CEATEC offered a glimpse of some cool new gadgets, but the focus was largely on ways to save power, says Nicholas Kolakowski
The earthquake that struck on 11 March devastated huge swathes of the eastern Japanese coastline. It knocked the Fukushima nuclear power plant offline, and left millions of households without electricity or water.
Months later, energy conservation is foremost in mind for many Japanese. Large numbers of businessmen have given up wearing ties — a small nod to some office building managers’ decision to forgo rigorous climate control. The Japanese tech industry, meanwhile, seems to have locked its focus on ways to compensate for this altered paradigm.
Electric cars can power a house
At Japan’s CEATEC (Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies) conference, that focus included electric cars that can power a house, waterproof tablets, and solar panels for powering electronics and vehicles. Panasonic, for example, offered large lithium-ion battery modules designed to provide power to homes and offices in the event of a blackout.
Electric cars were pushed hard by Mitsubishi, Nissan and a variety of components manufacturers. Even the televisions on display featured new, intensive energy-saving modes, including the ability to use only a small portion of a screen to watch a show.
CEATEC’s concentration on using technology to monitor and regulate power use, including electric vehicles and smart homes, seems particularly auspicious given recent pullbacks. In June, Microsoft said it would discontinue its Hohm energy-monitoring service in May 2012. Google has also made the decision to close Google PowerMeter, a Google.org project designed to help consumers track their daily home energy usage in real time from an iGoogle gadget.
Though in many ways CEATEC is the Japanese equivalent of the Consumer Electronics Show or CTIA (a wireless show), it also featured a combination of large companies (think Intel and Toshiba) and smaller startups. In addition to the power-saving devices on display, Japanese executives spent their keynotes advocating an increased focus on software and services.
“We need to positively incorporate international standards,” Kaz Yoshida, president of Intel Japan, said through a translator during a keynote speech. “We have hardware, but what we are thinking about is the global perspective.”
The technology on display proved more than capable of setting even the most jaded gizmo-fan drooling with envy. During a tour of NTT Docomo, one of Japan’s prominent mobile operators, company representatives showed off a smartphone capable of projecting a clear image on a wall five feet away, along with ones equipped with 16.3-megapixel cameras and 3D screens.
Intel and its Japanese hardware partners, including Toshiba, are pushing a line of thin “ultralight” notebooks. Sony’s tablets, including the folding dual-screen “Tablet P,” attracted considerable lines on the show floor.
But Japan also wants to catch up with other global companies dominating the tech space, including Korean and Taiwanese entities such as Samsung and HTC. During an interview following his keynote, Yoshida acknowledged that Japanese companies need to catch up in the tablet space — and have the capability to do so.
“Our OEMs that manufacture PCs [have] also manufactured cell phones for many years,” he said. “We have the ability to minimise. The combination of that is going to give them a unique advantage.”