WiFi, WiMax, Bluetooth, Near Field, Infrared. One of the most obvious trends this year is the continuing shift towards wireless everything. The advancements in wireless protocols and bandwidth have finally given CE manufacturers a choice of infrastructures that can support the high volume of data needed to make the move to wireless connectivity feasible. From the Near Field technology that will allow Sony devices to communicate by holding them within a few inches of each other, to the new wireless TVs that can live a hundred feet from their receivers, the trend is clear. Consumers should look forward to a tangle-free future.
It seems that many CE manufacturers have also been taking the time to talk with their consumers about form-over-function. Well, actually form-AND-function. Gone are the days of looking at row after row of boxy, bland looking devices and unintelligible, overly complex controls. This year CE designers have taken a page from the Steve Jobs book of product creation. The majority of the products I’ve seen are beautiful, carefully crafted pieces of art. Comfortable to hold. Nice to look at. Easy to use. Let’s hope that trend is permanent.
Continuing to enable the eons-old human trait of needing to ‘take it all with you’, gadgeteers are flooding the marketplace with an ever-widening array of feature-packed mobile devices. Tiny HD cameras, portable media players, Cellphones with video editing capabilities and even portable solar chargers to keep it all running. In my opinion, a couple of real innovations are the Blinger, which is a device that is linked to your bank account. Among other things, it allows Blinger users to beam money back and forth to each other. Potentially making real the utopian concept of a cashless society. The other standout is the BUG, which is a set of generic, programmable modules that allow you to build and program your very own gadgets. Can’t find exactly what you need? Make it yourself! How cool is that?!?!
Integrated Media Extenders
Here’s one of the biggest bandwagons of 2008. TVs with Integrated Media Extenders. There didn’t seem to be one major TV screen manufacturer at the show that wasn’t offering this as a built-in feature or an add-on option for at least one of their new models. What is it? Integrated Media Extenders essentially will give your TV the native ability to reach out to your home network or the internet to pull in and view digital media through a set of on-screen menus. (Think TiVo). They are designed to ‘extend’ the functionality from other media management systems to your TV. This is EXTREMELY relevant as more and more premium content is offered through online media outlets. Could this be the death knell for Set-top boxes? Of course there is a downside: Several vendors have adopted a proprietary extender standard which may not always interoperate with other systems.
Automotive tech made a big showing this year. A dazzling variety of in-car systems to make the drive to work seem like a trip in the space shuttle. Cockpit screens and in-dash nav/media systems were as prevalent as Starbucks in a Midtown shopping mall. (I.E.: Everywhere). Kenwood, Pioneer, Blaupunkt, and many more a-list manufacturers were showing off their new digital wares. Of the assortment, there was a common thread of flexibility in their designs. All seemed to be offering open architecture solutions that allow the Mediaphile to mix and match their favorite media components. But more to the point, they provide a single control interface so you can spend less time fidgeting with your devices, and more time watching the road.