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Consumer Electronics Show (CES) Preview: Apps Replace Operating Systems


Attendees visit exhibitors in the PMA @ CES TechZone at the 2012 International CES. Image courtesy of CES

In a sign of just how important content and mobility have become to gadget lovers, network providers and device makers will take center stage at the 2013 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) next week in Las Vegas. For the first time since 1997 Microsoft won’t deliver a keynote touting its latest version of Windows. Chipmaker Intel is likewise absent from the keynote lineup. Instead, this year’s headliners include Panasonic and Samsung, whose latest electronics are poised to cash in on the wealth of wireless data made available by fellow keynoters Qualcomm and Verizon.

Telecos and hardware makers are picking up where operating system and chip providers left off by providing the infrastructure and interface to increasingly popular mobile apps and multimedia content, says Thomas Stuermer, a senior executive in Accenture‘s Electronics and High-Tech group, which provides research and consulting services across a number of technologies, including consumer electronics. Now that Microsoft’s Windows 8—one of the stars of last year’s CES—has been launched and is slowly starting to get some traction, device makers are free to show what the OS can do, he adds.

Accenture sees six story lines emerging from the 2013 CES: ultra high-definition TV, “smart” (or connected) cars, fitness and health monitoring, mobile apps, 3-D printing and convertible PCs. Of course most of these technologies have appeared at CES in previous years, but Stuermer says we’ll see new levels of maturity that make them worth taking another look. Here’s a quick rundown of expected highlights in each category.

Ultra High-Definition TV (Ultra HDTV)

Ultra HDTV is the next step in high-definition television, with four times the resolution as current-generation HDTVs. The challenge is that they’re entering the market with a roughly $20,000 price tag, so they’re going to be too expensive in the near term for mass market consumption, especially when considering the lack of available content that can take full advantage of the format, Stuermer says. That sounds a bit like the 3-D TVs that made a splash at CES a few years ago but have since fizzled. Still, Stuermer says ultra high definition is a profound step up from HD that can be explained to consumers in familiar terms such as pixel counts and resolution. “We envision that there will be much more significant take up of this new format than there was for 3-D,” as long as the content providers deliver and costs begin to come down, he says.

Samsung, Sharp, LG and several other companies are planning to offer Ultra HDTVs, several of which will debut at CES. Westinghouse recently announced two Ultra HDTVs that weigh in at opposite ends of the size spectrum. The 110-inch version will be one of the largest commercially available sets, whereas the 50-inch version comes in at the low end. To address content concerns, Sony announced that it is making a $25,000 Ultra HDTV bundled with a hard disk drive containing free ultra high-definition content.

“Smart” Cars

Carmakers and tech companies at CES, including Ford and Microsoft, have been laying the foundation for connected cars over the past several years, touting smart-phone controlled infotainment as well as automated collision-avoidance systems. This year attendees will hear more about the synthesis of automotive software and data sensors that extend to autonomous driving. Ford, for example, says it will implement new driver-assist technologies in its latest Fusion midsize sedan that, for example, can make automatic steering corrections when the car drifts out of its lane and provides alerts to stimulate drowsy drivers. In addition to Ford, carmakers Audi, Chrysler, General Motors, Hyundai, Kia and CES newcomer Subaru will be presenting technologies.

Fitness and Health Monitoring

As in years past, technology for both fitness and remote health monitoring will again have a large presence at CES. New telehealth devices can measure, display and store blood pressure, chronic disease and diet data that can enable doctors and nurses to monitor outpatient health in the patients’ homes remotely, thereby avoiding non-critical and costly re-admissions to hospitals and facilitating less obtrusive preventive care, Stuermer says. Smart-phone apps that connect to these devices will also be a big part of fitness and health monitoring.

Mobile Apps

Mobile apps are everywhere, and CES is no exception. In addition to health monitoring and automotive technology, apps are set to play an even bigger role in home entertainment, personal finance and social networking. CES attendees will be hard pressed to find many new technologies that can’t be enhanced in one way or another by an accompanying mobile app.

Home 3-D Printing

At least seven companies—including MakerBot, 3D Systems Corp. and Sculpteo—are expected to show 3-D printers or printing services. Their goal is to demonstrate the potential benefits of this additive manufacturing technology for a wide swath of industries and users, whether customers are making jewelry, smart-phone cases or rapid prototypes of new products.

Convertible PCs

Convertibles ostensibly offer PC users the best of both worlds—the touch screen of a tablet and the keyboard of a laptop—in a single package. Twist or turn the monitor in one direction, and it lays flat like a tablet. Twist or turn another way, and it’s a clamshell laptop. Still, these devices have had difficulty competing with the pure-bred tablets and laptops they seek to replace. So far sales have been relatively modest for this nascent market, but CES 2013 should draw more attention to these devices, Stuermer says. The key is Windows 8, which wasn’t commercially available when last year’s crop of convertible PCs were put on display. Now that users have had time to become familiar with Microsoft’s latest operating system, designed as a touch-screen OS, PC makers will give convertibles a renewed push.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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