ISE 2020 Final Impressions: Attendance Took Big Hit, But Exhibitors Seem Cool With That

I had too full a day Thursday and too early a morning commitment Friday to knock out impressions day by day, so here goes for Days 3 and 4 at Integrated Systems Europe, banged out on my way back to Canada.

There was a tweet late Friday afternoon quoting the show director, suggesting the finally attendance was 52,000, which would be a huge 30,000 person drop from 2019.

That seems low and while the halls were definitely less crowded, it still seemed pretty busy to me. I have not seen anything official yet, so happily corrected if that’s wrong (don’t think so). The attendance hit owes heavily to worries about the coronavirus, and the inability for Chinese (in particular) companies to travel to Amsterdam.

Travel also turned into a total bear for many – with many, many flights delayed or just flat cancelled, and even trains cancelled or delayed because of high winds.

Intel, through people like Jose Avalos and Christie Rice, has been an ever-present part of the digital signage ecosystem for many years now, and at many shows.

ISE was the first time, though, that I’ve been at a show where Intel steadily came up in conversations with software companies, and with some hardware manufacturers.

Over and over, I heard people saying, in some way, “We’re working with Intel on …”

They were talking about new CPUs for industrial jobs, x86 CPUs for tablets and door signs, so that Windows-centric IT groups didn’t need to touch Android.

They were also talking about RealSense cameras for computer vision and interactive, the SDM (micro PCs for snap in ports on displays), and OpenVINO, an open AI/machine learning development kit that allows software shops to develop their own twist and customer need for things like computer vision and sensor/IOT applications.

I had a good chat with SpinetiX CEO Francesco Ziliani and his head of US biz dev, George Preston. The company has just started showing what it has called DSOS – a now-branded evolution of its core operating software. As with other set-top box style guys like BrightSign, the slick little SpinetiX player box line has always had its own operating system, based off Linux.

The new DSOS, however, is purpose-designed and stripped down as its own lean OS that doesn’t have unnecessary coding for things that will never be needed for a media play-out device. The OS (a lean variant of Linux) is about 300 mb, which is a teeny fraction of what a Windows software load would be.

But not all end-users and IT teams are comfy with special purpose devices with ARM or Texas Instruments inside, instead of the PC-centric ARM. So one aspect of SpinetiX’s new approach with DSOS is supporting devices that are based on Intel CPUs. Where in the past, you could only run SpinetiX software on SpinetiX boxes, now they can run on an Intel NUC (a small form factor PC). The first of what I was told will be a succession of partner announcements was with the Texas firm Simply NUC.

The company is also opening up its offer and packaging it in a different way. I have always thought, and said as much a few times, that SpinetiX has a really interesting player/software solution, but it has handcuffed itself by doing all-in pricing.

End-users see the $1,500-plus price for the box and write that option off, not knowing that includes the CMS software. Given the things tend to last at least five years (they’re solid state), the actual cost each year for device and software is maybe $25/month.

I am guilty of noticing many digital door sign software companies at ISE – had to be 20 and there are more than 100 in overall ecosystem – but walking right on past the device guys, as the industrial-grade tablets used by many all kinda sorta look the same.

But I spent some time at ProDVX’s booth. The Dutch company ships a LOT of small displays and the rise of workplace meeting solutions has been a boon to them.

A couple of things were interesting …

First, while most tablets on the door sign market use some version of Android, ProDVX has added Windows – something that makes IT people who, right or wrong, have Android OS qualms.

Second, the company has some models that support fine-tuning of the halo LED lights that most typically signal red for occupied, green for available. With this system, the LEDs can be tuned to specific colors in the same way that’s done with smart lightbulbs. That is responding to end-user asks for color choices that reflect company brands, or cultural differences.

I had a good hard look at the LCD display side of the business and did not really see anything mind-wobblingly new. It’s a well-established, very mature tech, so there just are not going to be regular “This Changes Everything” sightings, as might have been the reaction for things like transparent OLED or SOC displays.

I did not see any commercial display guys showing major new advances, instead pushing the usual newer, thinner, brighter, crisper stuff about the 2020 products.

If there was a Chinese company showing one of those TVs with the second gray-scale LCD layer – which helps produce the DEEP blacks that make on-screens visuals pop – I missed them on the floor.

Scala, via parent company Stratacache’s new relationship with BOE, was showing a line of Scala LCD displays. Stratacache has for years marketed transparent fridge displays and drive-thru displays, but this was the first time I’ve noticed these screens being marketed.

