CES 2013: What Mattered and Why

Just after Christmas, the Consumer Electronics Show convenes in Las Vegas to showcase all that’s new for the coming year. Most of it is upgrades, retreads, and modest improvements over the past year’s stuff. Some of it suggests a new shape for the industry, and for the ways that we work, play, and communicate. Here’s a brief rundown on what might matter most:

  • The disk drive maker Seagate will soon offer a “local cloud” storage device that you can set up in your home or office. Local storage, easily reached via local wi-fi. IT professionals will recognize this as a NAS, short for Network Attached Storage. At about $250 for 4TB, the lesser configurations don’t save enough money to be worth your time.
  • Expanded uses for phones and tablets. One shining example is the new MOCET iPad Communicator. Phones and tablets are extremely versatile. Adding capabilities beyond, say, a clock radio or external speakers, will become increasingly commonplace. Remember: you’re carrying a fairly powerful computer. Why not put it to use?


    To go to the site, click on the picture.

  • OLED is a video technology that allows for very thin screens–and flexible ones. The price of manufacture is dropping, so we’ll begin to see OLED screens enter the race between plasma and LED screens. Eventually, this organic (!) technology will win out, and become commonplace. (The “O” in OLED stands for “organic.)
  • Previously, I wrote about the new 4K screens. They’re beginning to be shown as demos.
  • Touch screens and gestures will begin to replace keyboards and remote controls. As the technology allows for greater precision, older ways of interacting with computers (and tablets) and with videogames and TV sets will shift our conception of an interface into the modern age.
  • Smart phones seem to be getting larger–more screen real estate is better for mail, web, games, and movies. Tablets seems to be getting smaller (the line between a small tablet and a big phone is becoming difficult to discern). Tablets are also becoming larger–imagine what you could do with a 20-inch portable tablet! Here, we’re starting to blur the distinction between a computer monitor, a TV set and a tablet. It’s tough to forecast where these trends are heading.
  • Samsung has become the Sony of the 2010s–an exciting company with innovation in every direction. The quality is there, too. But there are still lessons to be learned about user interfaces and design.
  • Very small storage devices are continuing to expand their storage dimensions. Kingston, for example, showed off a 1TB flash drive–larger than the popular thumb drives, but still quite portable.
  • From DPReview's coverage, the latest Fujifilm digital camera. Click on the image to see their story.

    From DPReview’s coverage, the latest Fujifilm digital camera. Click on the image to see their story.

    It’s now a regular routine: cool new cameras introduced at CES. For a solid rundown, visit DPReview. I think my favorite stuff is the expansion of Fuji small-sensor line. These cameras look like the real think, shoot terrific images, and tend to be somewhat more intuitive in their interfaces. (More on these soon.)

  • Automotive electronics has always been a key aspect of CES. Sure, car stereos and car security systems remain center stage. Now that cars plug into wall sockets, the vehicles themselves are becoming digital devices. This time around, lots of cars as harbingers. Next time, I’ll bet we start seeing hybrid devices that confuse the definitions of bicycles, motorcycles, golf carts, and other short-range transportation devices.
  • Oculus Verge

    To read The Verge’s story about the Oculus Rift, click on the image.

  • Your smartphone and/or your tablet will become a monitoring control center and remote control. You know how we’re beginning to program a DVR from afar? Or read date/time stamps on the foods in the fridge? It won’t be long before we all have a remote dashboard to tell us about the fuel in the car, the meds in the bathroom, when the last time the dog was walked, body fat, etc. add some robotic controls and digital life becomes even more interesting.
  • I’ve wondered why immersive video game displays have taken so long to gain traction in the marketplace. Now, it looks like the (Kickstarter-funded) Oculus Rift will change the way gamers see and experience the experience of game play. There’s good multimedia coverage in The Verge.

Go-Anywhere Hard Drives + MacAir Storage Ideas

This year, one of my projects has been a documentary about my father. I shot the documentary with an professional HD camera, edited in Adobe Premiere Pro on an iMac, and found myself in a mess of troubles. Then, I learned that serious editing requires an external hard drive. I’ve become a fan of these small devices, in part because they speed up the process and reduce crashes, and in part, because it’s easy to tote the whole project from one computer (at my home) to another (in my office, an hour away). When files are especially large, it’s helpful to bypass digital transfer via ftp and the like, and simply ship the entire drive from one place to another.

Mostly, I’ve been using  GoFlex Pro drives from Seagate. All of the images, video, and audio files that I recorded in the UK in May are now on a 750GB drive that costs about $125. It’s about 3 inches by 5 inches by a half-inch thick, and weighs about a third of a pound. At 7200RPM, it’s fast. It comes with a removable cable adapter, so you can use it as a FireWire 800 drive (for video editing), or as a USB 2.0 drive (offering about half the data transfer speed of FireWire 800, but useful because not every computer includes a FireWire 800 jack). Facing the future, you can buy a Thunderbolt adapter, which allows a connection that’s a dozen times faster than FireWire 800. The flexibility may be useful, but the cost is high: a $90 adapter for a drive that costs $125. (Note that Thunderbolt portable drives are not yet available, and that Thunderbolt desktop drives are still quite costly.) In any case, this drive is designed for use by either a Mac or a Windows computer.

If you haven’t explored portable external drives in a while, you’re likely to be surprised by their appealing combination of small size, light weight, high capacity, speed, and reasonable price. Some even come in colors (not sure why this is important, but it is a trend worth noting). Whether you’re buying for back-up, for convenience (no need to bring your laptop; just bring the drive), or for special projects, they’re worth a look.

What’s more, if you’ve got your eye on one of those new MacBook Air models, the portable drive adds a lot of storage without requiring a large investment in dollars or weight. Buy an 11-inch with just 64GB internal storage for $999 from Apple, then spend about $125 more to increase your available storage by 750GB (with USB 2.0, you’ll be transferring at a half a gig per second, not speedy, but certainly acceptable for most uses). Better yet, spend $225 for 10 GB per second Thunderbolt speed–Thunderbolt is now standard on every Air. By comparison, you may beef up storage with a 64GB or 128GB SD card, but transfer speed is under 100MB per second, a whole lot slower than other options. Below, left-side and right-side views of the new Air, showing both USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt connectors.

%d bloggers like this: