Tales from the Front of the Toshiba 2014 LEAD Conference

lead2014-1114

The 2014 Toshiba LEAD conference in Dallas was great, and we’re glad rAVe could come and cover it again this year. It was my first time venturing into the strange world of Managed Print Services (MPS) and seeing how Toshiba ties AV into its business model. For those unfamiliar with this gathering, the show is primarily aimed at end-users, as well as dealers who are bringing end-users to check out Toshiba’s end-to-end total product and service offerings.

stadiumAccording to the final show numbers, things went pretty well last week for Toshiba. The event brought in 575 end-users and initial estimates are in at 12 million USD in sales from 215 customers. Chains were the biggest buyers were chains within sports, schools and retail grocery. They also hyped Toshiba’s close partnership with AEG for solutions for stadiums — like the Staples Center — and potentially for AEG festival events, like Coachella.

Besides reaching out directly to the end user (but still also selling to dealers), Toshiba is making custom service a priority as part of the total package. The company emphasizes it’s incorporating many different patents and acquired businesses in order to better create interesting DS packages. For instance, Toshiba bought a company with a custom POS system that will tie more closely into dynamic digital signage displays. If a store is having a run on scarves, the signage can change pricing or make suggestions on related products. They are now also diving into the world of so-called ‘big data’ with companies that deal with analytics from all the hardware Toshiba is placing. They seem to want to move from being sellers of hardware to using hardware as a portal to sell complex — and probably profitable — services.

One kind of un-intentionally funny moment came at a digital signage educational session for the end-users. The point they were making was along the lines of: “Researching, buying, installing and configuring all the components of digital signage is SO complicated. If only there was SOMEBODY you could hire to help you with a project like that. How about Toshiba!?” In our world, the obvious answer is: an integrator! Duh. But Toshiba is doing an admirable job of reaching out to the end-user crowd. The company’s also taking an interesting tactic with keeping relationships with AV designers and integrators — it’s offering a pilot program for AV designers and integrators to sell the Toshiba hardware and services themselves using the integrators’ own resources, while (presumably) giving Toshiba some kind of cut. It all seems to be part of Toshiba’s odd, but open plan to sell in-channel and direct at the same time.

facial2One other oddity came up at the product fair when it showed off its shiny new facial recognition hardware for digital signage. Don’t get me wrong — it was pretty slick with a thin-client box that works with a camera to identify gender break-downs in crowds to target ads to the majority viewers. What was odd was the tone that this was revolutionary and totally new. At the press event they even mentioned that a national security think-tank wanted to talk to them about their software. Maybe the implementation and sale of facial recognition in digital signage is new to end-users, but I’ve seen many different implementations of facial recognition for the last three years at DSE from companies like Intel and even companies that offer custom billing based on time demographics who spend time looking at an ad. It’s a good offering — just not revolutionary, or even all that new.

transfer-jettouch-n-getOne technology Toshiba offered that did intrigue me came in the form of what it calls Toshiba TransferJet Technology. As it stands right now, it’s a bit weird in a DS context. At the Staples Center for the Kings hockey team, there’s a kiosk that lets you transfer high quality videos to your (Android) cellphone. And they transfer FAST — as in 560 Mbps. At first I thought this was odd — why would you not just stream promotional videos? I guess there is a small chance a hard-core fan would hook up her phone by MHL to her big-screen. But, at the press dinner they revealed the real future and I realized it was brilliant. While they coughed muffled denials into their napkins at the press breakfast, they strongly hinted that they are working with movie studios to offer kiosks at airports that would allow you to quickly download a movie to watch in off-line mode on the plane. Brilliant! I know I’ve been in the airport and wanting to download a movie from iTunes at the last second in a terminal and not having the time or speed to get to it. They were very vague about the project — probably because the licensing would be hardest part to pull off. The other technical issue with TransferJet in general is that it currently only support Android phones and requires a dongle. Toshiba assures us that very soon it will work wirelessly with Android and that iOS phone support is coming soonish.

lidarLED display maker D3 showed off three lines of displays that are available through the Toshiba program: a sturdy, indoor/outdoor lower resolution model; a flexible and custom shape panel (including an impressive cube displayed at the show); and a very high-resolution indoor LED display with a pixel pitch as small as 1.6 millimeters. The company seems to be able to produce roughly whatever the job demands. D3’s real expertise seems to be the design services it offers. When it comes to outdoor signage, D3 will go to some extreme measure to make sure the client is getting the best size and placement. D3 does everything from hanging a lifesize vinyl version of a display via construction cranes to driving around LIDAR arrays to using data from 3D-mapped roads — all to check for potential visual obstructions and do virtual placement renderings, just to make sure a client’s screen is seen.

Toshiba is definitely making the move away from straight hardware sales and moving towards service. I’m not sure it is to the extent of IBM, but maybe a bit of a hybrid. Considering that cloud services market is crazy competitive right now, that seem prudent. I think the service can be a good deal for end-users, and if that model becomes more pervasive among manufacturers it will be interesting to see how the overall market reacts in the long run.