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The size of the world’ largest AV tradeshow, ISE in Barcelona, is staggering. I’m here for all hours of all four days, and I have accepted on Day One that there is no way I can take it all in with any real depth. We pick our must-sees, cement our existing relationships, and hope that happy accident leads to those random discoveries that makes coming to such a big show worth it.
Despite there being approximately 100 less exhibitors than when ISE was at its peak in Amsterdam pre-COVID, it feels much bigger due to the long, spread out, linear nature of the Gran Fira Barcelona. It takes an epic effort to get from Hall 2 to the far-flung audio demo rooms of Hall 8, and each Hall in between is the size of InfoComm in Las Vegas, or, in Australian terms, twice the size of Integrate.
The show opened with a huge bang as crowds surged into the entrance. Wait times just to get in the door went up to 30 minutes. A rave soundtrack gave it a festival feel and pent-up demand was palpable. Throughout the day the crowd was solid, engaged, and big enough to make doing things like getting food or drink difficult. This show is so big and busy, King Felipe VI of Spain did an official walk-through, and not only was I not affected in any way, I didn’t even notice, and neither did anyone else I talked to.
As a technical journalist covering these events, it’s your job to find a common theme or overall ‘vibe of the thing’ to communicate. In a show that covers everything from HVAC to room booking to lighting to AoIP and everything else that plugs in and does something, that’s challenging. It eluded me for most of the first day. Then I spent some rare unstructured time in an area I wouldn’t normally be; the big end of corporate software land. In particular, Google and Zoom.
Everything, Everywhere, All At Once; that’s the theme right there.
The past three pandemic years produced an environment that fosters innovation in a way not dissimilar to that of a world war; a vast global experiment that everyone was forced to participate in, like it or not. Innovation was not optional; it was adapt or die. What we are now seeing after the chaos has (mostly) passed is the results of what was experienced and learnt.
The world was forced to adopt anywhere, anytime, browser-based BYOD video conferencing and remote working en masse. While the IT world had been spruiking it for years (I recall doing my first Webex meeting back in the late 2000s), it wasn’t widely adopted. That has obviously changed.
But what wasn’t apparent until now is all of the opportunities and markets that companies were exposed to for the first time, which is now guiding their products and plans. Take for instance, Zoom. It’s not just the ‘less corporate’ VC platform that you were more likely to have Friday night drinks with your friends in lockdown than Microsoft Teams. Zoom got a taste of what’s possible. They are now offering digital signage, room booking, a Slack-like social platform for work, and a Microsoft-like organisational backbone.
Google, while ubiquitous, didn’t get as much of the pandemic pie. But witness Google Meet leveraging integration with Appspace, a company that started out as digital signage management platform, but now offers room booking, content management, a social stream in the workplace, and a type of broadcasting.
I sat in on the Appspace demo on Google’s stand. Any device (screen, computer, tablet, phone) can run the platform and be incorporated, managed, broadcast to, and used. We’re in new territory now, where VC, social media, chat, wayfinding, content, training, remote control and even EWIS are all on the one platform , across any device, anywhere in the world, all as software-as-service.
Physically, ISE is laid out from the most to least physically and philosophically flexible parts of the industry. The first companies you encounter on the way in (Google, Appspace, Zoom) are doing things we don’t even have words for yet. As you progress through Halls 3,5, 6, and 7, everything becomes more solid and familiar, until you end up in the world of loudspeakers and lighting fixtures, which, despite now receiving their control and commands via network, are still designed to concepts laid out a century ago. Yes, there is better, faster, cheaper, but the innovation that really makes ISE exciting is going to take a lot longer to get to the other end of the building. Which due to the distance, so am I.
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