Seasoned visitors to the Consumer Electronics Show, America's largest tech trade fair, know that the underlying theme of the annual extravaganza in Las Vegas is the
unveiling of shiny new gadgets - most of which will flop but a few of which will change our world.
Tech pundits are paid to prognosticate about such things on a more granular level. And so with the tech-fest to open Tuesday in the gaudy gambling capital, they have been busy analyzing the meaning of all the new products that companies are set to unveil.
Shawn Dubravac, the chief economist of the show organizer, the Consumer Electronics Association, says the most significant trend to watch out for is the "post smartphone era.
By this he means that smartphones will increasingly function as mobile computers most often used to interface services rather than merely communicate with other people.
"Today 65 percent of the time we spend on mobile phones is not communications," he said in a preview presentation. "Even adding in e-mail, texting, and so on, smartphones are no longer about communication."
Rather, the ubiquitous handheld devices are "the viewfinder of your digital life." And as they increasingly integrate with the spread of tiny sensors into every day objects, they will transform into hubs for gathering and processing data - from monitoring blood pressure to recommending the best commute times.
This progression presents a formidable challenge to the traditional PC market which will see sales continue to plummet as users gravitate ever more strongly to reliance on mobile phones and tablets. These saw global sales growth of 38 per cent and 60 percent respectively in 2012. And in 2013 tablet sales are expected to climb 25 percent while smartphone sales will grow 22 percent, even as sales of all types of PCs continue to fall.
Technology is also poised to make big changes in two of the largest devices people use on a daily basis - television and cars.
Both Toyota and Audi are expected to highlight self-driving cars at the show. But while such technology is still a decade or so from mainstream use, the development of cars into personalized digital vehicles is well advanced.
"Cars are becoming rolling computers," said Tom Coughlin, a consumer electronics consultant. Not only are they more technologically advanced, with richer sensors, better data and more advanced electronics, but they're also working more closely to tie in with the existing gadgets that consumers are already carrying. "Cars are a mobile application platform; let's start configuring them in the way I want them to be."
Televisions are also ripe for a makeover - and not just through ever-larger screens with constantly higher definition. Tech companies have for years been trying to come up with the device that will revolutionize TVs in the same way that the iPhone changed mobile communications, so far with limited success.
Samsung promises that this year will be different, with a new product that represents "a true innovation of TV design (and) an unprecedented new TV shape."
What's really needed however is a television that can break out of the antiquated menus and remote controls of the cable TV era, and combine the big screen experience with the ease and variety of web navigation. Apple and Google have been working on such projects for years, but neither of those companies are participating at CES. That leaves Samsung a huge opportunity to grab the limelight and stake a claim for the TV of the future.
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