Industry News

Robot Signage?

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Chihira Junco

Chihira Junco, speaks 3 languages, begins work at a tourist information center opening at Aqua City Odaiba in Tokyo Waterfront City—and makes history.

She’s the world’s first tourist information android. But probably not the last. Robot signage is here and will develop into a special category of digital signage product.

Toshiba’s Chihira Junco looks like a human being, like an attractive young lady. She has smooth arm and hand movements, and-- with Toshiba’s unique speech synthesis technology--she can speak Japanese, English and Chinese.

When visitors use the trilingual terminal installed in the tourist information center to seek help, Chihira Junco provides sightseeing information, even gesturing as she speaks.

The nearby input terminal has an “airborne display” that incorporates leading-edge technology to project a touch panel into the air.

In between helping visitors, Chihira Junco uses her spare time to provide advertisements for shops and to introduce special events being held.

Go Chihira Junco

Foxconn Offers $5.3 Billion for Sharp

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Terry Gou

Foxconn wants to buy Sharp and will pay a tempting $5.3 billion (¥625 billion).

But it won’t be easy. Sure, Sharp is under pressure and Foxconn’s offer is meant to persuade Sharp’s creditors to make a decision based on the fiscal deal, rather than political considerations.

Yet politics is at the very heart of Japanese business. If a foreign company could now “buy Japan,” then this deal will be a shocker, a high water mark in Japan that would suggest a wave of bad financial news will finally drown traditional Japanese business culture.

Japanese government officials don’t want Sharp to come under foreign control, specifically citing the company’s technology in display panels. Well-known as a country run by a government-business coalition, the so-called “Japan Inc.” has spent time and money to ensure some of their high value technology doesn’t fall easily in Chinese, Korean or Taiwanese hands.

That’s why Sharp is getting a competing offer from another “Inc.”-- the Innovation Network Corp. of Japan, a government-backed investment fund. But it is almost half the amount of Foxconn’s bid.

INC of Japan already controls Japan Display Inc., another major display maker. These two Japanese panel makers share know-how in next-gen panel technology and mass production.

“Japan’s technology is leading the rest of the world and we would like to help make it even more competitive,” industry minister Motoo Hayashi told press.

The matter may be further complicated by Foxconn’s history of public relations nightmares. It is the world's largest electronics contractor manufacturer and the 3rd largest information technology company by revenue in the world.

If you own any of these products-- BlackBerry, iPad, iPhone, Kindle, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nokia and Wii U—you might own a Foxconn-manufactured product.

Yet Foxconn has been plagued by controversies relating to factory employees in China. A history of suicides-- blamed on working conditions-- provoked Foxconn into hiring Western PR companies. Despite that in, January 2012, about 150 Foxconn employees threatened to commit mass-suicide in protest.

Bloomberg Business reported, “The suicides introduced Foxconn to most of the world in the worst terms imaginable—as an industrial monster that treats its workers like machines, leveraging masses of cheap labor, mainly 18-to-25-year-olds from rural areas, to make products like the iPhone at seemingly impossible prices. For Western consumers, the lost lives were an invitation to consider the real cost of their electronic playthings. For the image-conscious companies with which Foxconn does business, including IBM, Cisco, Microsoft, Nokia, Sony, Hewlett-Packard, and Apple, the suicides were a public-relations nightmare and a challenge to offshoring strategies essential to their bottom lines.”

Founder and Chairman Terry Gou, worth an estimated $5.9 billion and the richest man in Taiwan, didn’t help things with his tough guy manner. It takes a tough guy to run nearly 1 million workers in a single company but he has attracted unwanted attention with comments such as…

  • “democracy does not put food on the table”
  • Warren Buffet is too old to be doing business”
  • “hungry people have especially clear minds”
  • “an army of one thousand is easy to get, one general is tough to find”
  • [we] have a workforce of over one million worldwide and as human beings are also animals, to manage one million animals gives me a headache…”

It some circles, think of Donald Trump in America, this tough talk may get you elected to high office. Japan, a country that was politically correct before “PC” was invented, does not embrace the same mentality. In fact, the culture tends to couch everything in terms of what’s good for all. This is a country where a manufacturer of headphones might sell under a slogan “Bringing purity of sound and joy to customers’ lives…for the betterment of mankind.”

On top of the clash of cultures, Japan knows while Foxconn is mainly an OEM (assembles electronics to be sold under other brand names), the Sharp brand could be valuable especially if Foxconn wants to sell its own brand of products. At $135 billion, Foxconn would become a new and powerful competitor to many other Japanese companies.

In Japanese parlance, it would be thoughtless-- and rude! -- for Sharp’s creditors to sell to a foreigner that would hurt Japan Inc. And if the banks did this for the money, for their own financial interest--without respecting the expected civic behavior-- they would probably be penalized by other Japanese conglomerates which would withdraw or withhold their banking business.

If we’ve convinced you the Foxconn deal is tempting but not likely, and it would be a radical (and foreboding) solution by Japan standards, then we can only add: it has about as much chance as hell freezing over.

Sharp and its creditors hope to reach a decision by Feb. 4th, when Sharp will announce its latest quarterly results. Then we will see if a real climate change has taken hold in Japan.

Go Foxconn Wants Sharp

Update Feb. 6th: HELL FREEZES OVER

Foxconn tells Reuters that acquisition is agreed and now "just process," making history as the largest deal of its kind (foreign take-over) with a Japanese CE supplier.

