CES 2013: Above and Beyond
CES is long-established as the biggest event in the tech world, a wonderland of gizmos to satisfy innovation addicts, Best Buy shoppers and gadget hounds of all stripes. But with key players like Apple, Google and former stalwart Microsoft absent, it's not the marquee event it once was. As gadgets evolved to include phones, tablets and gaming, CES diluted in the potency over time.
Phone makers, for example, either hold their own events, like Apple, or show their gear at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. And the gaming industry waits for E3 in June to stoke the coals of its hype machine. Still, CES holds sway in its ability to generate buzz and hint at the direction of innovation. And this year? The strongest buzz is smart TVs. Companies, still trying to get it off the ground, are trying to bring the gee-whiz razzle-dazzle once reserved for smartphones to the humble stalwart living room TV set.
CES will also showcase wearable electronics, providing intriguing glimpses into how technology will permeate our lives, as well as bendable screens that try to reinvent the phones you've come to take for granted. If you're a gadget hounds, you'll eke out some excitement for tablets, smart homes, gaming and even cameras. So here's our guide to what's genuinely interesting at the show, and what to keep an eye out for in the middle of the media circus.
Smart TV: The Loudest Hype at CES
Smart TVs are the center of the hype, with the lion's share of fixated on Samsung, LG, Intel and more. Samsung plans to unveil an unprecedented TV design, which experts believe will be a portrait-viewing display. The company also expects to show its revamped smart TV software. Meanwhile, LG already said it will demo Google TV sets. Intel plans to unveil a set-top box and, and more intriguingly, a "virtual cable service" that offers smaller, cheaper bundles of channels, which may revolutionize the way you buy and subscribe to cable and hit the lucrative, but stagnating, industry.
Collectively, TV makers promise to deliver on the long-awaited promise to bring smartphone-like apps to your living room. Tired of streaming Netflix through your tablet or laptop? With smart TVs, you won't have to. They'll let you browse the Web, check e-mail, search for information and stream videos. Of course, the most anticipated smart TV -- Apple TV -- won't be here. But rivals plan to take advantage of the absence to tout their own products as loudly as possible.
CES isn't the first time that the tech sector has whipped itself into a frenzy over the connected-TVs. In 2010, Google, Sony and Samsung released TVs that fell flat, plagued by poor reviews, expensive prices and a dearth of content. This year, companies are promising better interfaces, functionality and more robust software -- but questions over price and content still remains, especially since cable is locking down on streaming.
Smart TVs are creating excitement around their features, but unless flash-and-dazzle product demos roll out with content partnerships, you'll have nothing to watch. Without content, they'll be right back where they started: a pipe dream for an industry stymied by legacy broadcasting and desperate to create sources of revenue. Will the hype be enough to propel a niche product for technophiles into the mainstream? Keep your eyes on CES to find out.
Wearable Tech: It's All About You
Previous innovations focused on using keyboards and cursors to use data, but the highlight now is to cut out the middleman and get the information directly from the source: you. A slew of sensor and monitoring breakthroughs make direct data possible, and a vast number of wearable tech products are front-and-center. Why use your fingers when you can simply use your eyes?
If you haven't heard of Google's Internet-powered, Terminator-style glasses, you will now. Google will showcase the technology behind the eyewear. In addition, rivals plan to debut headsets optimized to interact with your smartphone. With increasing development in smart-glasses, actual wearable products, like Vuzix's M100, will move beyond prototype and be commercially available at more affordable prices this year.
Apart from the glasses, the idea of controlling devices with a flick of the wrist is a concept whose time has come. Similar to Microsoft's popular Kinect system, Leap Motion's 3-D motion controller will emerge from CES as one of the hottest products of 2013. By placing gadgets in front of our laptop or near tablets, you can use hand gestures to control games and navigate the Web -- no more physical contact with devices.
Self-monitoring exercise and sports are also in on the wearable tech movement. Strap on a couple of ankle and arm sensors to not only track your progress, but point out areas of improvement. Similarly, behavioral innovations like the Lumo BodyTech wearable waistband, which mimics your movements in real-time, vibrates when it detects slouching or poor posture. If you want to measure results without a lot of effort, the feedback will appeal to you. Just start the program, collect the data and check the progress without any input. CES will be chock-full of motion sensing great you can wear and interact with.
Bendable Phones? Samsung Makes It Possible
Samsung isn't expected to showcase phones at CES, but its display unit plans to unveil a 5.5-inch flexible screen. The display can bend, twist and curve, offering a major leap from easily breakable traditional LEDs, promising to revolutionize mobile devices. Other companies have shown off bendable screens before, but Samsung would be the first major manufacturer to bring the innovation to market. Some expect the phone maker to merge the innovation into its best-selling Galaxy line. If true, the bendable display keeps Samsung toe-to-toe with its major rival, Apple, which promised an unbreakable screen.
Bendable screens also pave the way for specialized medical and military devices, like pacemakers and insulin pumps, for example, as well as monitoring gadgets embedded into the body. These displays may also find a niche in the valuable smart home market, expected to be a major trend in 2013.
But What About...
Sad you won't hear about the next iPhone killer or Nintendo challenger? Never fear: companies looking to generate buzz at CES will turn to other gadgets, like tablets, gaming, smart home appliances and cameras, and if you're a fan of these devices, you be disappointed.
Microsoft, along with plenty of Android rivals, is gunning for leader Apple in the tablet arena. And many will showcase innovative features like HD screens, thinner designs, interaction with TVs, and low-powered, high-performance processors.
Home retailers like Lowes, meanwhile, plans to highlight connected home devices for its Iris system. And hardware makers such as Samsung and LG will feature lines of "smart" home appliances for safety, efficiency and convenience. The smart home made a big splash last year, and the fledgling industry is expected to improve in 2013, so the idea of controlling your home from your phone, tablet or computer isn't so farfetched.
CES won't play host to major launches in gaming, but hype will surround Nintendo's Wii U. On the other hand, cameras will get another shot of life. Smartphones killed the digital camera, but technology is inspiring a slew of low-end compact cameras, while influencing high-end devices, too. Sony's RX1 and Fujifilm's X series may well revive film photography by delivering picture quality that smartphone users can only dream of. But it may also be the last stand of the dying industry, as the once mainstream product becomes increasingly niche. ♦