Next week we'll see the annual explosion of new technology at the Consumer Electronics Show, the gadget-lovers orgy in Las Vegas. By parsing the many products, one can get a sense of not only what the new tech is capable of, but where it is taking us throughout the rest of this year.
We've long known it's a smartphone world, and the amazing number of app downloads at Christmas just proves we're all swapping from dumb phones right about now. That is to say, everything, including the kitchen, looks smart this year.
Perhaps the most obvious smart tech revolution will be the smart, or Net-connected TV. It's been slowly building over the years but it looks like "smart" will be this year's "3-D" for TV makers. Samsung has a bunch of smart TVs of all types to unveil, along with a promised refresh of its "Smart TV" smart ...er...TV platform. It's even going so far as to release a hardware plug-in that can turn 2012's Sammy TVs into almost as smart equivalents of 2013's cache.
LG's joining in with its own range of smart TVs, with a delightful choice of the failed smartphone OS webOS to power them. That will pique the interest of many geeky types who preferred it over Apple's iOS...and also hints at the possibilities of a proper app platform for LG's units.
But we can also expect a slew of smart cars (including advances in Ford's Sync system, and inevitable iPads as dashboards), smart washing machines from LG and smart home tech such as Lowe's Iris home hub.
Conclusion: Good luck *not* buying something smart this year.
Google Glass may be the wearable computing project we've all heard about, but Google's not going to be ready to sell it for ages yet. So augmented reality goggle company Vuzix has stepped in to fill the void and will be showing its M100 Android-powered AR headset at the CES show. Like a Bluetooth headset on steroids, the M100 even sounds like it could surpass the seemingly cautious approach Google's taking, and since it runs Android the thing may even have apps written for it.
Xsens has long been teasing that at CES it'll be releasing a wearable 3-D body tracking tech based on the same kind of sensors in your smartphone. Less expensive than the tech that brought us the CGI wonders of Gollum, more portable than standing in front of a Kinect, the possibilities of this sort of tech haven't even been explored yet—but you can bet they include gaming and health applications.
The Pebble smartwatch, a much-delayed but highly successful Kickstarter project, is also showing at CES. It's just one of a bunch of smart watches hitting the scene in 2013—largely as smartphone companions. But Pebble and some of its peers are jammed with sensors and can run apps—so they themselves could even fall into the "Smart" category above.
There's also tech like Misfit Wearables' smart fitness tracking devices, which will be shown at CES and be available in 2013. Add in a bunch of tiny (sort-of-wearable, especially if you're a kid of over-cautious parents) Bluetooth tracking dongles and you've got a trend—especially when you learn that there's a lot of rumory fuss about Apple getting into the smart-watch game this year.
Conclusion: You'll never leave home without much of your 2013 tech, because you'll be wearing it.
Invisible tech is becoming a real thing, in all sorts of ways. This includes "invisible" user interfaces, like Apple's Nuance-powered Siri digital assistant...and this an advance that is now expanding onto smart TVs as LG's Nuance-powered remote showed at last year's CES.
PrimeSense (the tech brains behind Microsoft's Kinect) is a company that's already working on this gesture-interface innovation, and as well as TV tech they'll also likely be showing at CES a 3-D sensor small enough to fit into smartphones. Tobii is also hot CES news for its Rex eye tracking system—a dongle that can turn any Windows 8 machine into an eye-controlled device, practically rendering your mouse pointless and the interface invisible.
Invisible in a different way, ClearView Audio is expected to finally demonstrate its invisible speaker tech at CES—utilizing a clever piezoelectric driver that turns a glass sheet into an audio output for your hi-fi or TV. And even Samsung is teasing that it's got some sort of invisible TV to show at CES...perhaps hinting at a transparent HD display that will revolutionize TV or advertising or other interfaces like those public service computers you find at the better shopping malls.
Conclusion: Invisible is in, from speakers to screens to computer user interfaces that give new meaning to getting out of your way.
If a device shown at CES isn't in some way invisible, then you can be confident it will be at least described as thin. For starters, a flexible Samsung display may be one show highlight—tempting us with hints of bendy, super-thin smartphones or tablets of the near future.
LG is really biting the thin bullet, and is showing a 55-inch TV that's almost impossibly thin. That's because it uses OLED tech for its display, pushing its price up to $10,000...though you do get a 4K resolution (four times HDTV) for the price. Thin TVs are going to come from other manufacturers, though, as it's been an industry trend for several years. As a bonus, they'll also come with almost invisible bezels, so the screen will look like it's floating in your home.
Then there's the thin smartphone craze. While Apple touted its iPhone 5 as being super-svelte at 7.6mm thin, ZTE is also aiming at having the world's thinnest smartphone with its Nubia Z5 (7.6mm too)—and we may expect a Z5 sibling to go on show at CES. Samsung's Galaxy S4 may get a reveal too, and you can bet that it'll be skinnier than its S3 predecessor.
Elsewhere Nokia's thinner lighter Lumia 920 successor will be made of aluminum (wonder where they got that idea?) and the Ultrabook craze will ramble on, with an endless stream of skinny laptops that run Windows unlike the thin Apple MacBook Air they're chasing after.
Conclusion: The thin edge of the wedge is here for tech. Everything from your phone to your computer to your non-DLSR changeable lens camera is going to be skinny.
[Image: Flickr user Evan Leeson]