Date:1 March 2012
January’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) – described by PM’s shell-shocked representative as “an entertaining madhouse” – is the most important event on the international tech calendar, featuring the hottest new products from hundreds of companies, large and small. This year’s show, the biggest in the event’s 44-year history, attracted 153 000 attendees from around the world and featured more than 3 100 exhibitors. Here are some of the 20 000-plus gadgets that caught our attention during one exhausting and fascinating week in Las Vegas.
Toshiba Regza 55X3
What comes after high definition? Really high definition? Highest definition? Well, technically, it’s just called 4K. Toshiba’s 55-inch Regza 55X3 (currently on the market in Japan) displays 3 840 x 2 160 pixels. That’s four times the resolution of a 1080p TV and an even greater level of clarity than a cinema’s digital projector provides. Since 4K content is scarce (for now), the Regza has another trick behind that big panel: it shows autostereoscopic 3D, with no glasses required. (But that’s plain old HD.)
ExoPC ExoDesk table
Released in 2008, Microsoft’s Surface touch table was the first of its kind – a beautiful, multi-touch glass wonder, ripped straight from the realm of sci-fi . It also cost as much as an inexpensive car. The ExoDesk, from the Canadian tablet firm ExoPC, projects a custom-designed touch interface across a desk for just R10 000, or about one-tenth of the Surface’s price.
Windows 8 tablet
Tablets inundated last year’s CES, flooding the show floor with about 100 unique products. (And yet, one year later, how many can you actually name?) Google’s Android has been the operating system of choice for non-Apple tablets so far, but now it’s Microsoft’s turn. Samsung teased a Windows 8 tablet last year. CES should finally give us some real hardware to look at.
Samsung Wi-Fi camera
This hockey puck-size surveillance camera doubles as a baby monitor – or is it the other way around? After syncing with a Wi-Fi network, it becomes instantly accessible from across your house or, with a smartphone app, from across the world. Two-way voice communication calms the nerves of jumpy parents. All other paranoid types will enjoy that it works as a motion sensor and can upload video evidence to a private YouTube account.
Ultrabooks are super-light, unbelievably thin, and – judging from the coming onslaught from the world’s biggest PC manufacturers – the inevitable future of laptops. CES organisers expected the introduction of 30 to 50 ultrabooks at the show this year (frankly, we did not have the energy to count them ourselves). For context, research firm NPD counted just 260 unique PC laptops on store shelves in 2011. This means that just about everyone – that is, HP, Asus, Lenovo and even Dell – will march down the path blazed by the MacBook Air.
Nvidia Tegra 3 chipset
If you’ve used any non-iPad tablet, there’s a pretty good chance it was based on the Tegra 2, a powerful system-on-a-chip from graphics-card company Nvidia. The Tegra 3 promises lower energy consumption, faster processing and consolequality game graphics.
Intel Ivy Bridge processors
Intel’s fi rst laptop chips to use the company’s brand-spankin’-new 22-nanometre manufacturing process, Ivy Bridge processors slash power use while offering a slight increase in processing capability, plus a huge boost in graphics performance. But forget about clock speed and graphics benchmarks – those are expected. It’s the promise of all-day laptop battery life that’s got us seriously excited about Ivy Bridge.
Qaulcomm Gobi 4000 wireless chip
4G wireless data is astoundingly fast but wreaks havoc on battery life. Qualcomm’s Gobi 4000 is a 4G wireless chip for smartphones and tablets that connects to broadband-speed 4G networks without a significant power penalty. Most of the biggest smartphone manufacturers, including Apple, already use Qualcomm wireless chips in their products. Apple doesn’t make a 4G iPhone – yet. We’ll find out if Apple goes there with a Gobi.
Nokia Kinetic concept
One of a few flexible devices emerging from research labs last year, Nokia’s Kinetic smartphone concept isn’t flexible just for the hell of it: bending the handset actually triggers actions onscreen. Twist one way to switch apps and the other to switch back, or bend the screen towards or away from your face to zoom in or out of an image.
