Post-CES 2014

Sony-wideIn the old days, I used to go twice a year: once to Las Vegas in the winter and once to Chicago just before summer began. There were so much to see!

This year, CES came and went, and although I wanted to be there just for the fun of it, I was surprised because I didn’t notice the usual flood of stories and cool products that I wish I had seen for myself. I suppose there are a few reasons why: many of the products of the past were driven by their own unique hardware needs, so the physical design and functionality of so many products were unique. Now, many of these innovative ideas use the same portable computer—the smart phone or the tablet—so the form factor and the functionality is less original. Often the innovative idea is iterated as software or accessory, not a whole new thing. (On the far side of this timeline, my basement is no longer quite so full of old stuff that seemed like a great idea at the time, and so, my garage sales are less frequent and less thrilling for the neighbors).

In past articles, I’ve written about the new 4K HDTVs, and now, we’re starting to see digital cameras (including a $2,000 camcorder from Sony) that can create content for the new format. New screens are curvy, which is cool, but so far, not so useful. Still, this is among the things to come that we will own within a few years—whether as part of a phone or a living room TV set.

This was supposed to be the year of the wearable computer, and that’s going kinda slowly. Pebble updated its cool smart watch, which is now smaller, heavier (but still okay), and comes with twice the memory (4MB up to 8MB). For details about this Bluetooth device, and a taste of other wearable devices from the same company, be sure to read a very helpful article on The Verge. Their article about Razer’s Nabu wristband is also interesting, perhaps more as a trend report than a piece about something you’ll be buying this summer; ditto for the backgrounder about Nuance, which is bringing Siri-like technology to wristbands another small devices.

Sony A5000Happily, Sony is beginning to regain some of its juice. The image that tops this article is a fun piece about Sony’s CES presentation using 4K technology and a fair amount of hands-on creativity. The company will introduce a new short-throw HDTV projector this summer that will allow, for example, useful projection onto tabletops (though what I really want is the touch-screen desktop surface used on Hawaii Five-O). Sony’s still cameras (which shoot video, of course) are becoming more and more impressive—and smaller. New to the line is the A5000, but if you haven’t checked out the RX-100, I encourage you to do. It’s my favorite camera (right now, anyway).

Lots of heat re: 3D printing, which is increasingly ready for prime time. Once again, The Verge does a superior job in explaining what this technology is all about, what happened at CES, and why this may become important to you in 2014. For example:

Unsurprisingly, everyone at the CES 3D printer zone thinks that consumer-level 3D printing is on the cusp of something big. “It’s just kind of a whole ecosystem that has to be built up, and it’s kind of slowly growing out,” says Abdullah. “I don’t think we’ve hit that tipping point obviously, but I think that we will get there soon.” Chang describes 2014 as “like the year when the Apple II came out.”

Yes, TV sets will become that much larger, and digital cameras will become that much smaller. More of us will be wearing digital wristbands of some sort, no doubt communicating with one another or with some super server as we track what we eat or where we go or how thoroughly we exercise. Somehow, with each passing miracle, these seem to be less newsworthy. And yet, it’s fun to see what the latest Jawbone portable Bluetooth loudspeaker can do, or how successfully Beats is invading popular culture (now with its own music service). So we are we not all completely crazy about the potential of 3D printing or wall-sized video projections? Because we’ve got a 5MP phone in one pocket and a tablet that’s much smarter than most of NASA’s old school gear in the hand that used to tote around a MacBook Pro but doesn’t anymore because that’s just too heavy or too much of a pain to connect using the smart phone’s portable internet hub. We’ve become so sophisticated, everything exciting seems commonplace, or predictable.

Me, I think I preferred the naiveté and twice-annual festival of wonder.

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Surface Is Resurfacing

You may recall Microsoft’s Surface–kinda looks like an iPad, but it’s a real Windows 8 computer in a very thin portable package. As an iPad user, I am jealous of the Surface’s nicely designed flat keyboard, and the way it’s built into the iPad-like front cover of the device.  I like the way Windows 8 looks, but the story fell apart for me when I realized that so much of Windows 8 is, sadly, a lot like Windows 7, which was too much like earlier versions of Windows for me to switch back to the Microsoft side.

Surface2-ProWell, it may be time to reconsider. The new Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro are coming, There’s a new metallic look that brings the device into the iPad category, at least in terms of the way it looks and feels. Think in terms of a MacBook Air when you consider that the SSD drive (the solid state drive) can be upgraded to 500 GB, and the Haswell (same as Air) processor is fast, efficient, and gentle on battery life. It costs nearly a thousand dollars ($899, and that’s not fully loaded)–seems a bit high to me–but it comes with some free cloud storage, and a free year of international Skype calling, which may turn this into a terrific deal for some users. (The ordinary Surface 2 has lesser specs and costs about half as much, still quite a bargain for someone who adores Windows 8, full computer functionality and an iPad-style form factor).

The “Touch Cover” is much improved, too, with many more sensors for an experience that feels both more reliable and more like a true computer keyboard. Given the price of the whole device, I think the cover should be part of the package, and not a $100+ add-on. At perhaps twice the price (price not yet announced), here’s something very cool: a Power Cover–that is, a Touch Cover with a built-in battery supply that you can use to nearly double the computer’s own battery supply. Very nifty idea.

And, there’s a dock with a USB 3.0 jack, and so on. Gee, I wish there was something just like that for an iPad–sometimes! At other times, I find myself quite happy with the well-designed, deeply limited range of options for the iPad. It does what it does, it does the job about 98% of the time, and it’s both reliable and easy. When I see a Windows computer anywhere nearby, “easy” is rarely a word that comes to mind, but I’m the first to admit that, after decades of life as an Apple guy, I may not be seeing things clearly.

If you’d like to know more about the new Surface products–the Surface 2 and the Surface Pro 2, try these stories:

Tech Crunch: Meet Microsoft’s Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro

The Verge:  Hands-on with Microsoft’s New Tablet Powerhouse

PC Magazine: Microsoft Surface 2 vs. iPad Showdown

USA Today: Microsoft’s Surface Pro 2: So Right But So Wrong

 

Google Glass: “technology closer to your senses”

Google Glass

You’re looking at a new invention that may revolutionize our interaction with digital devices.

Connecting devices to the body, or, at least, wrapping devices around parts of the body, will be the next big thing. Apple is developing a watch that cuffs the wrist and provides information via a curved glass display. Google is going further.

A wonderful story published in The Verge provides lots of interesting insight, for this is not simply a product concept, but a potential shift in the ways that we think about interaction between humans and between humans and machines. Here’s an excerpt:

Human beings have developed a new problem since the advent of the iPhone and the following mobile revolution: no one is paying attention to anything they’re actually doing. Everyone seems to be looking down at something or through something. Those perfect moments watching your favorite band play or your kid’s recital are either being captured via the lens of a device that sits between you and the actual experience, or being interrupted by constant notifications. Pings from the outside world, breaking into what used to be whole, personal moments.

Steve goes on. “We wondered, what if we brought technology closer to your senses? Would that allow you to more quickly get information and connect with other people but do so in a way — with a design — that gets out of your way when you’re not interacting with technology? That’s sort of what led us to Glass.” I can’t stop looking at the lens above his right eye. “It’s a new wearable technology. It’s a very ambitious way to tackle this problem, but that’s really sort of the underpinning of why we worked on Glass.”

I encourage you to go to The Verge report, watch the video (which is on the page), and start thinking differently about a future that may arrive as soon as 2014.

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?

    MOCET

    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.
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