The deal-maker was a bid more than double the amount proposed by a state-backed fund, the Innovation Network Corp of Japan (INCJ). Reuters reports, "So many investors were surprised to see an overseas firm gain the upper hand over a state fund and Sharp's shares shot up 17%..."

Sharp Chief Executive Kozo Takahashi confirms the company is focusing on talks with Foxconn, although he denies having officially designated Foxconn as the preferred bidder. Can the deal still drift south?

Yes, it can still fail but it is less likely as now failure involves loss of face with Foxconn, Taiwan industry and even global industry.

The historic acquisition doesn't just validate Foxconn, but serves as a testimony to the tremendous financial pressure on Japan's once-thriving consumer electronics realm. If the deal succeeds in the long term, it might shift Japanese attitudes toward foreign investment.

Google Takes Another Look at Google Glass

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Google Glass

Google Glass is back and this time it will be foldable (shown in a filing published with America’s FCC) and all business.

Google “retired the original Google Glass” for consumers in early 2015 but promised to rework its smart eyeglasses for businesses. While they had a chic appeal, many people felt the product to be an intrusion in public privacy.

The research and development of this commercial version of Google Glass is under Project Aura, run by Tony Fadell, the co-founder of connected home device company Nest (bought by Google in 2014).

While it is said to have been improved as well as made foldable, the Google Glass “enterprise” version sure looks like the same glasses Google founder Sergey Brin wore when he was drumming up publicity for his consumer prototype.

There is a bigger difference, though. Through the Glass at Work program, Google is recruiting developers to design commercial applications for the device.

And here is where we come in: certified partners will be authorized to distribute Glass (along with these new applications) when the re-designed Google Glass technology becomes commercially available. Eyeglasses may be a window on the world, but these eyeglasses could be your in-road into AR and VR applications for your customers.

Watch Fortune’s Video Showing the Folding-Up Google Glass Version

Go Read the Latest FCC Filing Documents on Google Glass (click on these links shown on FCC website)

The “Smartest-Ever Office Building”

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Bob Snyder

Any integrator that sells conference rooms, corporate lobbies, residential, MDUs, whole house audio, public safety communications, or even control rooms should think about coming in to the Smart Building Conference in Amsterdam on Feb. 8th to meet the brightest minds driving change in the build environment.

Join in and you’ll hear from the front lines: how an integrator in the UK melds IT and AV into a smart building offering, how a German integrator “secures” the building, how one integrator uses IP gateways to connect unusually large and disparate systems—and one of the most important “think-tanks” in Europe shares insight from its own original research.

More importantly, you’ll hear about the world’s smartest office space ever constructed (according to Bloomberg Business). Understanding this one building will change your mind about how our industry will change in the next few years. It’s not just the 8000 sensors in a “digital ceiling” that wires the building like synapses in a brain or Philips' Ethernet-powered LED connecting lighting or the mobile app that drives the staff working experience… it’s all about the change in how we will work. I bet you’ll get ideas for your own offices, but our role as pro AV integrators will be to follow these changes in how we want to work to employ the proper AV installations that make it all happen.

Sure, the conference will have a lot of technology discussion… we’ll be sharing insight on KNX, IoT, Bluetooth LE, building automation and more (even the latest in home cinema). But the real opportunity is in the original research that shows how we live, how we work is changing…

Most of our business today is based on how people organized for work after World War II. Now the Millennials get to define what a digital world will look like. It’s not your father’s office anymore…it’s not your mother’s home… it’s not even yours: we’re talking about the spaces your sons and daughters will call home and work.

Go All About the Smart Building Conference

How to Spend Day 4 at ISE 2016

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We’ve said it before. We even pushed on ISE to make this happen: ISE was too big for 3 days and moves to a 4 day format.

That change in format should be old news by now—but here is the real question: How will you spend that extra day?

If you are an exhibitor, it’s easy…you’ll spend that day with customers. Yes, we believe Day 4 will have an aggressive turnout.

Sure, there will be first-time visitors as the gravity of ISE 2016 pulls harder and harder on any company in EMEA engaged in the dozen or so of important product categories. And, of course, the more Europeans at ISE, the more Americans and Asians will come.

But how will you spend that fourth day?

Besides the free attendee parking, ISE itself is organizing some special events like the future-defining Closing Keynote and the win a drone competition.

And then there will be the exhibitor-organised initiatives.

We think the most important point is not to waste that 4th day by inflating your usual rounds of meetings with your traditional vendors.

Frdy at ISE 2016

Keep your usual jam-packed 3-day schedule. Then invest that extra day in your future: explore a new area of business. Whatever your business is today, the pro AV business is going wider. You need to go wider with it.

Maybe it’s drones…or smart building… residential… outdoor DOOH…room scheduling…augmented reality… Whatever it is, use the tools on the ISE website to plan out Day 4.

Take the day to invest in how to grow your business beyond incremental growth. Let’s make Day 4 “Future Day…”

Friday’s Closing Keynote at ISE 2016 will be given by Dr. Michio Kaku, one of the world’s leading scientific figures. Start with his vision of the future and then use the day to find your future.

His keynote will begin at 09:00, half an hour before the show opens on Friday 12 February. See you there. We’ll be the guys in the front row taking notes.

Go Friday at ISE 2016

Go rAVe ISE 2016 Microsite

Go Register for FREE today using the following special invitation code 379894