost in quality and convenience.

LiveU's LU40i: What if iPhone video just won't cut it, and you need broadcast quality, actually have an assistant who knows how to work a camera, and don't just want to record but live stream from just about anywhere? Then LiveU's LU40i is just the ticket. Think of it as a light (25-ounce), battery-powered gateway between one or more wireless data networks and a portable video camera--what LiveU calls a "portable uplink system." In technical terms, this translates to a small device that bonds as many as five wireless network links, four via LTE, 3G, or WiMAX USB modems and one integrated Wi-Fi radio, with a built-in touch screen for video preview and software control and an integrated video encoder that can translate 1080p to H.264 in real time. In this demo at CES, Ken Zamkow of LiveU says his team was able to stream video at over 4 Mbps using four wireless cards, which is plenty of bandwidth for 1080p. The LU40i's price hasn't been announced, but Zamkow says the company expects to ship in the next couple of months. The combination of ubiquitous 3G/4G coverage; inexpensive, lightweight HD video cameras; and live streaming services like those from Livestream, Ustream, and YouTube mean the days of mobile HD video being confined to big broadcasters with satellite trucks are numbered. For enterprises, the technology should further erode barriers of time and space, allowing organizations to easily, cheaply share remote live events (think a management meeting off-site or a new product launch) with employees and customers worldwide.

Collectively, these CES standouts demonstrate that mobile collaboration is pushing into new realms. The CloudFTP shows that not only can you use your post-PC-era collaboration client anywhere and everywhere, but you can create your own private mobile network for peer-to-peer or cloud service file sharing. The Swivl and LiveU products open new applications for mobile collaboration, moving it from the era of text, checking email on your smartphone, or commenting on an Office document from your iPad to video streaming an interview or important event. Thankfully all the noise emanating from yet another CES HDTV or laptop announcement didn't drown out these innovative new products.

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