Forget 500-inch, green smart 3-D TVs. Here are a few exciting new trends I'll be examining at this year's Consumer Electronics Show.
Why does the consumer electronics industry choose to kick off CES, the annual four-day cavalcade of new toys, smack in the middle of the BCS National Championship game? If representatives really wanted to tie the show to a major sporting event, then maybe they should consider March Madness in -- that's right -- March. Seriously, can you think of a better way to depress your customers than to show them all your cool new stuff during the first full week of January, barely two weeks after they finished unwrapping your old stuff?
I'll never understand that. But here are a few things I do hope to have a handle on by the time I leave Vegas:
Pen computing has gotten a bad rap over the past decade, and deservedly so. But the technology has come a long way since then, and a lot of brainpower is focused on making it feel just like pen on paper. It's not there yet. But it is far enough along that you don't have to adjust the way you write. Today, the technology is sophisticated enough that you can rest your wrist on the display without e-smudging, for example.
Pen computing is going to be huge. It is to the keyboard what touch is to the mouse: a more natural, intuitive way to interact with the PC. (Just so we're clear: they'll complement the keyboard and mouse, not replace them.) Systems vendors like Fujitsu, Lenovo, Samsung and Sony are starting to make it available in laptops and tablets. Is this the year it finally takes off?
The return of hi-fi.
No, that's not a typo. I mean hi-fi, as in high fidelity. Back in the day, you bought nice audio equipment for a quality sound experience. For more than a decade, though, quality has taken a back seat to portability: How much can you carry with you, and in how small a package?
The pendulum is starting to swing the other way now. Consumers increasingly are paying more for headphones and speakers that enhance playback of MP3s and other compressed audio codecs. (Notice I didn't say iTunes? It's like I always say: there's no 'i' in MP3 ...)
Flash storage capacities are to the point that high-quality media players supporting lossless audio codecs like FLAC are becoming viable. Are they ready for prime time? How long will it take before the whole family wants one?
Wouldn't it be cool if you could just drop your smartphone onto your car console or desk and it would start charging? Who wouldn't want to shed all the power cords?
A year ago, this concept seemed more like a science project than product development. But it's advanced very quickly. Already there is a selection of high-end smartphones from suppliers like HTC, LG and Nokia that support wireless charging.
Emerging UI enhancements.
Speaking of science projects, the industry is always developing new ways to interact with our electronics devices. Touch is now commonplace on phones and tablets, and is now migrating to personal computers. Next on tap is voice and gesture control. The state of each is improving, though they're probably not ready to bust out in 2013. But give me a week and I might change my mind!
Really smart phones.
Contextual awareness -- that is, the ability to understand you and to anticipate your needs -- is an exciting new area with great promise. There are a lot of great hardware and software minds focusing on this, and I can't wait to see what they have to show off, both in booths and behind closed doors.
The state of CES.
For the first time this century, the opening keynote -- remember, the one that's scheduled to begin right around halftime of the Alabama-Notre Dame game -- is not being delivered by a Microsoft CEO. Microsoft has abandoned its presence at the show, along with many other players in the PC ecosystem. Instead, Paul Jacobs, Qualcomm's CEO, will kick off the show.
It probably makes sense for Qualcomm to step in, at least for this year. But Ground Zero for the smartphone and tablet world, Qualcomm's wheelhouse, is migrating quickly to the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona at the end of February. So who knows? By this time next year, Qualcomm may have decided to convert its marketing dollars into euros and spend them in Spain.
And then what for CES? The show will need to reinvent itself if it wants to be relevant in three years. Maybe a change in the schedule to March wouldn't be a bad first step? Just saying…
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