Over the past few days, I've been down in Palm Springs at DEMO 07
. As always, it's been a great conference to see what a bunch of different companies think the future holds, to see a few cool products and to talk to entrepreneurs, big company execs, press and (of course) venture capitalists to find out what they think is hot. There have been a bunch of sites that have "live blogged" the show or written up descriptions of nearly every one of the 68 presenters, so I felt it was best to experience the whole show, let it process a bit, and then write up my overall impressions and note a few of the trends that I saw that maybe didn't get much (if any) coverage elsewhere. Once again, as a reminder, I like to point to the DEMO paradox
, that a good presentation often doesn't mean a good company or business, and a good business doesn't always do a very good demo (which is part of the reason it helps to spend a little more time digesting before writing). Onto the key trends:
- The big winner: MySpace. No, MySpace wasn't a presenter here, but given the number of startups that showed how they integrate with MySpace, I would bet that MySpace got a lot more total screen time than the 6 minutes allotted to each startup. And, that doesn't even include the many, many, many companies that all seem to be launching their own (targeted, always targeted) social networks that want to be MySpace clones. If Chris Shipley had a DEMOgod award to give out for the most referenced company, MySpace would have won by the end of the first day alone.
- Big companies can do cool things too: There are usually one or two "big" companies that launch new products at DEMO, though they tend to be afterthoughts. In fact, most of the discussion did focus on the startups (the VCs certainly don't care about the big companies), but there were a fair number of big, established players -- and they actually seemed to be doing things that were pretty innovative. Alcatel/Lucent had a pretty cool laptop card that was a combined 3G modem, Linux computer (!), battery, GPS, encryption system and two factor authentication token. All in one. They're positioning it as an "ignition key" for laptops that is remotely controllable. This is an impressive way for companies to manage laptops remotely and to prevent against data loss from stolen laptops that's becoming so common these days. The laptop can be set not to work without the card -- and commands can be sent remotely to it, even if the laptop itself is turned off. Seagate also got some buzz for launching the DAVE, a wireless portable hard drive. I think they're targeting the wrong market with it (basically focused on it being extra storage for your mobile phone), but it sounds like it could become a more useful version of the personal mobile gateway that people were talking about five years ago. The idea isn't to view it as an add-on to a mobile phone, but to start thinking of entirely modular computing. Rather than "a laptop" and "a mobile phone" have all the random pieces be separate and let them work together as needed. DAVE at least represents the storage part of that story. Adobe's Apollo platform also was another "big company" offering that got some attention, as a nice easy way to design desktop apps that worked seamlessly with web content (basically, desktop-sized widget apps).
- Didn't I see this at last DEMO? One of the common complaints that was mentioned by more than a few people was that there were a few clumps of companies that all blended together. Lots of companies are trying to help people create or manage content online, but did very little to present a use case that made much sense. It was tough to remember who was who, how they were different or why they mattered. Even worse, though, was that many of the presenting companies seemed to have offerings that looked very similar to products that were launched at previous DEMO events... but whose names were just as easily forgotten back then as well. While it's true that sometimes ideas need to be tried a few times by a few different companies until someone gets it "right," there were way too many times that I saw a demo and was left trying to recall the name of the company that did a nearly identical product and was at DEMO in the fall or last winter.
- Search? Whazzat? At last year's DEMOs, it seemed that everyone was interested in being the next special search engine. This year, there were a few search (or, as many now position themselves, "discovery") engines, but it wasn't nearly as prevalent. Instead, the big thing this time around was user-created content, and helping anyone create and manage such content.
- Oh, for better mobility solutions. Once again, there were a number of cool mobile related companies (DartDevices, for example, has tremendous potential not as a "write once/run anywhere" system as its positioning seems to imply, but turning any device into a terminal for any other device, allowing you to run any application that makes use of features on any device on a network, and access it from any other device). However, the running story among all of these companies was that they needed to get around the bottleneck that is the mobile operators. It's the same story every year. Mobility solutions suck, and while lots of companies have solutions, actually getting them to users isn't so easy, because mobile operators still haven't realized that what made computers such big successes was the openness of the platform and the ability for anyone to create apps for PCs. Eventually, we'll get there. But, for now, it's just more frustration.
Overall, an excellent show as per usual. There were lots of very interesting companies (as well as plenty of duds), but the most interesting thing was the bigger trends that the collection of companies represented. Hopefully, this gives you a taste of those trends.