A wide range of products shown at Demo 07 -- new encryption technology, inkless printing, a Web-based shipping system for small businesses, and even some enterprise applications -- hightlight a new trend in technology, one that was echoed in some of the speeches: a move away from a technology focus and toward people.
Conference organizer Chris Shipley declared that the tech industry is in the midst of a significant shift at the general session Wednesday. Technology is no longer at the center. The new model puts people at the center. "We are clearly and deeply engaged in the age of the empowered individual," said Shipley.
Those who recall that Time's 2006 Person of the Year was "You" might not be surprised by this pronouncement. Indeed, the idea is a constant theme of commerce, perhaps best embodied by Harry Gordon Selfridge's "The customer is always right."
Given that technology tends to be complicated, a shift toward user friendliness and ease of use is sure to be welcome, whether it's legitimately a shift or a constant course correction.
The oddest example of this trend was Ceelox's new encrypted messaging service Scram. It allows users to embed hidden data -- picture, text, files -- inside images, a science known as steganography. Previously an obscure science employed by terrorists, intelligence agencies, and cryptanalysts, Ceelox intends consumers and advertisers to start sharing coded messages.
"It enables consumers to interact with advertisers' messages in a fun way," said CEO Gerry Euston, who demonstrated how marketers might send authenticated coupons to consumers using the technology.
A startup called Shipwire.com aims to empower small businesses by offering a Web-based shipping service. It's similar in a way to Amazon's Advantage program, which lets customers sell books and other items through Amazon. But the Shipwire service isn't tied to any one online store. It's simply an easy way to outsource shipping, receiving, and warehousing of goods. Because Shipwire accepts PayPal, it can handle transactions in 103 countries.
6th Sense Analytics presented a promising online service to track software developer productivity. It lets programmers individually, or as a group, measure productivity by monitoring various development tools like Eclipse and other applications. Having automated tools that gather productivity a data should make managing dispersed teams of programmers much easier.
Serendipity Technologies showed off new server-based software called WorkLight, which lets users take corporate application data, syndicate it securely, and plug it into a customized Web 2.0-style interface. As an example, a user might pipe CRM data into a Google Personalized Homepage or some other personally designed interface. That may sound like an unnecessary focus on aesthetics, but it's more than that. It's about presenting data in a way that users can really use it, rather than having it buried in several different applications behind a layer of windows.
Zink demonstrated its new inkless printing system, which is more impressive live than in product literature. As interesting as its printing paper is from a technical standpoint -- the paper itself contains the ink -- it's the form factor of the printers that's likely to win Zink plenty of customers. Being able to tote your printer around inside your digital camera is just cool.
Wyse Technologies showed off a new thin computing architecture -- Wyse Thin OS and a new multicore system on a chip -- that makes it much easier to run virtual machines over a network. The result is that users can, say, run Windows without a PC and without noticeable degradation in performance, using thin client hardware.
CEO John Kish called it, "The PC experience without compromise at a fraction of the cost."
Jaman.com's indie film download service and community and Eyejot's video messaging service both should appeal to consumers. And there were several other presentations worth noting, such as Mission Research's contact management app SalesWorks.
Perhaps the most significant demonstration came not from a startup but from Adobe, which offered a preview its upcoming Apollo platform. Apollo lets developers create applications that work both online and on the desktop that can be easily synchronized. The idea is that sometimes people have to work offline. The sample application shown, an eBay desktop, illustrated the value of this approach.
Why does this matter? Online applications aren't going to seriously challenge offline favorites like Microsoft Office until they can be used easily without a network connection.
Adobe expects to ship a version of Apollo to developers in a few months. Expect an offline version of Google Docs & Spreadsheets to follow, eventually.