Consumers and tech

5 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

A showcase for what the tech future holds.

In less than 12 hours, the annual Consumer Electronics Show will finally kick off in Las Vegas, and it promises to showcase the most exciting technologies that we’ll see this year. The 46-year-old show is one of the biggest technology events on the planet and is home to a wild selection of electronics from the weird and quirky to the slick and sublime. The advancements include better integrated and more fashionable wearable devices; cheaper 3-D printers and ultra-high-definition televisions; upgraded phablets (phone-tablet hybrids); new uses for virtual reality; and self-driving cars that will seamlessly connect with your smartphone. * The so-called internet of things is the buzzword of the moment as tech developers scramble to connect nearly every household and lifestyle item. Inside a private room on the fringes of the event, hidden away from the crowds, a prototype of its Oculus Rift virtual reality headset wowed its with immersive 3D representations of demonic dungeons and Star Wars-style space battles.

But the challenge facing developers is making that information useful, and the CES is increasingly seeing inventions related to digital “coaches” and ways to improve health or fitness, or get better information about our cars or appliances, said Shawn DuBravac, chief economist at the Consumer Electronics Association in his outlook for the show. Its ascent from the back rooms to the main stage of the technology world culminated in March’s $2 billion acquisition by Facebook. “There’s been a huge amount of dollars invested in what’s next that goes on your head,” said Jay Wright, vice-president of product management for connected experiences at Qualcomm, the chipmaker, who leads Vuforia, the company’s platform for “digital eyewear”. “It’s not just that people believe this has the potential to disrupt the smartphone,” he added. “It has the potential to disrupt anything with a screen.” CES this year is expected to see the technology move from prototypes towards finished consumer product, with backing from the likes of Samsung, Sony and Intel. Some of the new devices on display at a preview Sunday included apps to monitor and improve the quality of sleep, a connected baby bottle to measure infant nutrition intake, and sensors that analyse one’s golf swing to compare it to that of the pros.

They will all be searching for a “killer app” that takes virtual reality beyond its early foothold in video gaming and makes the unwieldy-looking headsets appeal to a wider audience. “The emotional experience of communicating in VR is going to be really powerful,” said Eric Romo, chief executive of Altspace VR. These new technologies “continue the trend of deploying the Internet in a personal way,” DuBravac said. “Nothing gets more personal than wearables.” “We are taking the Internet to new places, to your wrist. As the devices become more mainstream, developers know wearables have to be as fashionable as they are functional, and many companies have taken steps to make them more attractive.

At CES, the start-up will be demonstrating its virtual spaces where friends can feel as if they are chatting together in the same “room”, even if they are on different sides of the country. Apple Inc., which will not be exhibiting at CES, helped kick off that trend when it introduced the Apple Watch in September; the device has been touted as not just a high-tech watch but also one that trendy consumers feel comfortable wearing with a sharp business suit or out for a night on the town. Jaunt, which raised $28 million in funding in August from backers including British Sky Broadcasting, has released VR apps ranging from an onstage view of a Paul McCartney concert to a walk around the Shire with Gandalf and Bilbo Baggins from ‘The Hobbit’. “It’s a really different experience to watching it on the screen,” said Jens Christensen, Jaunt’s chief executive. “When you put on the headset and the headphones, you feel like you are right there next to [McCartney’s] piano.” Not everyone is so excited by VR’s near-term prospects. Fred Wilson, a prominent venture capitalist and an early investor in Twitter and Tumblr, predicted in a blog post that VR “will hit some headwinds” as Oculus and its rivals “underwhelm”. “The virtual reality will eventually catch up to the virtual hype, but not in 2015,” he said.

OLEDs had been for long touted as the true successors of ‘Plasma TVs’ but they are difficult and expensive to produce and there are question marks over the longevity of OLED panels. While Oculus-style headsets immerse the wearer completely in a virtual environment, augmented reality glasses, such as Google Glass, overlay digital graphics and information on top of the real world. Researchers say some will suffer from “social jetlag,” as irregular holiday sleep patterns and post-festivities blues throw off their internal clocks and increase fatigue.

Paul Madsen, an executive at Ping Identity Corp., said that passwords are no longer enough, and that companies at CES will be capitalising on this with new devices used for authentication. “Where we’re headed is a much more passive and seamless authentication model where the explicit login becomes less common,” he said. While the company is seen as unlikely to release a consumer product this year others, including Epson and Osterhout Design Group, are unveiling “smart glasses” that boast high-fidelity digital graphics.

The market is being driven by strong demand for new products like tablets and smartphones in emerging economies in Asia, and by modest economic growth in North America. Virtual reality gear has been the show-stopper for the last couple of CES events, but this year it is set to make the big jump from proof-of-concept to consumer hardware. Sales of desktop 3-D printers are projected to reach 67,000 units in 2014, netting $76 million in revenue, an increase of 43 per cent over 2013. “3-D printers are moving toward more compact units that are more suitable for consumers and capable of printing a variety of consumer goods, from toys and electronics to clothing, shoes and even food,” said Karen Chupka, senior vice-president of International CES. The products began as devices aimed at military applications but are now broadening out into other industrial applications, such as providing hands-free instructions or messages for people working in hazardous environments. The picture is clouded by economic stagnation in the eurozone and Japan and “weak expectations” in big emerging economies such as Brazil, Koenig explained.

She foresees 3-D printers as a “major disrupter in the global economy.” Artyom Yukhin, CEO of 3-D scanning company Artec Group, says the technology won’t gain mass appeal in 2015 but predicts consumers will be hearing a lot more about it and will become more comfortable with the idea. ODG will unveil its first consumer smart glasses, likely to cost less than $1,000, featuring high-definition stereoscopic displays and a 5 megapixel camera all running on Google’s Android operating system. The association predicted a drop in tech spending of 5% in Europe and Latin America, and it remains unclear whether the rest of the world will pick up the slack.

The Facebook CEO vowed to shift his media consumption toward books and complete one every two weeks, inviting Facebook users to read along and discuss with him. The latest appointees to the high Catholic church office hail from 14 different nations (Italian), as the pope continues to reshape the church hierarchy with an emphasis on developing countries. Technologists working in the VR industry don’t expect 2015 to bring about significant leaps in VR headsets, but they do expect growth in different use cases. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government said it believes Greece will adhere to the terms of its European Union and IMF bailout after a Jan. 25 election.

Apple’s HomeKit and Google’s “Works With Nest” are technologies that are designed to help your smart appliances interact with each other using your smartphone as a hub. Matthew Phillips on the socioeconomic-based appeal of the Downton Abbey television series: “Over and over, the series emphasizes the duty felt by members of nobility to provide jobs.

For instance in season one, when Matthew Crawley—a middle-class professional from Manchester who stands to inherit the estate—suggests letting an un-needed butler go, Lord Grantham replies: ‘Is that quite fair? The smart car will see your car’s dashboard run either Google’s Android Auto or Apple’s CarPlay (yes it’s those two again) and pair intelligently with your phone to help you access music, contacts, maps, text messages and more. Please send any news, comments, social jetlag cures, suggestions for other categories of gullible dopes, and excellent American football team names to hi@qz.com.

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