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5 takeaways from CES 2013

CES 2013 has come and gone. In addition to "wear more comfortable shoes next time," here's what we learned at this year's premier consumer technology conference.

Best of CES 2013 in pictures

Television: The next device up for innovation

It was hard to avoid television products and services at CES this week. One of the top buzzwords at the event was 4K, or ultra-high-definition TV, which many saw as the industry's attempt to rebound from its costly gamble on 3D TVs over the past couple years.

As its name implies, 4K ultra-high-definition TV (UHDTV) offers four-times the resolution of 1080p TV displays, at 3840 × 2160 pixels. That is a lot of pixels, and the displays provide a very impressive picture. The latest standard for UHDTV, Rec 2020, is capable of producing colors that can't possibly be reproduced on HDTV, making 4K displays somewhat of a breakthrough.

Whether that matters enough to drive significant sales is a whole different question. If consumers were reluctant to purchase 3D TVs even after flocking to theaters for major 3D movie titles, they may not be lining up for these higher-resolution TVs right away. It's not likely that many people are dissatisfied with their 1080p HDTVs. Getting consumers to purchase 4K UHDTVs would mean convincing them that there's something wrong with the TV they already own.

However, a few content breakthroughs at CES could turn the heads of TV lovers. Smart TVs with Internet apps, such as Netflix and fantasy football, can't come soon enough. Haier showed a smart TV with Roku Internet streaming compatibility, while Hisense showed a Google TV-based display that came with a custom, two-sided remote control. One side featured a trackpad and individual buttons for Netflix and live TV, while the other was equipped with a full QWERTY keyboard for search.

Meanwhile, others focused solely on providing TV content in new ways. Dish Networks' Hopper, which records content and makes it accessible on other TVs in the house, earned rave reviews from many at CES. Even more exciting was the news that the Hopper would come compatible with Slingbox technology, which allows remote access to local TV content, including regional sports games and DVR recordings, on Android and iOS devices.

If the mobile phone has been the focus of innovation of the past five years, it seems the TV is the device manufacturers are targeting for the next few.

The PC is now another touchscreen device

It became apparent at CES 2013 that the touchscreen is ready to make its foray into more traditional computing form factors.

First came an announcement during an Intel press conference on Monday. While showing off a string of convertible, hybrid notebook/tablet devices, Kirk Skaugen, general manager of Intels' PC client group, declared that touchscreen navigation will be a requirement for any device in the fourth generation of its Ultrabook line.

In the tablet age, consumers may not abandon PCs entirely, as many have declared, but they will see the advantages of a tablet's mobility and large screen size. Intel recognizes this, and with the new requirement it's encouraging manufacturers to continue putting out more devices that can convert from notebook to tablet.

In addition, several Windows 8 desktop PCs integrated touch to take advantage of the operating system's new user interface. All-in-one desktop PCs from Lenovo and Toshiba embrace users' familiarity with touch, bringing us ever closer to the post-mouse era.

The car is transforming

No, Transformers are not a reality, at least not yet. But the interior of future cars will look and operate entirely differently than what we're familiar with.

Several car companies, including Ford and GM, showed new ways their cars interact with consumer technology, from remote access to door locks to Bluetooth connectivity with a smartphone's apps and content.

The need for improved in-car technology also opens an opportunity for third-party players to step in. Livio Connect, for example, introduced its new in-car mobile app technology that displays apps on the increasingly common touchscreen that manufacturers are building into new cars' center consoles. That means drivers can use their navigation or music player apps in their cars even if they left their phones at home.

Then there's the automated driverless car phenomenon. Toyota showed off a Lexus that could drive itself, which is always exciting. The race to put a safe driverless car on the road is one that every major car company, as well as Google, has entered in some capacity. At least Toyota reminded us of that at CES.

The home is getting smarter

CES 2013 saw a lot of different companies vying for attention in the connected home market.

More and more in-home utilities are becoming Internet-connected for remote access. That could mean checking to make sure all lights are turned off or responding to an emergency alert from a security system.

Lowe's home improvement showcased smart home products, including those that monitor pets and provide communications to the elderly or people with disabilities who may need occasional assistance.

The market for connected home technology also attracted attention from startups. A company called Enado on display at CES' Startup America Stage showed its centralized control solution for connected home appliances, which aims to cut through the vast array of mobile apps that provide control to one in-home utility or another.

This market should take off in the next few years, as energy prices climb and home owners recognize the potential for smart home energy management solutions.

Solving the battery life conundrum

As we become more reliant on mobile devices, battery power has become a commodity. Several companies working in several different areas showcased solutions to this problem at CES.

Intel's press conference on ultrabooks also included an exciting announcement - the next generation of ultrabook processors will drop power consumption to 7 watts. Previous ultrabooks were praised for consuming only 15W, so the drop could mean a monumental shift in tablet and notebook battery life.

Meanwhile, the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC) had a wide array of wireless smartphone charging technologies on display. The Qi wireless standard that the WPC promotes makes for great compatibility - any mobile device with Qi technology is compatible with any Qi-enabled wireless energy source, regardless of who manufactured it.

That means we could expect to see wireless charging for all smartphones in new places. Smartphone cases designed with Qi wireless charging technology were on display at CES, and bring the capability to popular smartphones, such as Apple's iPhone, that were designed without it. By embedding the technology in the smartphone case and equipping the case to plug into the iPhone, the device will receive a charge from any wireless charging source.

Toyota provided another example, releasing its 2013 Avalon with the first-ever in-car wireless smartphone charging technology built directly into the center console. Meanwhile, Fulton Innovations displayed a device-to-device energy transfer technology that allows one smartphone with full battery to share energy with another one that's dead.

And it won't be long until the same capabilities come to tablets. Bas Fransen, chief marketing officer at ConvenientPower, says work is almost complete to extend the Qi standard to medium-power devices, meaning those that consume up to 15W of energy. Texas Instruments had a wireless tablet-charging dock on display in the WPC booth, but officials said it won't be commercially available for quite some time.

Colin Neagle covers emerging technologies and the startup scene for Network World. Follow him on Twitter https://twitter.com/#!/ntwrkwrldneagle and keep up with the Microsoft, Cisco and Open Source community blogs. Colin's email address is cneagle@nww.com

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