FEBRUARY 2009: All screens and devices seem to be on diet to get slim and trim. In particular, the mobile, the PC and the TV screens—the most important ones in our daily lives. And they are all getting well-connected to each other and the ‘cloud.’ The cloud here refers, of course, to the Internet. This is one of the clear messages I got at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show at Las Vegas in the USA.
You have already seen much slimmer and lighter PCs introduced last year, starting with Mac’s. Preference for thinner TVs is also well-known, although they cost hell of a lot at present for anyone to be able to afford one. I also notice preference for thin, sleek mobile phones when I look around-especially in international forums such as the CES.
Is it due to the global economic downturn that the manufacturers have started saving on the material cost? Of course, not! The reason is to make the devices look better as these become our lifestyle statements. The slim is the ‘in’ thing nowadays. This must have taken a while to register in the US where big was always considered to be better.
In place of Bill Gates, who has been giving keynote address almost regularly at CES, Steve Balmer, Microsoft’s CEO, took the stage this year for the first time to show the shape of things to come from their end. As he disclosed, beta version of ‘Windows 7’ has just been launched worldwide. It can be downloaded from the Internet for checking, according to Steve. He showcased its salient features to the audience.
“There is no turning back from the connected world,” said Steve. No matter what happens with the economy, or how long the recession lasts, the companies that continue to pursue advancement in technology will do much better than those who lag behind, he feels. Microsoft had invested $8 billion in R&D last year alone for this purpose.
“There is so much opportunity ahead of us,” said Steve. First and foremost is the convergence of the three screens that people use every day—the PC, the phone and the TV. Microsoft’s original aim was to put a PC on every desk. Today, a billion people already have PC. But that means there are five billion people who have never owned a PC. So we have a big task ahead of us to make computing more affordable.
There is also the challenge and opportunity for creating anytime, anywhere computing through the convergence of the PC, phone and TV, and their connectivity through the Internet. Soon smart phones will make up 50 per cent of the mobile phone market. Also, we shall soon see TV becoming more sophisticated and more connected, and the boundary between the PC and TV will dissolve.
In the next couple of years, according to Steve, the computer will be able to ‘hear’ and ‘see,’ besides recognising gestures.
Intel’s chairman Dr Craig Barret chose to speak at length on ‘Small Things Challenge’ (instead of processors) in his keynote address. This project is being run together with Kiva.org to raise money for Save the Children’s programme titled ‘Rewrite the Future.’ The plan is to urge the people world-wide through ‘smallthingschallenge.com’ website to help in development and education of children in emerging countries.
Barret unveiled the third generation of low-cost Classmate PC tablet for use in schools in developing countries. Also, a video was shown to demonstrate how low-cost solutions were being found in India to take education to villages in buses fitted with computers, and to provide healthcare facilities in remote areas using telemedicine techniques.
Barret, however, believes that we shall continue to be surrounded by screens, including the large TV, medium-size computer and small-size hand-held displays, for a long time. Anyone who thinks that there won’t be these three predominant screens or devices in the near future is crazy, according to him.
Sony’s chief executive Sir Howard Stringer showed a thin, flexible, coloured OLED screen which could be bent. He also showed the audience a couple of short futuristic digital 3D movie clips with the help of sunglasses which had polarised lenses made by RealD.
Since the technology for screening 3D movies is complicated, it is not likely to be available for showing at home theatres. So 3D movies are once again expected to drive the viewers to the theatres for this new kind of realistic experience. Dream-Works Animation’s chief executive Jeffery Katzenberg disclosed that their company had already retooled their studio to make 3D movies, and from this year they would be making 3D movies only.
Stringer pulled out the prototype of a Vaio ‘Lifestyle PC’ from his pocket which he said was as thin as a pack of playing cards and weighed just 640 gm. It has a 20cm (8-inch) display but full capabilities of a standard notebook, unlike the smaller netbooks being offered nowadays, he claimed. Priced much higher at $900 than other netbooks, which are priced at around $400 only, it is a fan-less device which would be available in such bold colours as garnet red and emerald green. It should be in market by February end.
One of the novelties noticed at CES was the advent of 3D television, which could be viewed without the need of using special eyeglasses. Samsung as well as Panasonic were seen demonstrating their respective 3D TV sets. Of course, the effect was much better when the movie was viewed directly from the front—at least in the Samsung TV personally checked by me.
