OTTAWA — As the world’s largest consumer electronics trade show officially opened its doors Tuesday, several Ottawa companies have staked out floor space to showcase their latest wares to a global audience.
Youi Labs, which has been buzzing around the periphery of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas for years, is finally ready to demonstrate its “smart” TV operating system to the masses.
The Ottawa company, founded by Jason Flick and Stuart Russell in 2008, has released an innovative operating system for televisions at a time when TV manufacturers have never been more desperate to make their offerings more appealing to consumers.
With fierce competition, falling prices and little consumer interest in replacing televisions that may have been bought within the last few years, manufacturers are looking for the next big thing.
Many, including LG Electronics Inc., Sharp Corp. and Samsung Electronics Co., are showing off new “ultrahigh-definition” TVs that offer twice the resolution and four times the pixel count of current generation high-definition (HD) TV sets. TV makers are also making their sets smarter. New TVs from Samsung, for instance, will recognize an expanded range of gestures so people can swipe through onscreen menus with hand gestures in a way that revolutionizes the old remote control.
Samsung president Boo-Keun Yoon said the features are a response to the increased choices consumers have in what they watch.
“We have developed TVs that respond to people’s needs and lifestyles, TVs that know in advance what people want to watch, TVs that have the power to create the ultimate lean-back experience,” Yoon said.
Youi Labs’ Flick said the availability of his company’s smart TV operating system couldn’t have come at a better time.
“This is the battleground for the living room,” he said. “Smart TVs haven’t made it better. They do a lot of things, but they don’t do it well. We believe the real solution is a Smart TV with a tablet and really great experience between the two.”
With the help of several partners, including global chip giant Texas Instruments Inc., Youi Labs is demonstrating its “smarter” TV operating system called FLIP.
FLIP allows each member of a family to set up a profile, which will pull in all of the TV shows, events and movies that person might want to watch based on his or her personal preferences. A tablet computer — which could come with the TV, or could be the user’s existing tablet, loaded with a FLIP application — serves as the remote control. Cameras in the tablet are set to monitor the user, so if you get up to answer the phone, the show will automatically pause.
“We think there is a massive change coming and want to own the living room space,” said Flick. “It’s a really good time for us to be in this space because there isn’t a manufacturer that isn’t showing us a lot of interest.”
Flick said existing smart TV offerings have held little appeal to consumers because they are hard to use and ugly to look at. Youi Labs has created an operating system that puts art first.
He notes that Tim Cook, chief executive of Apple Inc., has compared current smart TV interfaces to technology from the 1980s. Apple is expected to release its own smart TV this year.
“That has all of the TV manufacturers shaking in their boots. When they went into the cellphone space, it was the end (for their competitors),” said Flick. “This is a really good time for us to be releasing this. They (TV makers) are all concerned.”
Flick says TV manufacturers are very interested in licensing his product, but acknowledges that Google Inc., as well as Apple, will be entering the market shortly. He said Youi Labs, which employs 30 people in its Ottawa offices, is ready to do battle with all comers.
“We are hunting whales, we know that,” he said, adding that a recent $150,000 funding injection from the National Research Council of Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program has helped to ensure the company can compete.
“We have capital. We are well armed,” he said.
On the far side of the trade show, which takes up more than 1.857 million square feet and sprawls through several hotels along the famous Las Vegas strip, QNX faces the opposite problem,
QNX is already the market heavyweight for operating systems in automobiles. The firm is battling against both upstarts, and large competitors such as Microsoft Corp., all of which are looking to steal some of its market share.
In 2011, more than 14 million vehicles shipped worldwide with in-car infotainment systems, which have fancy touch screens and allow consumers to control movie playback, share social media status updates and even surf the Internet. QNX’s software was powering more than nine million of those vehicles, accounting for around 64 per cent of the global market.
This exhibit is QNX’s chance to show the world what its been working on, and to do that, the Ottawa firm called on one of the most prestigious names in the auto industry to help mark the worldwide release of its new in-car operating system. The company has retrofitted a Bentley Continental GT convertible, which retails at a starting price of around $220,000 U.S., with all of its new CAR application platform 2.0 technology.
The idea is to provide all of the entertainment, contact information and Internet functionality found on a person’s mobile device to all of the passengers in a vehicle without them having to fumble around with passwords and pins or plug in clunky USB cords.
The system uses cloud-based voice commands to allow drivers to speak to the car using natural dialogue to play music or make a phone call. It allows remote monitoring of fluid levels and maintenance, and separate video conferencing for driver and passenger, among many other features.
QNX automotive product manager Andy Gryc said a handful of clients were given early access to the new operating system to make applications for it. They’ve given the software an enthusiastic reception, he said.
“For almost a year, automotive companies in the U.S., Germany, Japan and China have been putting the QNX CAR application platform 2.0 through its paces” said Gryc in a release. “We’re thrilled to see the many next-generation designs that customers already started developing on the platform during the early access program.”
QNX was purchased by Research In Motion Ltd. for $200 million in 2011.
CES attracts more than 150,000 attendees every year. The show acts as a launch pad for consumer electronic devices that will be released in the upcoming year. It runs in Las Vegas until Friday.
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