Cultural learnings from CES 2014

Pebble Steel

10 January 2014

It was something of a Cinderella year for the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas as a number of emerging technologies graduated from novelty status to legitimate floor fillers. The inclusion of new categories at the event’s Innovation Awards for embedded technology, in-vehicle experience and 3D printing proved that technology is increasingly driven by mobile platforms, fashion and a do-it-yourself maker philosophy.

In-car technology traditionally came in three broad fields of interest: GPS, entertainment systems and wacky concept cars that won’t see production. This year has seen a number of developments at CES which exploded that myth. Mercedes-Benz’s integration of the Nest app-controlled thermostat and Audi’s 10.2″ Android-powered Smart Display hinted at a new space for mobile apps. The announcement of Google-led Open Automotive Alliance – whose stakeholders include Honda, GM, Audi, Nvidia and Hyundai – hinted at an industry-wide collaboration on better driver displays and *gasp* driverless cars.

The 4K Ultra HD standard was widely hailed at CES 2013 and largely ignored by consumers owing to five-figure pricing and lack of content. This year not only did every manufacturer seem to have a 4K set to show off, there was plenty of variation in form factor. Sony’s 4K TVs use a wedge design; LG unveiled a bendable offering and a smart platform running webOS (last seen HP’s TouchPad tablet); and Samsung got a short-lived celebrity endorsement for its curved screen from Michael Bay that lasted all of 30 seconds thanks to a teleprompter glitch.
Unlike the last two format wars where Blu-ray beat out HD DVD, and 1080p eventually overcome 720p and 1080i, there hasn’t been much debate over a 4K technical standard and the issue of content is being handled carefully. Netflix has confirmed plans to begin 4K streaming by the end of the year and Sony and Panasonic released 4K cameras that will retail at a reasonable $2,000.
Again, it will be a year too soon for 4K but as soon as the average set goes below $800 mass adoption is sure to follow.
There was also news on the streaming service front as Sony announced plans for a Netflix competitor. Intel, on the other hand, said it was looking to sell their Web TV offering, OnCue, to Verizon.

3D printing
I’ve been tracking the hype since 2008 when talk ranged about everything from model-making to houses. The big news from CES here is the new wave of Makerbot 3D printer. Since their CES debut Makerbot has sold 44,000 units and had over 48 million designs for printing downloaded from its Thingiverse design repository.
The latest Replicator Mini and Replicator Z18 will retail at $1,375 and $6,499 respectively, which still puts them out of the reach of most consumers, but they will hold appeal for schools and maker shops.

Wearable tech
It would said CES was dominated by wearable technology just because of the preponderance of smartwatches from brands big and small – including the Pebble, Metawatch, and Razer’s Nabu. Not to be confused with more fitness-oriented devices like the Misfit Shine, Jaybird Reign, LG’s Lifeband Touch and Garmin’s Vivofit will doubtless be gracing the floors of gyms everywhere as stat obsessives measure the effectiveness of their workouts.
More interesting tech for the fashion-conscious were cybernetic contact lenses with augmented reality, baby grows that monitor vital signs, heated trousers and a helmet for rescuers that vibrates in response to dangers in the environment. It’s a cheat to mention the new prototype of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset and Epson’s Moverio BT-200 smart glasses as neither will be troubling outdoor use but were nonetheless impressive.

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