Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer delivers a keynote address at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. (AFP)
THE past two years have seen the most intensive period of evolution and revolution in the history of consumer technology.
Smartphones with capabilities undreamed of a few years ago, the rise of the tablet and the intrusion of dazzling high-tech into everyday products like cars and TV sets are fodder for the geeks, but tend to leave the average consumer baffled.
The signs are that 2013 will see the pace of gadget advance accelerating.
Market-leading innovations of the past two years from companies like Apple and Google are becoming standard elements across all gadgetry, and the examples set by such companies are spurring competitors on to rediscovering their own instincts for innovation.
The impossibility of keeping up with the constant quest for the new is encapsulated by the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. The 2013 edition, which kicks off on Tuesday, will feature 3 000 exhibitors – the most in the event’s 45-year history.
This means a high proportion of the world’s new gadgetry for 2013 will first be unveiled, demonstrated or announced at CES.
As a result, CES will provide a roadmap for much of the high-tech advances this year – even those that will not officially appear at the show. The loudest voice in consumer technology for the past two years, Apple, will not be officially heard at CES.
Yet, it will be a major presence: more than 500 exhibitors will showcase products and accessories related to the iPad, iPhone, iPod and Mac computers.
So significant is the combined “i-“ presence, CES has for the past three years created an iLounge Pavilion to consolidate this power.
That allows us to make one very obvious prediction for 2013: we will see an explosion of Apple-related products to join the dots between the company’s devices and extend their capabilities into all spheres of life.
The 120 000 square feet commanded by the iLounge is almost matched by 100 000 square feet that will be occupied by auto makers.
But here a mere eight manufacturers will be filling that space. In an unprecedented show of in-car technology vision, CES will host Audi, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Ford, Hyundai, Kia, Lexus and Subaru.
Others, like Volvo, will share space with traditional technology companies. Its partnership with Ericsson will usher in a “cloud-based infotainment system”, meaning that entertainment and interactive content will be accessed from the internet while a car is on the move.
They’re playing catch-up with Ford, which has used CES for several years to preview the technology planned for ordinary cars.
Six years ago, it demonstrated Ford Sync, which uses Microsoft Auto software to integrate mobile phone and voice commands into a car’s electronics. Today, that technology is standard in the Ford Focus on sale in South Africa.
In the coming year, we can expect almost all new models of cars to incorporate at least a recognition of consumer technology.
Starting with basic USB ports and Bluetooth functionality as standard, eventually high-end options like upgradable navigation and collision avoidance systems will also be built in. For now, the latter is available, but at a price.
CES as a vision of the future comes into its own in showcasing new TV technology. Even as software makers like Microsoft retreat from CES, the world’s three leading TV manufacturers, Samsung, LG and Sony, along with Toshiba, Sharp and Panasonic, make sure their presence is bigger and better every year.
Sony, battling to regain both profitability and market share, will push its technology leadership in ultra high-definition TV (UHDTV).
It will show how the new 4K display technology – named for the fourfold multiple of the number of pixels found in HD’s 1080p screens – has applications in both the consumer and professional arenas. Samsung, meanwhile, has hinted it will introduce a new shape TV at CES.
It doesn’t mean we will see 4K or new shapes becoming standard in TVs this year but, as the high end moves ever onward, the low end tends to get cheaper.
That pricing message is also the mantra for tablets from dozens of manufacturers, as well as for the Ultrabook standard that Intel and its partners will push hard at CES.
The bottom line is just that: the new roadmap for hi-tech will be as much about price as it will be about technology.
* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget. Follow him on Twitter or Pinterest on @art2gee.
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