With CES 2013 happening right now, it’s a great time to speculate on what’s coming up in 2013.
By the time this week is over, we’ll have a great understanding of the direction technology is headed long term, as well as what we can expect to see immediately. Some of what you’ll see and read this week is of companies showing off, as is de rigueur at trade shows like CES. Some of it you’ll never see, and some you will see very soon.
Our job here is to talk about the next curve in the road. Looking too far into the distance can be dangerous, so we won’t ahead of ourselves. 2013 should bring us some great stuff, from TV to mobile devices and all things in between. Will we finally see widespread adoption of wireless charging for our phones? Will we finally not see our TV? Only time will tell, but we won’t be waiting long to find out.
All charged up
It seems that one of the oddest thing about being mobile is the need to plug a device in. We’re supposed to truck these things around with us everywhere we go, but then plug it in at some point. Batteries are continually being tasked with more and more device to power, so it’s not surprising that our battery life suffers. Plugging in seems like such a holdout of years gone by, so why are we still doing it?
We’ve seen wireless charging with the Palm Touchstone and Powermat charging mats, so it’s not as if wireless charging is altogether new. The ability to charge without connecting a device is great, but just not necessary. If you’ll still have to put your phone in one spot to charge, then the only luxury is not plugging it in. Your only real benefit is not dealing with wires, which is not really troublesome to begin with. With long range charging, all that could change. The ability to have your phone charging in a room rather than a pad on the desk is much more convenient and interesting.
Is true long-range wireless charging possible?
The basic principle of our current wireless charging is called magnetic induction. It’s pretty straightforward, too: you put your device on a charging pad, and it charges due to the short range magnetic current your device picks up via the contact with that pad. With long range wireless charging, the technology is quite different. Long range charging uses what’s called near field magnetic resonance. It operates much the same as the wireless charging we know now, just on a larger scale. That scale is currently being imagined at 1-2 meters, which is a significant start. Once an eligible device enters the charging “field”, it will automatically do its thing. No pads to set it on, no cables or cords.
Long-range wireless charging would be really convenient. You could have charging hotspots like the WiFi hotspots we have now. Your car could charge all your devices while you travel with no need for clumsy cables and cords. The same could be said for any mode of transportation, really. The bus or metrorail could attract many more commuters if that were a feature, and I’d be willing to bet Starbucks is on board.
Is there a downside to this? Sure there is. For starters, that technology described above is patented by Apple. Apple and patents equals trouble, so it may not be readily available. The only workaround to that particular technology involves antennas, but that sounds very peculiar. It doesn’t seem prudent to place yourself inside of a giant magnetic field full of antennas. With either of the long-range wireless charging technologies, we don’t know what the effect on humans will be. Even on a small scale, it’s a device or antenna emitting microwave frequencies. Is that really healthy for us?
Back to the future
The television was the first domino in a long line of visual technology. The first TVs looked like a Nexus 7 glued to a refrigerator, but it was a breakthrough. We’ve come a long way since then, and what we’re being teased with lately is no exception. If Samsung has their way, we’ll have gone from those bulky living room centerpieces to little more than a frame on the wall.
In the past few years, TV sales have been a declining market. A 6% dip last year was significant, and the market is only expected to even out in 2013, not grow. What happened? Why has the TV market taken such a downturn? The answer is complex, but fairly straightforward. Much of it has to do with our changing wants, while some of it has to do with perception.
Traditional Cable TV has experiences a large loss of subscribers in the past few years. For a variety of reasons, people are either discontinuing or not signing up for service. As such, we simply don’t watch as much TV, so buying the newest and slickest TV is just not important to consumers now. Even with things like Google TV or Roku, the desire for a thinner, lighter TV is waning. We associate a TV with the act of watching cable, and media has simply evolved beyond that. The concept of doing more with a TV is still a bit foreign to us. A recent study revealing that about half of all internet-ready TVs aren’t connected to the internet may prove that
We have seen the rise of the thin, mountable TV in the past five years or so. We’ve gone from plasma to LCD, then to LED and OLED. The new frontier is 4K, which is an LCD variant. 4K is described best as super HD, which is a bit what OLED was supposed to be. Where OLED failed us was in it’s high production cost, LCD is simply more cost effective to produce, and, if 4K can give us a great picture for the money, we’ll buy. Manufacturers will also be making 4K OLED TVs, but those will be considered “high end” sets.