If 3D TV catches on, it may not be necessary once again to go to cinema halls to watch 3D movies, as expected by Sony’s Howard Stringer. But there is no news on pricing and commercial availability of 3D TV as yet.
Woo Paik, president and chief technology officer of LG Electronics, introduced their fully functional wristwatch cell phone with 3G video telephony (VT) service and GSM quad-band network capabilities. Though it is a follow-up of the prototype he introduced at CES2008, it includes such upgrades as a touch-screen interface, 3G capabilities and video calling. Its voice recognition features, for use with or without a Bluetooth headset, make call placing and looking up contacts easy. This good-looking, wearable phone will be available in Europe soon this year.
Neutrano’s WristFone launched at CES has a phone, a music player and a camera inside a sleek wristwatch. The multifunction digital watch has 3-hand analogue dial with date ‘screen saver’ which conceals the phone, music and camera functions. Watch features include programmable alarms and to-do lists. WristFone will be available in white, black, brown, blue and pink for $250 to $300.
Logic Wireless unveiled the world’s first cell phone with a projector built in. It plays two-hour movie besides the usual business applications which can be shown on a wall or screen. Other features include touch screen, 3-megapixel camera, GSM quad band, Bluetooth, GPS, Internet, PowerPoint, Excel and Word. It connects with laptop USB, TV, Xbox and Wii. At present, the phone is compatible with GSM carriers such as T-mobile and AT&T but would soon be made compatible with other network carriers as well.
Powermat unveiled revolutionary wireless-energy products capable of charging portable electronic devices including iPods, iPhones, cell phones, GPS, handheld games and even laptop computers. You just plug in the Powermat and place up to six (depending on the model) Powermat-enabled devices on the mat for charging. Based on the principle of magnetic induction, Powermats will be available in stores in 2009.
Tonium introduced ‘Pacemaker’—a pocket-size DJ system. The music system incorporates a mixer and all the features you need to deejay anywhere, anytime. Its two independent audio channels let you play two tracks side by side so you can do your creative work with them. Pacemaker has all the functionality of a professional DJ set-up including playback controls, cue controls, audio effects, equaliser and volume control. It supports more audio formats than most other portable music players and has a 60GB hard disk drive.
Tri-Specs Inc. unveiled designer sunglasses which incorporate wire-less stereo headphones and Bluetooth headset functionality. So you can listen to high-quality stereo music streamed wirelessly from a phone or MP3 player while wearing these shades. If a call is received while listening to music, the music is paused and you hear the ring-tone. There are many more features for your convenience. These sunglasses can even be fitted with prescription lenses.
Epson launched a truly home cinema system with the option of two projectors (720p and 1080p). It includes a 2.54m (100-inch) electrically operated screen with integrated LCR speakers, AV controller with built-in DVD and HDMI outputs, LCD remote control and 25.4cm (10-inch) subwoofer with 5.1 channels of amplification. It takes only four hours to install. The screen can be mounted over a bookshelf or a painting, if a plain wall is not available, as it disappears at the push of a button. The surround-sound speakers are discreetly hidden in the projector’s integrated speaker cradle while all the front-channel speakers are hidden within the screen’s motorised system.
Panasonic unveiled its 8.5mm (one-third-of-an-inch) thin energy-efficient Neo PDP Eco Plasma TV. Besides being the world’s slimmest, the 127cm (50-inch) set is also the most energy-efficient TV. Neo PDP technology allows the plasma sets to achieve the same brightness as the 2007 models while using one-third of the energy, or to achieve three times the brightness using the same amount of energy. Neo LCD technology cuts the energy requirement of LCD TVs to half as compared to the previous 2008 models.
CES2009 got a “good response in spite of difficult times for world economy,” says Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the USA-based Consumer Electronics Association (CEA). CEA estimates that over 110,000 visitors attended CES this year as against 141,150 in the previous year. Realising that quality is more important than quantity, CEA has started levying a US$100 pre-registration fee for show attendance, which it is likely to continue in the future as well to limit the number of visitors. This year there were more CEO attendees at CES than in the previous years.
Gary thinks, nowadays “you can be an entrepreneur if you have a computer and the Internet” connection. Technology is throwing open lots of new opportunities, while closing some others. The world is already moving towards digital TV broadcasting and high-definition TV. February 17, 2009 will be the shut-off date for the plain, old analogue TV in the US.
The world shall be moving to IPv6 by 2010. Every home will then have an Internet address, besides the postal address. But will everyone have a home by then?
The author is editor of the magazine