Photo: Britta Pederson, Associated Press
At the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, there will be a sea of new devices and gizmos jostling for our attention. Many of them are simply the latest iteration of established technologies, but other newcomers represent emerging trends that are likely to influence entire categories of products—and even help forge new categories.
Some of the things I will be paying special attention to include announcements related to 4K televisions. The increasing availability of 4K content for these TVs (thanks in part to the creation of compression technology that allows such high-resolution video to be transmitted via broadband Internet connections) is helping to stoke demand. In turn, this is driving costs down. Consequently, 4K televisions are beginning to enter the mainstream.
However, the “full scale” 4K experience—with, for example, higher-quality audio to accompany the jump in picture resolution—will likely only be available in high-end products subject to hefty pricing premiums. For the technically inclined, it looks like it will be more cost effective to assemble one’s own system from separate components, such as a 4K display and a 3rd party audio system, at least for now. And I’ll also be looking to see how 8K televisions are edging towards their turn on stage.
The progress in OLED TVs will also be something to watch closely. Last year saw the first curved OLED televisions—progress in such conformable screens could lead to the days when virtually any surface could be host to a display.
Staying on displays, virtual reality systems are of increasing interest, and as the world still awaits the release of a consumer version of VR Oculus’s Rift, I expect to see competitors at CES looking to steal a march on Oculus. VR Oculus may have pre-empted some challengers with its partnership with Samsung to create the entry-level Gear VR headset, which uses a Galaxy Note 4 in place of the Rift’s custom-built display, but how the various systems look and feel in practice will be important to experience.
Wearable computing will have a big presence, although one still firmly rooted in the technology’s origins in the health and fitness market. It remains to be seen if devices such as activity trackers can really make a positive impact on the health of wearers, and the ultimate solution may not lie in the tracker’s hardware, but in how well the accompanying software successfully motivates people to change for the better. So CES watchers should be on the look out for clever programming that can really leverage sensor data to induce healthier behavior.
In smartphones, some of the most interesting developments may be found not in the phones themselves, but in the accessories on offer. Traditionally, accessories are generally classed as just bling, but increasingly accessories are providing vital additional functionality. For example, phone cases with built-in batteries are already essential for getting through the day if you are using any power-hungry apps. Accessories which offer completely new capabilities will be worth keeping tabs on: in an organic version of the modular vision of Google’s Project Ara, the smartphone is becoming just the central processer around which users can customize their own mobile hardware.
Related to both smart phones and wearable computing is the Internet of Things, a sensor-rich, constantly connected constellation of devices. The basic technology has been available for a few years, so what will be of interest are new applications—one thing that I’ve been surprised not to see at previous CES’s are games that rely on Internet of Things technologies, so this may be the year.
The downside of the Internet of Things is that it could leak a lot of personal data about users. Products that can demonstrate that they can successfully aggregate and anonymize data may find an edge with consumers buffeted by a string of very public hacks on supposedly private and secured data.
Looking even further ahead, CES is followed by a partner IEEE event, the 2015 International Conference on Consumer Electronics organized by the IEEE Consumer Electronics Society. The ICCE Conference aims to give a view of the future of consumer electronics 5 years from now or later. The 2015 conference theme is “The Future of HealthCare.” In addition to conference sessions covering future technologies to keep us well, and prolong our ability to be productive members of society, there will be a number of sessions on a number of other technology topics, as well as the second occurrence of a special IEEE Future Directions Convergence Event.
The IEEE Future Directions Convergence session on January 9, 2015 will focus on how Big Data will affect consumers. Included on this special session are Charles Despins, President and CEO of Prompt, Inc, a Canadian university-industry R&E consortium focusing on information and communications technology; Steven Collier, Director of Smart Grid Strategies at Milsoft Utility Solutions; Ling Liu, Professor in the College of Computing at Georgia Institute of Technology, focusing on research on distributed data intensive systems; William Tonti, formerly at IBM and currently Director of IEEE Future Directions; May Wang, Associate Professor in the Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering, School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Winship Institute, focusing on biomedical big data analytics and Kathy Grise, IEEE Future Directions Program Director.
Also at the ICCE conference there will be a special session on the Internet of Things as well as a keynote talk by Shuji Nakamura, a winner of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics for the invention of the blue laser, an important device in many consumer products. Other ICCE sessions will talk about next-generation compression technology for transporting high-resolution video content, advanced acoustics for home entertainment, image enhancement and processing, as well as energy management and mobile power. The IEEE Masaru Ibuka award will be presented to a man who has had a front row seat to some of the biggest changes in consumer technology: Martin Cooper—who made the first ever cell phone call in 1973 as a vice president at Motorola.
About the Author
Tom Coughlin is a senior member of the IEEE and the President of market and analysis firm Coughlin Associates. Along with many publications and several patents, he has been a leader in many technology organizations, including the IEEE and the Storage Networking Industry Association.