The technology year always starts with the biggest, brashest gadgetfest of them all – the Consumer Electronics Show.
The cavernous halls of the Las Vegas Convention Centre have always provided sensory overload during CES. We will be there next week, trying to pick out what’s hot and what’s ho-hum amongst the thousands of new products vying for attention.
Here are some of the themes we hope to explore:
For most households, the television is still the most important gadget in their daily lives. And, at CES, the big Japanese and South Korean manufacturers try to excite us with something new. In recent years, the big stories have been about internet connected TVs, 3D and OLED (organic light-emitting diode) – a technology which offers beautiful pin-sharp pictures at eye-watering prices.
This year there will be more of the same, although I’m expecting manufacturers to be less eager to push 3D which has met with a lukewarm reception from consumers. Instead the focus will be on bigger, better screens with something called Ultra High Definition – the next big thing after HD – making its debut.
Samsung is also rumoured to be unveiling a transparent TV, while there is even talk of flexible screens. How soon these new TVs will be available – and at prices that anyone but the super-rich can afford – is another matter.
Two months before the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, CES seems keen to steal its thunder. A host of new smartphones will be launched in Las Vegas, with China’s Huawei and ZTE, and Japan’s Sony among those unveiling devices. Just as with TVs, the accent is on ever bigger screens with the boundary between phones and tablets becoming blurred.
But there will also be gimmicks designed to differentiate new phones in a market where everything looks much the same. To keep mobile users busy with their new devices, there will be a vast array of new apps on show, designed to let you do everything from monitor your health to switch on the lights at home from your phone.
Wearable computing is the hot new idea for 2013, though Google Glass – the augmented reality product which has helped spark the boom – won’t be in Las Vegas (and may not be available to consumers for quite a while).
Wearing glasses, watches or other devices with an internet connection to provide you with data or a new view of your surroundings is a futurist’s dream that is now becoming practical as fast mobile networks spread. Many of the devices are aimed at the health and fitness markets, and I hope to try a few in Las Vegas to monitor the way my body copes with the CES experience.
Another Google innovation – its plan for self-driving cars – appears to have pushed the big players in the automotive industry to start coming up with their own automated driving ideas.
Toyota and Lexus will be unveiling what they call an advanced active safety research vehicle, which they’ve been testing in recent months. It appears to know how to change lanes safely without driver assistance – but years of development and law changes lie ahead before you can climb into the back seat and let the computer up front get on with it.
New user interfaces
The way we interact with computers has been transformed in recent years, as we move from the mouse and keyboard to the touchscreen experience. CES, once the place to see the latest personal computers, will still have plenty on show. But many PC laptops will be convertibles, designed to turn into tablets for the hybrid environment of Windows 8.
We will also see more voice-activated devices, though the jury is out on how keen we are to talk to our PCs and phones. There may be more excitement around the idea of gesture controlled devices, using technology like that in Microsoft’s XBox Kinect system.