Gracenote is one of those vaguely familiar company names. That’s because Gracenote’s music-recognition technology has been dutifully identifying CD track names in apps such as iTunes and Windows Media Player for years. Gracenote’s new automatic content-recognition (ACR) software for tablets, phones and TVs identifies shows and movies based on audio signatures, then serves up related information – Twitter feeds, IMDB entries, and, um, advertising – without any user input.
Lytro’s light-field camera captures the directionality of light, along with its intensity and colour. The photos it records, if you can really call them photos, can then be refocused after they’ve been shot. Lytro’s early demos felt like magic – its images seemed eerily alive. Now the company has fi nally released a camera for sale. This strikingly minimalist rectangular prism of a gadget will retail for R3 200 in the US. (We explained how it works in an earlier issue of PM; see “In Focus”, October 2011.)
Sphero is the first robotic ball that you control with a tilt, touch or swing from your smartphone or tablet, delivering a unique mixed-reality experience with single and multi-player games that let you engage in the virtual world and play in the real one. It’s weird, but we love it. (Interestingly, our brief demo was conducted by a young and enthusiastic guy from Durban.)
Brainchild of a clever bunch at a company called Orbotix, the device blends clever software with strong expertise in robotics. Their biggest challenge, say the designers, lay in devising a way to control a sphere – an object with no front or back, and with a very small point of surface contact. To achieve their goal, they combined proprietary internal robotics with specialised software that allowed for fluid directional control.
Sphero can be controlled using free apps on either iOS or Android devices, using Bluetooth. It even glows, for heaven’s sake; an LED array inside the orb can display thousands of colours. A simple gyroscope keeps the darkened half of the ball facing towards the ground, and the shadow of a fish’s tail appears at the “back”, so Sphero appears to be swimming wherever he’s going. (Oops…anthropomorphism alert!)
The apps controlling the toy communicate with it via Bluetooth. Right now, Sphero’s app offerings are slim: it launches with six, all of them free. However, the company has opened up its SDK to developers, so hopefully some innovative apps and hacks will show up soon. There are three speeds: “cautious”, “comfortable” and “crazy”, which is about one metre per second. Sadly, it’s not yet available outside the US.
See Sphero videos here: http://bit.ly/vgwomG
In essence, say its designers, PaPeRo (Partner-type Personal Robot) works as an interface between humans and IT equipment. Whatever: we like its cute face, its ability to recognise and respond to about 200 words, its clever face discrimination function (apparently it recognises up to 30 different mugs), and the fact that it smiles when you rub its tummy (hey, don’t we all?).
When it’s not chatting away or entertaining you with riddles, the robot will move around the room or indulge in a little dance routine, using built-in cameras and sensors to avoid bumping into people or furniture. Finally, when its batteries run down, it heads directly to the charging station and docks itself. Perfect.
Mrobo ultra bass
Tosy Robotics, a robotics and high-tech toys manufacturer based in Vietnam, managed to draw a big crowd at CES with a canny strategy: they invited teen sensation Justin Bieber to interact with mRobo Ultra Bass, a state-of-the-art portable speaker that doubles as a dancing robot (were you expecting an electric toothbrush?).
Featuring 2 GB of internal memory, mRobo allows you to upload about 500 songs into the device via a USB port and select which tracks to play using a remote. The music plays through an integrated speaker, with the ability to produce bass at 40 Hz. Once the music begins playing, mRobo instantly transforms itself into a humanoid robot, growing a head, legs and arms before grooving through a series of pre-programmed dance moves to virtually any genre of music. In speaker configuration, it stands just 20 cm tall, expanding to 45 cm when it transforms into a robot. This, claim its designers, makes it ideal for the party animal on the go. mRobo goes on sale in the US later this year at a price of R1 600.
Casio Bluetooth smart G-shock watch
Employing low-energy wireless technology (you know, Bluetooth), this watch has functions that will amaze you. For example, it sounds an alert to notify you of incoming calls, e-mails and text messages to your smartphone. You can stop your phone’s ring simply by tapping the watch, check the time in any of 100 cities worldwide, and set five independent daily alarms. Expect a battery life of two years even with heavy use of the communication function. Oh, and it tells the time.
