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Blog Posts by Joel Gurin

Consumer Views: The 55-mph Screen

by Joel Gurin, Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
January 25, 2010 - 04:59 PM

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:78:height=100,width=70]]This year, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) looked a lot like an auto show. The show floor had a large area on in-vehicle technology with a lot of vehicles there to demonstrate it. Ford’s CEO, Alan Mulally, gave a keynote address describing the new Sync system that Ford is introducing, which you can view here, while Kia unveiled their competitive UVO system – covered by CNET here.

Both Sync and UVO are designed to provide all the different functions consumers might want in a car – not only GPS and sound, but also a number of Web-enabled applications – in an integrated unit. These companies, and others working on similar systems,  claim they can improve safety by making these units primarily voice-activated, and by eliminating the need to fiddle with a separate MP3 player, smart phone, and GPS. But at a time when distracted driving has become a major national issue, there are real safety concerns about having these screens in cars – summarized well in a recent New York Times article. While in-car Internet access can have safety benefits – for example, in reaching help in case of an accident – there’s clear cause for concern in having so many different options available on a dashboard screen.

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Consumer View: The Year of Convergence

by Joel Gurin, Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
January 22, 2010 - 11:22 AM

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:78:height=100,width=70]]My first visit to the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month was an eye-opening and eye-popping experience. You can read about the recent show at www.cesweb.org or in a multitude of news reports. The 2500 exhibits included 3D television, sophisticated voice-activated technology, clever handheld devices, “slate” laptops that function as ultra-portable computers and e-book readers, and a new gaming system that lets you move your whole body as the game controller. It’s clear that we’re not in the 20th century any more.

But the overwhelming theme, for me, was the actualization of a word I’ve heard for years: Convergence. Ever since I became involved in website development in the late 1990s, people have talked about the convergence of the internet, voice communications, television, and other forms of entertainment and applications in an integrated form. For years, this was going to happen any day now – but while progress has been made, many efforts at integration have been more kludgy than seamless. At CES, it looked like “any day” is now finally here. Exhibit after exhibit, and session after session, gave evidence that different communications services are now becoming integrated in truly seamless ways.

By the end of 2010, most HDTVs are expected to be Internet-ready, allowing you to connect them to the Web without having to go through a laptop to do it. This makes it possible to access all kinds of Web applications easily on a large-screen TV. One major application for TV may be Skype, which is partnering with several TV manufacturers to turn your television into a large-scale video conference unit with an add-on high-definition camera and microphone system.

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Consumer View: Coming to the FCC

by Joel Gurin, Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
January 18, 2010 - 03:55 PM

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:78:height=100,width=70]]I’m writing this post at the end of my first month at the FCC, and a week after coming back from the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) – one of the largest annual conventions in the country, and a benchmark event for all of us who care about consumer technology and communications. Before I share some insights from CES, I’d like to let you know a few things about my background and how I’ve come to be at the FCC.

I’ve been involved in consumer issues throughout my career – as a journalist, book author, magazine editor, Web strategist, and advocate.  What brought me to the FCC, as head of our Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, was my 15 years at Consumer Reports. I began there as Science Editor, was Editorial Director and Editor of Consumer Reports magazine for three years, and then served as Executive Vice President of the parent organization, Consumers Union, for almost a decade. During my time as Executive VP, I oversaw editorial, publishing, product testing, and other areas, and directed the launch and expansion of our website at www.ConsumerReports.org. That website is believed to be the largest paid-content information-based site in the world, with more than three million subscribers.

My years at Consumer Reports taught me that consumers have a more personal relationship with communications products and services than they do with almost anything else they buy. At Consumer Reports, our readers couldn’t get enough information about smartphones, internet service providers, online services, digital TV, and the rest of the communications ecosystem. It’s not surprising. Communications technology is central to everyone’s life. We use it every day to connect with our families, shop, find entertainment, do business, and learn about social issues that are central to our democracy.

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