Even with great screens at lower production cost, manufacturers aren’t putting their eggs into that basket. We’ve been travelling that path for a few years, and it’s clearly not working out like it used to. A great screen is wonderful, but it isn’t everything. TVs are getting thinner, and we want them on the wall to save space in our homes. We have little room for a Roku or Google TV, so manufacturers are building that technology right in. For those that don’t have the need or want for a new TV, those same devices are being built into small dongles that plug into the back and take up no room.
The wild card
One thing you probably used to do (and maybe still do) in your living room was play video games. The console gaming industry has been hit equally as hard by the current mobile shift, both in sales of games and consoles. An industry that used to be a sure thing has now been made to question itself. People clearly love gaming, as is evident by mobile games gaining in depth and audience. We’ve left the TV, but not the games.
OUYA is trying to change all of that. While it’s not necessarily earth shattering technology, it’s a concept that could bring us all back to our TVs. OUYA is an Android based gaming device that uses your TV as a monitor. It straddles the line between console gaming and mobile gaming in a very interesting way. You play Android games, but you have a physical controller. It’s open source, so anyone can create games for it. All games are free to try, but developers can make money by monetizing their creations. With some old favorites having been ported, as well as some newer games being developed for Android, OUYA could really drive us back to the living room in hordes.
There is little doubt you’ve heard the rumblings of flexible displays in our future. We’ve all seen the pictures (like the one above) of someone bending a clear display like a credit card, but it’s not what you’re going to see in the near future. Mobile devices are getting thinner and lighter every day, making them more fragile to impact. What we need to consider is whether or not a flexible display or device is really good for us.
A flexible display is a very cool concept. Our immediate reaction is that it won’t break, and for most of the breaks you see, that’s true. Most devices with broken screens are due to dropping them or hitting them with something hard, like dropping keys or another device on the screen. A flexible display would take care of much of that concern, sure, but that may be the beginning of our issues.
Our mobile devices are fragile, that much is often painfully certain. A flexible screen has the possibility to do more harm than good in that respect, though. Let’s forget about the screen for a second and think about the rest of the device. In a situation where a person drops their phone, the screen absorbs the impact, which is why they shatter. If your device had a flexible screen, what would absorb the impact? A plastic device could simply break, and a metal device could bend. In terms of impact, a flexible screen is a possible lose-lose scenario, and a cracked screen may just be better than a broken phone casing or damaged hardware.
The flexible display is a great theory, but needs work. It has the proposed benefit of being shatter resistant and using 25% less power than the screens we have now, as well as a fairly impressive 1280×720 resolution with 267ppi. Those are nice specs, but not as nice as some we have now. The technology is rumored to be on the Samsung Galaxy S4, so we may get a look at it in real-world use faster than we originally thought.
We’ve seen flexibility before with Nokia, which had a flexible device that was controlled by bending and flexing it. It still sounds really great, but that was 2011 and we haven’t seen the technology come to us. Any device which relies on torsion will wear sooner, and compromise the hardware. If we haven’t seen a true flexible device yet, that’s an indication that this particular technology is best served as a component rather than a standalone.
Some of the tech we discussed here will be readily available, and some will be a bit later on. A few of the things we touched on may end up being very high-end, or have utility in a different way. Trade shows like CES are good for manufacturers in that respect; they get some very good feedback amongst the slack jaws and giddiness. Is any of it going to be in stores two weeks from now? That’s really doubtful. Much of what you’ll see are working models of upcoming tech that still need a few bugs worked out.
You may be wondering why Google Glass, everyone’s favorite hold-your-breath-in-awe hardware, wasn’t discussed. Quite simply, if Google doesn’t know what the product is for, we wouldn’t either. We’ve discussed Google Glass before, and are excited to see it someday. We’re looking forward to Google I/O to see if Google has a better grasp on the hardware by then. So far, it’s a very popular concept that needs work.
If there is anything to take away, it’s that your life will get more convenient. You may not have long range wireless charging in the next 6 months, but you’ll see wireless charging become more prominent. Will you be able to get a TV that sits on our wall like an empty frame? Probably not, but you’ll be able to get one with Google TV built in. A cell phone that looks like Saran Wrap? Not quite…but it will make its way into other tech. Manufacturers are striving to make your life more convenient, but is that what you’re looking for? The only feedback that really matters is the feedback you give with your wallet.