Why would we become excited about a little robot cyclist that basically just pedals and stays upright? Because it represents the effective use of some very clever technology, that’s why (and also because we’re shameless geeks). Meet Murata Boy, an oddly named but strangely compelling robot that uses a gyro sensor under its seat to detect tiny movements that could upset its balance, then activates a rotating disc in its chest to generate a counteractive force. Murata Boy can ride forwards, backwards, uphill, around obstacles and come to a complete stop without losing its balance. That’s good enough for us.
Unlike stationary monitors, the iBaby camera lens follows your little one with a quick up/down, left/right swipe of your iPod touch, iPhone or iPad, or click of your PC mouse; the camera rotates or pivots to follow your baby’s movement. Enjoy peace of mind knowing that junior’s movement or cry will activate an alert to you, while 2-way audio capability carries your soothing voice when it’s needed most, wherever you happen to be. Infrared night vision lets you keep a watchful eye without disturbing baby’s sleep, and you can take unlimited pictures using your iOS device’s existing camera.
Up to 4 users in different locations can share a single iBaby monitor, so relatives and friends can simultaneously watch, hear, speak to and sing with baby during birthdays and other milestone events (such as first steps). Visit ibaby.com
Tagg pet tracker
Marketed by a Qualcomm company called Snaptracs, the Tagg pet tracking system uses advanced GPS tracking technology to locate your dog or cat and notify you if it wanders off. The lightweight tracker attaches to your pet’s existing collar, and is designed to be worn at all times, even while swimming (here we assume the manufacturer is thinking mainly of dogs). You pinpoint your pet’s whereabouts on the Tagg Map, then zoom in to determine its exact location on a computer or smartphone, using the Tagg mobile app. A modest monthly subscription is required.
Lenovo revealed a compelling line-up of new consumer laptops and desktops at CES, showcasing a variety of PCs to suit every computing need, style desire and palette preference (new colours include Electric Blue, Ruby Red and er… Peony Pink). Hot on the heels of the IdeaPad U300s launch, the company has expanded its ultrabook portfolio with the IdeaPad U310 and U410, two “ultra” laptops at attractive prices (remember, it’s all relative).
Powered by the Intel Core processor family, these thin and light high-performance laptops feature 64 GB SSD drives for caching data, and versions with up to 500 GB HDD storage. The U310 has a 13,3-inch HD 16:9 display featuring Intel GMA 3000 HD graphics, while the U410 features Nvidia GeForce 610M 1GB graphics. Both models feature fast boot times and quick resume from sleep using to Lenovo’s Windows 7 “Enhanced Experience” tuning. The Smart Update function automatically updates mailbox, instant messaging and social media messages even while in sleep mode. And you get up to eight of hours of battery life.
Mobile conquers the world
There’s no arguing with the numbers: mobile has become the largest technology platform in history, with R10 trillion in global wireless revenues and 1 million apps already on the market. Its importance was underlined at this year’s CES in Las Vegas, where Qualcomm chairman and CEO Paul Jacobs revealed in a keynote speech that the average mobile user looked at his or her device 150 times a day. Yes, that’s you…
Not too long ago, a major American tech company described itself with a slightly rueful line: “Qualcomm is the biggest wireless company you’ve never heard of.” It had a point: although the name was familiar and respected in the wireless coms and IT industries, the average consumer neither knew nor cared that wireless phone calls and wireless Internet connections made just about anywhere in the world, regardless of the type of handset, notebook or network carrier, were likely to use technology licensed or purchased from Qualcomm.
That’s clearly about to change. Already recognised as the driving force behind the growth of the global wireless industry, Qualcomm has emerged as the undisputed leader in patents and other intellectual property that provide its technological underpinning. That goes for existing 3G (third-generation) technology that supports wireless Internet data and voice transmissions around the world, and for next-generation (4G) technology, which delivers an enhanced and seamless user experience.
This year, more people around the world will access the Internet using mobile devices than from their personal computers, and here’s the thing: the next billion wireless users will come from emerging markets. In 2010, says Qualcomm, the new smartbook device category will join smartphones as a new, game-changing consumer electronics breakthrough. These always-on, always-connected devices are driven by the company’s fast and powerefficient Snapdragon processor, which is capable of performing at 1 GHz speeds, putting mobile devices on par with desktop computers.
