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Showcasing the latest innovations for 2013 and beyond, the more than 2,000 company booths at the humongous technology trade show were filled with big beautiful TVs, phone-tablet hybrids — dubbed “phablets,” health care wares, niche products such as GPS tracking for luggage and crowd-funded development.
One unexpected hit was the aforementioned smart fork. The USB-connectible Hapifork vibrates to let users know when they’re eating too quickly — which, manufacturer Hapilabs says, leads to weight gain and poor digestion. The company plans to use the buzz from the show to launch their Kickstarter campaign next month. Crowd-funding was another big player at the show, having an important effect on the creation and support of new technology.
There were also companies aiming to cover almost every kind of niche out there, such as the several companies hawking GPS devices to make sure you never lose your luggage again.
At least those companies have a market for the travelling road warrior. There were plenty of products on display that would have trouble passing the “But, why?” test. Large appliance companies are continuing to tout the ability to remotely turn on your washer and dryer with your phone. But what’s the point, when the clothes still need to be put in the machine and moved from the washer to the dryer? Company spokespeople say this means consumers can take advantage of off-peak energy time, but, really, it’s technology for technology’s sake. The real value of any technology is if it can improve life and change your habits.
Many research products and prototypes were on display that were undeniably cool, such as the paper-thin flexible tablet PaperTab and the ‘Steambox’ from PC game download creator Valve. But there is often a long and bumpy road between a product’s inception and it being used in average homes.
Big, beautiful TVs
Ultra HD and 4K televisions were expected at this year’s CES, and the big guys like Sharp, Sony, LG, Panasonic and Samsung did not disappoint. Sharp, in particular, is sticking with 60-inch-plus TVs, and also introduced a new clear compound called IGZO. The product’s teaser reel shows household items such as bowls with touchscreen displays, however it is currently only available in phones, tablets and a 32-inch monitor.
Along with new OLED displays — LG showed off new curved models — it’s clear companies want people to start thinking about upgrading. While the picture quality is undeniably beautiful, it’s probably a tough sell for the average consumer. Most companies didn’t reveal prices, but it’s a safe bet these models will continue to be very expensive. However, the argument is, over time, costs will drop. As well, in the case of 4K, which is eight million pixels, or four times better than the average HD TV, there is not a lot of content available, but the sets do a good job upscaling HD content. Sony, in particular, is tackling that head on, promising its entertainment side will start making 4K content.
Companies are also still trying to coax consumers to actually use the smart functionality in their TVs, as research has found many don’t, beyond Netflix. In addition to trying to make those functions easier, they’re also adding more voice, gesture and eye tracking control.
One of Samsung’s somewhat consumer friendly developments is called an Evolution kit. This is a black box that connects to the back of last year’s TV model and brings it up to this year’s new capabilities. It’s an interesting attempt at a bit of future proofing their products — at a price, of course.
Move over Bluetooth, Near Field Communication (NFC) looks like it could be a breakout tech this year, with companies such as LG, Sony and Samsung allowing consumers to connect and control everything from speakers to appliances simply by touching their phone to the device. One issue is the question of how open it might be, as devices will likely be optimized for a particular company’s phone and their other products.
Ever more Phablets
With the Sony’s new Xperia Z phone with a 5-inch screen, the Huawei Mate (6.1-inch screen) and the very thin ZTE Grand S (5-inch screen), more and more companies are making bigger phones that can straddle the phone and tablet space. Samsung launched this segment a little over a year ago, and it’s clear many more companies will be following them.
With new Xbox and PlayStation consoles at least expected to be announced, if not launched, by the end of this year, it was already going to be a big year for gamers, but with other companies surprising with new wares, there will be even more options than expected. Razer announced the Edge, a powerful tablet that can play any PC game, NVidia showed off Project Shield, an Android gaming hand-held, and Valve showed a prototype Steam Box. Also off site, Oculus VR built buzz by showing off the Oculus Rift, an immersive 3D headset that had a very successful Kickstarter campaign last year.
Health benefiting tech
Building on the success of the Nike+ FuelBand and companies like Fitbit, there are countless companies with health tracking and fitness software, and all manner of apps and gadgets aimed at specific health activities. Also impressive are real-life Tricorders inspired by Star Trek, developed by companies like Scanadu, which have great potential as a way to perform less invasive examinations of patients.
There were a large number of automotive companies displaying their cars here, and companies like Ford and GM opening up their dashboard to app developers. GM showed off an eyes-free Siri integration, and the splash made by Lexus by showing off their self driving car, which is being used to test safety technologies, but also to start talking about potentially getting these vehicles on the road. Just as the connected home is a huge trend at CES, the road trips of the future are going to be tech enabled.
While Apple has long held their own events, this was the first year that Microsoft chose not to do a keynote or exhibit here, and really they don’t need too. Touch screens are everywhere, in everything from tablets, monitors, laptops to smart tables, and the majority of them were running Windows 8. As for Apple, I would be very happy if I died without seeing another variation of iPhone case or other third party Apple product because there is every imaginable variety here. While those two big companies are not here, it’s impossible not to feel their presence almost everywhere.
More tablets, hybrids and convertibles
As we continue to burn along into the post-PC era, there were tablets everywhere at CES. One of the pre-buzz thoughts for CES were more budget friendly tablets, with analysts believing there’s a big opportunity at for whoever creates a decent sub-$ 200 tablet. Acer launched the Iconia-B1-A71, a 7-inch Android Jellybean tablet, which will actually be around $ 149, but could go lower in some emerging markets, but at this point will not be available in North America.
The other trend is hybrids and convertibles, in-between laptop and tablet devices and come in many different configurations. Some are laptops that have screens that detach and can be used as tablets, or screens that slide over the keyboard. These really are weird devices that are often a bit heavy as a tablet, or underpowered as a PC, so they are a mixed bag. But tablets continue to get more powerful, and design ingenuity could make these 50-50 devices better as time goes on.
For more from CES, visit thestar.com/tech.