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Viva Las Vegas: The globe's tech giants gamble on the shape of the future

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The driverless Mercedes-Benz F015 Luxury in Motion car on stage in Las Vegas.

The driverless Mercedes-Benz F015 Luxury in Motion car on stage in Las Vegas.

REUTERS

Samsung's new memory storage device, the Samsung Portable SSD T1.

Samsung's new memory storage device, the Samsung Portable SSD T1.

PA

A BMW touchscreen.

A BMW touchscreen.

Bloomberg

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The driverless Mercedes-Benz F015 Luxury in Motion car on stage in Las Vegas.

Despite being called the Consumer Electronics Show, much of what is on display in the booths of the world's largest technology trade event in Las Vegas is aimed at business users. Adrian Weckler, who is attending all this week, picks five of the top work-friendly technologies to emerge

1 Thinner, lighter, longer-lasting laptops

The curse of laptops has always been their shoulder-breaking weight, especially when combined with power adapters and other paraphernalia required to keep the devices working for more than 90 minutes. This year's CES has seen a proliferation of ultra-thin, ultra-light laptops that run full Windows and whose batteries last up to 11 hours.

Samsung was first off the mark with its Ativ 9 model, a 12-inch laptops that is a centimetre thick, weighs well under a kilogram and claims to have a battery life of 10 hours. Asus went one further, launching the absolute thinnest laptop to date (the Transformer T300) at just 8mm thick. The 12.5-inch touchscreen machine has a battery life of eight hours and can also be used as a Windows tablet.

Even Lenovo's Thinkpad laptop series - traditionally strong among business users from its days as an IBM product range - is slimming down. The main reason for the belt-tightening is Intel's new range of Core M chips that allow laptop makers to shave layers off the kit.

2 Wearables to be used in the workplace

By now, most of us have accepted that products such as Google Glass - which can record video straight from your eyeglasses - are unlikely to take off as a trend in the personal lives of ordinary people. They are simply too invasive and lack any killer application.

However, it is a very different story when it comes to the world of work. From surgeons to factory workers, 'wearables' are rising in utility. One firm at CES, XOEye, showed off its pair of web-connected camera glasses. Looking identical to an ordinary pair of glasses, the gadget streams high-resolution video over the internet to another computer.

XOEye is targeting the device, not at tech types, but at factory-type jobs. The glasses can perform functions such as scanning barcodes and measuring movement.

The latter metric can be useful in certain health and safety matters. For example, if someone is moving in a certain way a lot - or is not moving enough to satisfy health concerns - this could inform an employer on health and safety grounds.

3 Advanced security options

While the recent Sony hacking affair has spooked businesses, tech firms have been showcasing beefed-up security products and services at CES to guard against repeat instances. One expressions of this is alternatives to relying on simple passwords. For example, Agnitio launched a new product that enhances voice recognition technology as a fundamental part of security logins. It ensures that you don't have to slow down your speech or otherwise adjust it, either; it claims to recognise your "natural speech".

Other services to emerge include new security systems that allow you to use your own personal phone, tablet or laptop as a verifying hardware item afer you enter the normal login details.

For example, UniKey showed off a 'keyless' entry system that it claims can be integrated into any lock. It replaces keys and passwords by "turning a smartphone into a universal electronic key". This allows access by "touching" your lock without removing your phone from your pocket or purse.

Of course, all of this could make it trickier if (or perhaps when) you lose or break a phone or laptop.

But there's a heightened sense that something needs to be done to beef up security for work-related activities - successive national research by the Irish Software Association and others show that most Irish companies suffer data breaches and unauthorised access to company information.

Biometric security is due to get a boost this year anyway, with the arrival of Apple Pay. The system commonly uses the fingerprint reader on an iPhone as a security verificaiton technique before the phone is authorised to complete a payment transaction in a shop.

4 Touchscreens and displays for business

In Ireland, only a handful of retailers and businesses use interactive touchscreen displays on their premises in any meaningful way. Conns Cameras in Dublin flips a large touchscreen on its side to let people look up equipment and reviews.

The restaurant chain Burritos and Blues has used customer-facing iPads for limited promotional purposes at cash registers. But it's all quite limited. By contrast, it's telling that Las Vegas, a city that tries to draw you in to its premises using whatever legal means it can, uses interactive displays a lot in very pedestrian shops and businesses. In this spirit, CES has been showing off lots of wys for ordinary retail businesses, such as restaurants and shops, to adopt the same techniques.

Sun Innovations showed off digital signage display technology that converts any glass panel into a "haze-free, see-through" display of any size, viewable from any angle. And for non-retail businesses, there were a lot of touchscreen items that were on show at CES.

Panasonic, which has started to switch its focus onto workplace technology, has come up with an 'ultra high definition' 85-inch business touchscreen that can be used either vertically or horizontally at work.

The main attraction to it is that it supports multiple people touching and interacting with it at the same time. This means it could be used very productively for projects.

5 Alternatives to cloud storage

While Irish business is being told to move things into the cloud, internet storage systems have notable limitations. Security is one issue, with several passwords floating around. Technical ability is another: for those that need to transfer large files quickly, the cloud can be a painfully show and finicky way to do it.

Into this space emerges lots of new physical storage products announced at CES. Toshiba announced a portable drive - the Canvio - that extends up to 3TB (3,000GB) of storage in a pocketable device.

This could be used as a very useful backup drive for or any number of other uses. Seagate's latest Seven portable hard drive follows the small and light theme, at a mere 0.6 centimetres thick and with space for 500GB of data.

But Samsung has really pushed the boat out with its T1 ultra-portable storage drive. It's a 1,000GB portable memory device that is smaller than a business card.(If you don't need quite that much, smaller 256GB and 512GB versions are also available at the same physical size.)

Indo Business