DEMO Recap: Can We Make All This Stuff Work Now?

from the it's-about-time dept

I spent the last few days at DEMO seeing the demos of the nearly 70 presenting companies, talking to venture capitalists, press, attendees (I kept sitting next to Microsoft people) and startup execs, trying to pick out what the larger trends were. There were plenty of other folks listing out the companies and liveblogging the event -- so, as per usual, I felt it was best to take it all in, think about it a bit and then see what sticks and what is better left ignored. If you are interested in seeing some of the live blogs of the event, Eprhaim Schwartz over at InfoWorld did a great job, as did the CNET WebWare team. Ed Baig, at USA Today also has a nice summary.

As for the bigger trends, the thing that kept getting my attention was that there were a ton of companies at the show that had almost nothing to do with what folks like to call "Web 2.0." That was incredibly refreshing. It's true that there still were plenty of internet/search/social networking plays scattered throughout the demos (more on day 2 than on day 1), but unlike the last few DEMOs, it didn't feel overwhelmed by them. Instead, it felt like there was a lot more effort going into solving real tech problems. In fact, the sense that kept coming through was that many companies weren't focused on the next "hot" trend, but rather on actually making technology live up to its promise: making it actually work.

Digital Fountain (demo video) has a way to make video transmit in much higher quality over low bandwidth or high latency solutions (though, showing crystal clear video with 20% packet loss seems unbelievable). Global Communications (demo video) is working on a system to provide much higher bandwidth worldwide using both legacy wiring or point-to-point wireless transmitters (this one raised a lot more questions than it answered). MotionDSP (demo video) is working on ways to make low quality video appear better (though, it still only makes low quality videos appear slightly better, rather than good). Talari Networks (demo video) was also about disrupting legacy WAN systems with much greater performance. Fusion IO (demo video) got plenty of well deserved attention for being able to improve the performance of storage systems by 1000x (yes, 1000). Propel (demo video) came out with a product to allow individuals to control bandwidth usage at the desktop level (i.e., stopping high bandwidth activity while you're trying to do a VoIP call). These weren't about yet another social network -- but about making the technology work better. That was really refreshing at a time when it feels like so much of the news is only focused on the latest widget.

There was some talk among attendees that there wasn't a "wow" presentation this time. Usually there are at least one or two that blow people away, and there really wasn't a consensus "game changer" presentation among the bunch. The one possible exception wasn't even officially a demo at all, but 24-year-old Michael Callahan, who took part in the one panel during the show, highlighting "young" innovators. Rather than the latest Ycombinator web 2.0 firms, the panel included some hard core technology entrepreneurs: a 25-year-old making surgical equipment like "brain retractors" and Callahan, who demoed a prototype of Audeo from his firm, Ambient. Audeo allows people to vocalize their thoughts through a sensor system placed on the neck. It's not quite mind-reading, as it requires the person to come close to speaking and then completes the task where the vocal chords don't (or can't!). It's definitely still an early stage product but it, more than anything else, got people talking and thinking about the possibilities. The initial focus, not surprisingly is for helping those who cannot talk, but it's not hard to see many other potential applications -- even potentially as a replacement for the keyboard, though that's a long, long ways away. You can watch the video of the panel right here:

All in all, I think it's a good thing that there were so many non-web 2.0 firms here. There's been some concern that the web 2.0 "bubble" may be bursting -- so it's important to realize that there's a lot more innovation going on in technology away from the latest AJAX widget for sharing your photos and videos.
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