I did see LCD video walls – with super-thin bezels from Samsung, Barco, Planar and others – that looked totally fine with the gridlines, because the creative content was done well and acknowledged the lines. If you do dark backgrounds and design around lines, they all but disappear. But if you use white or light backgrounds, and end up with text bisected by a vertical line, the wall can look bad and make the aesthetics case for LED walls that can cost 3X or more.

There were a few companies showing LED on transparent film. There was a big range in design and visual quality, as well as pitch.

The units from Korea’s Inotouch looked OK, but were indoor-only and just big squares that tile together.

Impactrum, interviewed recently on the 16:9 podcast, showed me its outside-ready, super-thin transparent LED. I liked that it was very light and the wiring that drives the LEDs is micro-thin, meaning the film actually is transparent, and looks good front and back. That said, I didn’t see it running.

I also got a demo from a small Israeli start-up called Noveto, which I wrote about here.

The company uses a camera/sensor attached to a display to do face pattern detection via machine learning, and bracket the location of ears of whoever is in front of the screen. It then delivers hyper-focused sound to the viewer. That person can hear messaging, but no one nearby.

I have heard numerous hyper-sonic/focused sound products and this was pretty tight in terms of just getting the sound to the listener. There was a little audio leakage off to each side, but not much.

The device doing this looked like a cross between a TV soundbar and Bluetooth mini-speaker. I thought the sound was clear, but maybe a bit tinny. Then again, my hearing is old-guy bad.

The application would primarily be one to one screens for product explainers that help shoppers, but drive staff in stores nuts, hearing the same messages repeatedly. Vending, directories, self-service machines and wayfinding also make sense.

There were a bunch of companies at the show, mostly hived in the workplace/unified communications areas, marketing devices that in various ways are like Google Chromecasts for business, with digital signage as something conference room and other screens can do when not being actively used.

I saw one product, Ditto, that has branded CMS for signage, and others that had integrations with signage CMD firms.

One heartening element of this show was the maturation of technologies that protect LED video walls to a level that they could exist in public areas. Whether “potted” modules, or so-called Glue On Board, or Chip On Board, or 4 in 1 flip chips, or whatever tech and term being used, a variety of companies were showing versions.

Three years ago at ISE, they were largely proofs of concept. In 2020, major companies such as Leyard were showing versions – suggesting the tech is getting mainstreamed.

This is good news, as it removes the objection both media owners and venue operators would have about big video walls in publicly-accessible spaces. If they don’t have to worry about the little LED light packages being bumped or scraped off – forcing costly repairs – that’s going to accelerate adoption.

I saw many demos of many software platforms. The easy-to-use, intuitive thing was a problem solved long ago, by dozens of companies, so it was a little worrisome to bump into some small and new ones pushing ease of use and low price as their big value points.

These companies need, I think, to choose a vertical or develop a unique set of attributes and functionality that gets them out of the crowded pack. There are plenty of generalist offers out there and very few of them are doing the kind of trade and volume that would make investors or the CFO smile.

Overall, ISE continues to be a very worthwhile show for people to want to stay on top of emerging tech, or efficiently do meetings/demos/reviews with a pile of customers and partners.

I went to a LOT of trade shows in 2019, so I was not expecting to see much I had not already seen – particularly after being at display nerd shows like SID and Touch Taiwan. If this was the ONE show budget or bosses allow you to get to, there was much to see.

The absence of LG left a big OLED hole in the show, but in all, 50-100 missing exhibitors really didn’t dent the experience.

I spoke with several exhibitors in Hall 8, the digital signage hall, who thought traffic was probably off 30-35 percent from 2019, but they were generally happy because they had some great walk-up meetings and extra time for stretching out pre-booked meetings.

There was a send-off Friday to Amsterdam, coupled with a launch event for Barcelona. I will miss the gorgeous cityscapes, Belgian beer, stroopwafels (the NDS guys kindly gave me a tin to take home) and fabulous rail system. But not the rain and chill, as well as the cold water-only taps and utterly confusing layout of the RAI.

I’ve not been to Barcelona, but the Fira event and exhibition center promises a modern, purpose-built facility with straight, level and cavernous halls, and tons of meeting space.

It should also be sunny, 10 degrees warmer on average, and if there is a God, the right timing and available tickets to let me see Lionel Messi play football.

Safe travels home!

This, by the way, is the new ISE logo, just released …

 

 

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