As I thought yesterday, cameras are indeed the unexpected trend this year. I saw more toys with embedded cameras, spy cameras, etc. And at least four of the products that received innovation awards from the CEA this year were webcams (Logitech (twice), Microsoft, and HP). Casio has the funky-looking Tryx, and there are a number of companies showing cameras intended for attaching to a helmet, bike, or SCUBA mask. There were a number of products that combined cameras with the hot product of two years ago, GPS, such as the Contour hands-free HD 3D GPS-enabled camcorder.
The Flip camera is now a few years old and has established itself as a standard form factor. There were a lot of Flip clones, including one called the “Bloggie” from Sony. One of the more impressive things I’ve seen was the 3D Bloggie. It’s a Flip-like video recorder that shoots 3D.
Yes, 3D is everywhere, like I thought there would be. And there were lots of tablet computers and tablet accessories. But 2011 is going to be the year of the knock-off. I saw so many Chinese tablets that looked exactly like the Samsung Galaxy Tab (including Andrioid operating system) that I lost count. One even went so far as to call itself the “Universe.”
When people started talking about “convergence” a decade or two ago, they meant that our TVs and computers would merge. That has happened, technically, but the lean-forward and sit-back experiences have remained separate. The surprise convergence has been that our TVs are going to start looking like mobile phones. At least four companies are now using the term Smart TV (like smartphone) to describe app-enabled televisions. Panasonic has taken this idea further by showing a line of Viera displays that are positioned like small televisions, but are really tablet computers.
LG was showing the first of what they are now calling Smart TVs last year, given that they were including Netflix and Pandora apps on their top-shelf systems. Now they have a whole array of apps to run on their sets. This year they were showing a “Smart TV Upgrade” that would turn your non-smart TV into one. This is pure marketing hooey as all they’ve done is put a set top box in their sets, and the “upgrade” is just an external set top box that connects to a regular TV.
Speaking of set top boxes, there were a crop of Android-based media set top boxes for TVs as well. Inspired by the Logitech Google TV box, these would give app capability on an internet-connected media player. The TViX is a representative example.
So what was I surprised by? Personal robots have been a growing trend over the last couple years, but it looks like manufacturers think it’s time for household robots. They don’t clean your house or cook your food yet. But they will sing you Happy Birthday or coach you through your diet, like the Autom. The Autom even looks you in the eye, thanks to a small video camera (see? they’re everywhere) in one of the eyes and some facial recognition software. This is actually kind of creepy.
The most pleasant surprise was to see a 15″ OLED display from Hisense. Hisense has built it’s existence on stealing innovations from other companies and making cheap versions. The fact that they think they can sell OLED televisions is a good sign that the technology is ready for the mainstream. There were OLED displays at other booths, but no one was bragging about them. I’m going to predict that at CES next year someone like Sony or Samsung will have a decent size OLED display that will be their big new product.
But my favorite thing was the Ladybug and Beetle robots from Japanese company JS Robots. These are not available in the U.S. yet, unfortunately. They are Arduino based programmable robots aimed at introducing kids to programming.
The Ladybug is programmed by running it over a series of black and white squares. The squares are magnetic strips and can be rearranged to change the program. The language includes commands for making commands, as well as variables and conditional branching. The Ladybug has four sensors on the nose that read the blocks, and LEDs on top tell you what they’re reading.
They look basic, but can be customized by putting decorative cards on top. Jin Sato, the founder of JS Robotics told me that the kids didn’t like plastic cases, and they preferred to put Pokemon cards on them, which is where he got the idea for the cards.
I think there is great potential in these robots and am hoping we can get some in the U.S. soon.