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Op/ed: Running up a tab at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show


By Dave Newton on Jan. 18, 2013

LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Show me a flat space anywhere — home, office, car — and it’s yet another great place to put a tablet touch screen.

That’s the bottom line from the 2013 edition of the annual Consumer Electronics Show. The “tabs” are everywhere! Ten years ago, flat screens were gaining momentum. By 2007, the first tablets made early ripples even as the new touch-screen iPhone was redefining media communications with intuitive efficiency.  Just three years ago, the buzz was about the April 2010 release of the iPad. And now,

the tablet is viewed as an essential tool for communication.

In a sign of how deeply the concept has taken hold, industry experts were unanimous in predicting that in 2013, tablets will out-ship laptop/notebook computers worldwide. The once high-end tablet now comes in dozens of configurations and price ranges, for an ever-widening spectrum of the market.

The product offering range is extremely wide. From engineers and medical doctors, to warehouse managers and construction crews. From college faculty and students, to elementary school kids and retail sales. Sharp’s video promotion envisioned tabs in everything from kitchen appliances, bowls and tabletops, to bathroom mirrors and bedroom headboards. Video may have killed the radio star, but in this current Depeche Mode, consumers “Just can’t get enough.”

The intersection of smartphones and tablets (the “phablet”) got even more blurry — “Is it a tablet that makes calls, or a phone that plays movies?” — as manufacturers and consumers debate the 5” screen limit for single-hand calling functions (Sony’s Xperia-Z for Android is amazingly elegant at that limit) vs. the larger 6” hybrids (Huawei’s Windows-8). And the keyboards are either: a) built-in (iPhone, iPad), b) snap-on/click-in external keys (Windows Surface), or c) holographic keys that project out and function next to the device (Cube Laser).

Tactus showed off its new technology 3D keypad rising up from the tablet’s screen, with true “button” feel, not just an area on which to type. This opens wide the door for other raised 3D images to emerge from any tablet. Design engineers will feel the shapes of thousands of parts for manufacturing. Online shoppers will actually feel intricate design shapes of earrings, necklaces, bracelets, watches, rings, and other jewelry coming through the tablet.

But the wheel of innovation has not stopped turning.  Truly “paper-thin” concept tablets from PaperTab (introduced its ultra thin, bendable 11-inch tablet) and Plastics Logic (allows touch-screen displays to be wrapped around an arm, leg, wrist or waist for various health and medical apps.

They can also be wrapped around lamp posts, traffic poles and building columns to put interactive touch-media tablets virtually anywhere) are bringing the once future-concept flex computer screen (used by Val Kilmer in the 2000 film Red Planet) directly into everyday life. The applications for “flex-video” are limitless.

Want to go bigger? Lenovo’s 27-inch IdeaCenter is the horizontal touch-tablet for the coffee table (or kitchen counter), supporting four separate users simultaneously checking email, watching YouTube, doing online banking, and playing games. And Samsung’s SmartTV shares all kinds of entertainment on all these tabs throughout the home or office. And at the top end of displays, Samsung rolled out a 110-inch 4K ultra-HD super-thin screen rivaled only by Sony’s 84-inch 4K-OLED hybrid – bringing 8 million pixels of ultra-HD “eye-popping” viewing for TV, movies, and gaming. I was also very impressed by LG’s new curved ultra-HD screens, leading the mini-IMAX wrap-around effect for home entertainment, and a more rich video-teleconference for businesses.

And just for fun — game controls are now attached and fully integrated to tablets, so driving that racecar or bobsled can go with you anywhere, and the tablet detaches to clip in other gaming controls like ski pole handles, a B2 bomber pilot’s yoke, or two 6-shooters for taking on outlaws in the old west.

BlueTooth earbuds are now the standard in hi-res sound for gaming, phone calls, video and web apps without wires in the way.

For all Central Coast outdoor enthusiasts, there are smartphone and tablet mounts for the handlebars of scooters, bikes, and motorcycles (is that really a good idea?); lots of small-size big-sound speakers for tabs and smartphones to pump the volume on music and videos; a foldable solar-powered recharger to keep your mobile phone powered while you run, hike, walk, or hang out at the beach (from GoalZero); the Ooma broadband web-based hands-free speaker-pad home or business phone; and a battery-powered (9-hour) BlueTooth 360-degree speaker shaped like a sports-bottle that fits into all standard bottle holders for bikes.

So the new mantra for banking, gaming, TV, movies, design plans, spreadsheets, databases, cameras, investing, shopping, surveys, Skype, FaceTime and conference calls? “Hey, put it on my tab.” And guess what? Every manufacturer and service provider is doing just that.

• Dave Newton, a technology consultant who lives on the South Coast, has authored nine books and more than 180 articles on entrepreneurship.