This morning, the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida completes morphing into fishing central. Thousands industry indifrtd and the peripherals that support the fishing business are wearing their badges, popping their Advil or over-the-counter muscle relaxer of choice and getting ready make the trek down the aisles that constitute ICAST, the industry's annual largest trade show.
The event officially kicks off with the State of the Industry breakfast this morning, where those in attendance will hear the summation of the items of concern to the American Sportfishing Association (ASA). Immediately afterward, dignitaries will proceed to open the doors for the official start of the show.
In effect, ICAST has already been underway for 24-36 hours. Yesterday, media types were given previews of new products and technologies that won't be announced this week. In fact, some won't be announced until fall.
Sometimes, "new" is really more flash than substance. Hands-on with a product prior to the show opening helps clarify what is generally a pretty blurry line between technological advancement and marketing hype in many product categories. When it comes to hooks, lines or sinks, it's pretty much a subjective deal.
One announcement in today's news section already has the show buzzing: Platinum Equity's Fishing Holdings announcement that Flippin, Arkansas, lifelong home of Ranger Boats, will soon have aluminum boats being built there.
Yep, aluminum. For the maker of Ranger, Stratus and Triton fiberglass boats, that's a significant announcement. It's also a significant announcement to the population of Flippin, Arkansas. The new facility will mean more than four dozen new jobs.
According to the information in today's news section, production is scheduled to be underway by the fourth quarter of 2012.
So why would one of the nation's premier fiberglass boat makers suddenly add aluminum to their product offerings?
Simple, says Fishing Holdings President Randy Hopper "we feel this market represents an opportunity for growth moving forward." That's certain to get the attention of the other makers of aluminum boats.
Looking at the confluence of hardware and software at this year's ICAST, it's not hard to make a case that technology has altered fishing for the modern angler. It's especially true that angler is dependent on a boat for transportation to and location of -fish.
It's also fairly obvious that once-ubiquitous "operating buttons" are missing on many new pieces of gear. Instead of pushing buttons and navigating through layers of options, features and assorted technological choices, many of today's newer equipment is looks increasingly like the smart phone interface. In fact, many of the more innovative pieces of gear is capable of interfacing -and operating in conjunction with - both smart phones and tablets.
On the surface it looks like a simple decision- just do away with a button and make your system touch screen. Unfortunately, technology is a lot like gymnastics: the goal is making something very difficult to master look effortless.
It's a technological reach for companies to move to a "simple" user interface. Especially when consumers are now accustomed to having actions initiate almost instantly. That creates two schools of thought on how to make that move- and both are represented at this year's ICAST.
One simplifies operation of their system by eliminating options and functions. The other chooses not sacrifice function for ease of operation.
Looking at new gear this week, it's increasingly obvious that it's not easy to make a system "simple to operate" if you're unwilling to take a simplistic approach. Simply put, it's not easy to make something look simple and still perform to the peak of its capabilities.
Yesterday afternoon, the Orange County Convention Center still had "some assembly required". Jim Shepherd photo.
There's also the question of what to do with "legacy" devices. It's one thing to offer a "new user interface" and whiz-bang advancements. It's far more complicated to make incorporation work for the legacy equipment that's still out there-and still working-for their owners.
It's a process we're going watch over the next few months. It's more obvious in digital equipment than any other area, but it's expanding rapidly to virtually every area where a control surface interfaces with a piece of machinery.
Later today, word of what's happening in the industry, a look at the new products and a general canvass of what's happening in the international economy viewed through the eyes of the fishing industry.
But first, a note of congratulations to an old friend and colleague.
John E. "Bubba" Phillips, recipient of the 2012 Homer Circle Fishing Award. Way to go, Bubba! POMA provided photo.
Last night at the opening reception for the New Products Showcase of ICAST, our colleague and longtime pal John E. Phillips was awarded the Homer Circle Fishing Communicator Award. Each year, the Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA) chooses a fishing writer to honor for contributions to the industry, the craft and newcomers in the business. This year, it goes to a guy who readily credits "Uncle Homer" with having helped him get started in the business.
"Bubba" as he's known to most of us, is already a member of the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, has authored thousands (literally) of fishing articles and 42 books. He's one of those names you see from time-to-time in both the Fishing and Outdoor Wires and is one of those subject matter experts and friends I've called on many times for advice and counsel since beginning The Outdoor Wire a decade ago.
Congratulations, Bubba, it's an award you've earned.
As always, we'll keep you posted (tm).