independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

Hi-tech gadgets that you'll be hearing more about this year

Technology Editor Adrian Weckler reports from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where he looks at the six major trends to emerge so far

Covisint's Jen Shepherd Moore wears Google Glass, which is integrated with Hyundai Genisis. Photo: Reuters

Other than ever-increasing size, the big theme among television manufacturers at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this year is so-called 4K technology. Also known as ultra high definition, 4K is the anchor pitch for most of the big manufacturers here, including Panasonic, Sony, LG and Samsung.

1. With TVs, 4K is the new 3D

This technology doubles the number of pixels (and, effectively, the clarity) on television sets. It is most relevant for high-end models over 50 inches in size, although manufacturers such as Panasonic are adding the technology to large tablets and PC displays aimed at designers and graphics professionals.

Crucially, it allows manufacturers to return to €1,000-plus TV sets as the standard premium model. Meanwhile, the television manufacturers' erstwhile 'next big thing', 3D, has all but died a death at CES 2014. Indeed, not a single television manufacturer at CES 2014 -- which is the world's largest technology trade show with 150,000 people attending -- is using 3D functionality as a selling point for any new models.

2. The challenge to save laptops continues

The figures show that laptop sales are falling in double-digit percentages year after year, as we ghettoise them for work and gradually shift all other uses to tablets and phones. The industry's response has been to try to tabletise laptops as much as possible. Lenovo's crop of laptops include removable keyboards and even 'tabletop' devices, which look like large tablets but which run Windows 8 and can be connected to the usual computer accessories.

Samsung has taken another tack. Its key tablet launch, the Galaxy Note Pro 12.2, saw an increase in size and power. Even though it runs Android, the intention is clear: here is a tablet that you can use with a keyboard and which is big enough for you to work on, just like a laptop.

3. Smart homes are back on the agenda

Ten years ago, electronics manufacturers insisted that smart homes were the wave of the future. It turns out that mostly what they did was allow you to play a CD in the living room and hear it in the bathroom. But thanks largely to wi-fi and smartphone apps, a slew of new smarthome services is coming on to the market this year. Samsung presented an entire smart home, based on a number of devices (ranging from heating to lighting to audio) in each room connected to remote control apps on your phone. Accessory-maker Belkin already has form in this area, with its WeMo range of web-connected plugs and gadgets that allow you to operate household appliances from outside via your phone.

4. The explosion of wearable technology

Bracelets, armbands, headsets, even socks: the technology industry has convinced itself that shifting some of our connected needs to other parts of our body is the way forward. In this vein, there has been a slew of smartwatches and fitness bands launched so far. One of the stars of the show is the Pebble Steel, a popular smartwatch that gains a new app store and fancier straps for those who like the technology but who don't want to look like geeks.

The brand has become an icon among smartwatch owners, despite not having some of the functionality of higher-end devices such as Samsung's Galaxy Gear smartwatch. Sony launched a small device called Core, which is designed to work in a wristband it is producing. Meanwhile, Intel has launched the Edison, a PC the size of a small memory card.

5. Car companies are taking tech seriously

Ford, Toyota, Audi and a host of other big car companies have been out in force at CES. While electric cars are now becoming common, Toyota showcased its first production-ready fuel-cell car. Ford announced new solar-charging technology also aimed at helping future generations.

6. The internet of things

While much attention has focused on smart toothbrushes and web-connected forks, many big companies here are getting on with new products to capitalise on the 'internet of things'. For example, Sony has launched a small gadget that attaches to tennis racquets, recording data such as swing speed, power and other metrics that could help to improve a player's technique.

Belkin introduced the Crockpot, a cooking pot that has wi-fi connectivity to inform home chefs how their potatoes are getting on.

Irish Independent

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