Adrian Weckler picks out some of the highlights from this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Telly that wants to learn all about you and anticipate your needs
Panasonic Life Plus Screen
Price: from €1,000
Panasonic had a couple of products to launch at CES this year, including a seven-inch 'rugged' (Windows-based) tablet, and a curved screen TV system for businesses. But its biggest pitch was probably its new range of smart televisions aimed at punters. It's not the 4L ('ultra high definition') or the 65-inch-and-up nature of the new sets that the company is talking about, but rather what the TV can do for you. Specifically, it wants the telly to 'learn' about you and to start anticipating what kind of things you might want to do or to watch.
In this vein, the Life Plus Screen system wakes up when you come into a room, and will offer you information -- and possibly viewing suggestions -- based on your viewing and browsing history. (It knows you're you based on a pop-up camera that is sensitive enough to tell you apart from family members, or other people using the television.)
It also strives to make things such as video-messaging and Skype a lot more accessible on your TV than before. Finally, the system is augmented by a voice-control element if you so wish. Will this work for punters?
I've always been a little lukewarm about trying to get a TV to be your social media or computer buddy, too: it is simply too handy to whip a phone or tablet out, with much easier keyboard controls. That said, the tech that Panasonic is putting into the tellies is impressive. The next few months should be revealing.
Z1 'mini' packs more than enough firepower to keep snappers happy
Sony Xperia Z1 Compact
Some of the expected big developments in smartphones at CES 2014 did not come to pass. Specifically, it looks like the world will have to wait another few months before the launch of a bendy phone. However, there were a few practical announcements with immediate application.
One of these was Sony's Xperia Z1 Compact smartphone, which is the 'mini' version of its anchor five-inch Z1 model. But unlike other 'mini' versions, this one packs exactly the same firepower as the bigger devices. That means the same quadcore processor and the same 20-megapixel camera. This latter inclusion is something to be genuinely pleased about: the Z1 has, in my opinion, the best smartphone camera on the market right now. (It shades Nokia's Lumia 1020 despite that phone's superior pixel count.)
Pebble comes of age in year of the smartwatch
LAST year, smartwatches became one of the most hyped tech gadget categories around.
Samsung's Galaxy Gear -- which only works when wirelessly paired with that company's Galaxy Note 3 phone -- led the charge with a mega-bucks promotional campaign.
However, some alternative smartwatch systems grew organically by reputation and word of mouth. Pebble's devices were among this group.
At CES 2014, the company launched its newest model, the Pebble Steel. The watch is similar to earlier versions except for a much higher standard of finish, including the option of a leather strap. Pebble also revealed a new app store for the watch to take advantage of developer enthusiasm.
Your password? The eyes have it
Eyelock Mylock Iris Scanner
There's always one breakout gadget at CES that has people reaching for their Minority Report analogies.
This year, that space may be taken by Eyelock's Mylock iris scanner. The biometric gizmo scans your eye in lieu of inputting a security password when you want to access an account.
The scanner, right, plugs into your PC via a USB connection, meaning that it's fairly easy to set up.
In general, biometric access points have struggled to take off as mass market features for computers. Perhaps Eyelock saw the iPhone 5's fingerprint scanner and wondered whether it might be worth another shot.
Bendable TV is nothing but a gimmick
Samsung Bendable TV Price: unavailable -- still in product development
Companies as big as Samsung -- it is now the largest electronics outfit in the world by some margin -- can mess around with concepts. And so it is with the 85-inch 'bendable' television Samsung showcased at CES.
It starts out flat but can 'bend' into a curved (concave) position upon request from your remote control.
How does Samsung do it? I think the more relevant question might be: why would you want to do this?
If the proposition is that a curved screen is better than a flat one (as Samsung is suggesting with its other curved-screen models), why would you want to uncurl it back to flat?
This one has 'gimmick' written all over it.