Smartbooks are faster than most existing netbooks and provide a dramatically higher quality multimedia and Internet browsing experience with which to access applications and data residing on Internet servers – aka cloud computing. They are also equipped with built-in GPS for locationbased services and highly personalised productivity applications. And they’re designed to last all day on a single charge.
In another development, Qualcomm Atheros has introduced its first generation of Wi-Fi Display-enabled peer-to-peer connectivity solutions. These will serve as the foundation for a new generation of interoperable consumer electronics that allow users to easily share content from device to device without the need for an Internet connection, network or access point.
Wi-Fi Display is an industry standard devised by members of the Wi-Fi Alliance that enables sharing of the screen image or audio content of one device simultaneously on another nearby device, including simple and secure device discovery and pairing. For example, the Web page appearing on a computer screen can be shared on the screen of a nearby enabled TV. A typical use case could enable content on one smartphone screen to be shared with a nearby media tablet.
The company’s Snapdragon processors are also set to power the next wave of smart TVs, bringing full Web browsing capabilities to television, including integrated Wi-Fi connectivity, high-performance graphics and the latest Android apps and console-quality gaming experiences. A Snapdragonpowered smart TV by Lenovo is the first to run on the Android 4.0 operating system, delivering seamless realtime Internet video, multi-player online gaming and local content to the television and other screens in the home. Interesting fact: some 300 devices are already using Snapdragon, with another 350 in development.
The next page features some of Qualcomm’s technologies on show at CES:
Wireless electric vehicle charging
As part of its broad-based presence at CES, Qualcomm showed off a simple, no-fuss solution for charging electric vehicles (EV) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles called Halo. Their technology uses magnetic resonance to transfer power from a base charging unit to a remarkably compact vehicle charging unit via magnetic coupling. Although the system can work at a range of frequencies in the low to very low bands, there is some debate as to the best frequency to use in automotive applications.
The real breakthrough in wireless vehicle charging is the Halo system’s ability to transfer power efficiently over large air gaps. This is important because it enables the driver to park a car without precise alignment while still charging the vehicle at high efficiency.
Wireless charging is already working in several trials, most recently in two Halo-enabled Citröen C1 cars plying roads in the UK, and in a Rolls-Royce Phantom 102EX experimental electric vehicle that has been touring the world. The efficiency level of the Halo system is comparable to that of plug-in or conductive charging systems, with transfer efficiencies of 97 per cent across the air gap and a DC-to-DC efficiency of over 90 per cent.
Cookie monster comes alive
Qualcomm and Sesame Workshop, the producers behind the popular Sesame Street children’s TV programme, have joined forces to explore augmented-reality experiences for children that encourage learning and imagination, creating a prototype playset that brings physical toys to life.
The collaborative project explores the use of a tablet with a traditional playset to make children’s’ playtime more fun and
educational. The prototype playset includes traditional elements such as common household objects, as well as figurines of classic Sesame Street characters, Cookie Monster, Bert and Ernie. The demo includes a tablet and an application that uses Qualcomm’s Vuforia augmented-reality platform. When the tablet is pointed at the playset, the pieces and the play environment come alive through the tablet’s camera, transforming the playset into an interactive experience.
Diabetics, take heart
Qualcomm and Telcare have revealed plans to integrate Qualcomm’s wireless Internet of Everything Module into the Telcare 3GM blood glucose meter currently under development. The device, currently in prototype phase, is designed to transfer blood glucose readings to a patient’s family members or physician with each test. Says Jonathan Javitt, Telcare’s CEO: “Real-time engagement with caregivers is particularly beneficial for parents and family members looking after diabetic children and elderly people, where family support can mean the difference between a good day and a trip to the emergency room.”
Using 3G mobile broadband, the product is designed to enable patients and caregivers to regularly monitor and respond to changes in an individual’s glucose levels. This feedback loop should give people with diabetes a more flexible lifestyle, and provide them with better control and management of the disease.
* Blog: “2012 International CES: Welcome to gadget heaven“ by Alan Duggan
* Photo Album: Consumer Electronics Show 2012 in Las Vegas
* CES 2012 Design & Innovation Award Honoree: Track Your Pets with Tagg – The Pet Tracker
* CES 2012: Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize