High-tech products you didn't even know you needed

Panasonic's booth at the Consumer Electronics Show has a huge OLED (organic light-emitting diode) TV screen that shows true black and amazing colors.
Panasonic's booth at the Consumer Electronics Show has a huge OLED (organic light-emitting diode) TV screen that shows true black and amazing colors. (JAE C. HONG / AP)
Posted: January 10, 2014

LAS VEGAS - I never fully bought the common notion that the vast annual Consumer Electronics Show here was like "the Super Bowl for geeks." Then I caught Collin Anderson and Johan Abadie touting their latest product by wearing toilet seats around their necks, and I finally came around.

Anderson and Abadie wore the seats as proudly as any Green Bay fan wears a Packers Cheesehead or a Philly fan paints his face Eagles green, at a media event promoting their latest product, ScreenDr Antimicrobial cleaning solution. The connection? Recent studies "showing phones and tablets to be typically dirtier than a toilet seat," says their company, Digital Innovations L.L.C.

No question, it's tough to lure attention at a show that draws more than 150,000 attendees and 3,200 exhibitors promoting something like 20,000 different products.

Not all are the highest-tech - Digital Innovations also sells DeviceDryer, a $15 desiccant-in-a-bag that a spokesman said was seven times as effective as rice at absorbing moisture after the ultimate smartphone oops - which also involves a toilet. But all aim at meeting a need, even if it's one consumers didn't know they had before the product was offered.

Not satisfied with that high-def television that was a gee-whiz upgrade just a few years ago? Companies such as LG and Panasonic continue to wow CES attendees with enormous OLED (organic light-emitting diode) displays that show true blacks and amazing colors. But their industry's big push is toward ultra-high-def, which promises four times the pixels in the same screen space.

As prices fall, TV designers seem confident that if they make the sets, content producers will come around. Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon all say they'll begin offering so-called 4K content - just make sure your Internet provider comes through with the bandwidth needed to see it.

Mainstream shows aimed for the networks are also already being shot in the higher-def format, to accommodate the shift. Shawn DuBravac, research director for the Consumer Electronics Association, said he expected that TV makers would sell about 485,000 UHD sets this year to American consumers, up from just 60,000 in 2013, and that U.S. annual sales would approach two million by 2016.

DuBravac says UHD TVs are making a shift that nearly every invention goes through, from being technologically feasible to commercially viable, a process he says typically takes five to 10 years.

That timetable helps explain this year's huge attention to wearable electronics and to the "Internet of things," often both traced to the mobile-computing revolution Apple launched nearly seven years ago with the iPhone. But Apple itself was taking advantage of another revolutionary change - albeit one that came, like today's Big Data revolution, from an evolutionary process.

Like other electronics, mobile sensors were continually growing smaller and cheaper. The iPhone included sensors such as an accelerometer, which can measure motion and orientation in space. On that phone, the sensor mostly served a simple purpose: enabling the display to shift from portrait to landscape as it was moved. But such sensors were a key to the explosive growth in smartphone apps that take advantage of their many capabilities.

The iPhone wasn't the first hot consumer device with an accelerometer. That honor probably goes to Nintendo's Wii, whose motion-sensing remote allowed video-game players to hit a virtual ball as if they had a tennis racket or baseball bat in hand.

The Wii was a key inspiration for Fitbit, whose wearable fitness trackers debuted at CES 2012. Now, they lead a swiftly expanding niche that's attracting some of the biggest names in sports and electronics.

"I was just fascinated with the way Nintendo combined sensors with gaming software," Fitbit CEO and cofounder James Park told a conference audience Tuesday.

Park, who says Fitbit is busy working to make its products more attractive to the fashion-conscious, sees a world of competition facing his company. But at least this year he isn't vying for attention.


215-854-2776 @jeffgelles



comments powered by Disqus