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A peek into the future: Super-smart devices that blend into your life seamlessly


By David Newton on January 20, 2012

LAS VEGAS — Cyber-technologists have long anticipated an era when individuals manage every aspect of their information through user-friendly, interactive “lifestyle” devices that merge seamlessly into our everyday lives.

The 2012 Consumer Electronics Show made a strong case that such an era is upon us, if not already in place. My takeaway from three days in Las Vegas was that all sorts of contacts and records — commercial-financial, medical, educational, personal, leisure-entertainment — are now being interconnected not via traditional computer hard drives, but through a new generation of much easier to use smart interfaces.

The 2 million-plus square feet of exhibit space at the convention center were dominated by connectivity for cars, tablets, phones, gaming and many new (competing) definitions of “television.”  Tablets and phones are turning into each other, and will no doubt merge into one device very shortly, as the coolest phones now look like mini-tablets, and the top tablets will soon offer phone and texting capabilities.

Cell phone maker Nokia is very much back with its amazing Lumina 900 phone and mini-tablet and will absolutely give Android and iPhone a huge challenge for customers.
The iPad now gets a run from the likes of the Asus MeMo 370, Sony S and Samsung Galazy. And don’t overlook Barnes & Noble’s latest Nook and Amazon’s Kindle Fire reading devices.

While Sony, Nikon, Fuji, Canon and Olympus battle in the high-definition camera market, tablet-like phones and phone-like tablets are already offering or are set to offer 10- and 12-megapixel photo and video functions that further blend product functionalities.

A typical person’s day was chronicled in the booth-by-booth sequence of exhibits that moved from getting ready and out in the morning, through the work day, back home in the evening, and then set for the weekend.

Everything is all about the experience — the speed, the sound, the visual images and instant-connection to one’s social circles.

Video and graphics for movies, television and gaming have been greatly enhanced with the new high-definition crystal clear organic light-emitting diode, or OLED, flat-screens from LG and Samsung.

The basic models are 55 inches, but 80-inch models are coming soon, and the 3D environment is incredibly better than just two to three years ago, with truly eye-popping high-resolution effects and super-lightweight glasses (the heavy, battery-powered headgear is so passé).

Computers and “computing” have arguably devolved to nothing more than generic appliances and “software” has been replaced with what I often refer to as the 4 i’s: intuitive, interactive, immediate and interfacing.

So the new moniker for electronic devices is “super-smart.” Because products no longer have operating manuals and require no training, they work intuitively right out of the box. And they “learn” about us as we use them, while keeping us connected to our colleagues, friends and family.

Research In Motion (maker of BlackBerry phones) debuted its new QNX mobile apps, which turn cars into digital hubs of Bluetooth-enabled news, Web and phone-contacts-scheduling audio-video functions in surround sound. It’ll be so busy in the driver’s seat, I wonder how anyone could pay attention to road. In that same space, check out GM’s next generation OnStar, bringing cloud-based streaming technologies (see CUE infotainment) to its Cadillac and Chevy high-end vehicles.

Perhaps my favorite innovation at CES is the new SmartCard from Dynamics, where a standard plastic bankcard now contains small buttons on the outside, and a computer on the inside, that lets users choose between checking, savings or credit payment, and then re-writes that account onto the black magnetic strip right at point-of-purchase.

And for added security, if it’s lost or stolen, the final four digits of the 16-digit account have to be entered by the user into small LCD touch panels in line with the standard embossed (raised) numbers; otherwise, the card won’t work. Very cool, amazingly functional.

In the 2005 book “The Broadband Explosion,” authors Stephen P. Bradley and Robert D. Austin envisioned daily, real-time rich media for the masses that would transform the meaning of value-added connectivity. The best of the CES innovators proved that we’re well on our way to that reality.

• David Newton is a professor of business and entrepreneurship at Westmont College in Santa Barbara. He covered CES for the Business Times in Las Vegas.