While no one knows exactly what new technology will make jaws drop this year the way the iPhone did last year, one place to get a good idea was at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.
Sponsored by the Consumer Electronics Association, the 41st annual CES was held at the Las Vegas Convention Center and the Sands Expo and Convention Center. The show has become somewhat of a juggernaut in the electronics industry – it's the largest tech trade show in the United States, with over 2,700 exhibitors and attendance of around 140,000 people. Many companies (large and small) use the CES to preview new products, make announcements and create buzz. In the past 40 years, the show has seen the debut of the VCR (1970), CD player (1981), HDTV (1998), Xbox (2001) and Blu-Ray (2003).
Along with more electronic inventions, gadgets and gizmos than you could fit into ten Best Buys (exhibit space is 1.8 million net square feet), the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show also offered appearances by celebrities like Michael Douglas, David Ortiz and XENA: Warrior Princess. Technology guru Bill Gates kicked off the electronic extravaganza, delivering his final keynote address as chairman of Microsoft and poking fun at his pending retirement in a video featuring guest spots by Al Gore, Jay-Z and Bono. In his speech, he painted a picture of the dawning "second digital decade" as a time when high-definition displays will surround us, touch screens and speech recognition will replace traditional keyboard / mouse interfaces and every device we own will be connected to the Internet.
Judging by many of the new products and technologies on display at the CES, Gates' predictions seem pretty accurate. Certainly the HDTV's were more loyal than ever before. Panasonic awed onlookers with its 150-inch Lifescreen Plasma TV, the largest in the world, while LG introduced super-slim TVs only 1.7 inches thick. Meanwhile, Logitech worked to bridge the media gap with its diNovo MiniTM, a cordless, palm-sized keypad that connects TV with PC, and Eye-Fi won Yahoo's "Last Gadget Standing" contest for its memory card that wirelessly sends pictures from a digital camera to a computer. Beyond Gates' digital prophecy, other trends at the 2008 CES point to a future filled with global positioning system (GPS) technology and, of course, more automated products for everyday life.
Ideal for hunters and hikers, the SPOT Satellite Messenger takes GPS to the next level by enabling people to call for help from anywhere in the world (even places where cell phones will not work – ie, deserts, mountains, the Arctic Circle). Tracking progress with Google Maps and sending basic messages are also available at the push of a button. For the roaming pet, there's the Zoombak Advanced GPS Dog Locator. The lightweight device attaches to a pet's collar and pinpoints the location of the animal on a full-sized Web map. Zobbak also has a voice-based service that provides directions to the GPS receiver's location. In addition to these gadgets, Nav N Go has invented new 3D Navigation Software, which brings GPS maps to three-dimensional life.
While GPS systems help people to find their way, automated cars may actually be taking them there. GM announced at CES that the company plans to test driverless car technology by 2015 and have cars on the road around 2018. Of course, the company still faces the difficult obstacle of convincing drivers to give up the wheel. Some other automated devices at the CES designed to make everyday living easier included iRobot's LoojTM, a gutter cleaning robot that can scour a 60-foot section of gutter in just 10 minutes, and Interactive Toy Concepts' RC Cooler, a radio-controlled, wheeled cooler than has a 30-foot range and can hold a six pack on ice.
Also of note at this year's CES was the increased presence of "green" products. Cell phones chargers, TV sets and laptop computers designed to reduce energy consumption illustrated the industry's contemporary focus on making electronic products more resource efficient. Even the CES itself invested in new initiatives this year to offset the carbon footprint of the large event.
Next year's Consumer Electronics Show is scheduled for January 8-11, 2009.