Two of the most successful consumer technology products of all time are Microsoft Office and Microsoft Windows.So, when the former head of both divisions, Steven Sinofsky, has something to say about consumer tech, it’s worth listening.
Lucky for us, Sinofsky went to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this year and decided to write a very long blog post about it.
The best part is where Sinofsky talks about trends on the rise. It gives you a sense of what the world is going to look like in the medium term.
He says these trends were “refined” for 2013’s show:
- Mobile is now the main event. “Where CES used to think mobile was in the North Hall’s Auto section, now everything is mobile.”
- Design is trending toward minimalism and clarity. “There’s a lot less glowing and translucency. Navigation is clearer. Touch gestures are assumed on any device and often are not readily apparent (that is designers are assuming you will figure out how to touch and tap to make stuff happen). And the use of the full screen for the task at hand is clearly dominant. Rather than gain “speed” or “power” via multitasking by arranging, widgets, picture in picture, and so on, the focus is on moving quickly between task-oriented screens.”
- Build quality is getting better. “That’s not to say there’s a fair share of low-end and low-quality stuff, particularly tablets, one can see in the South Hall as usual. There is, however, a rising tide of quality. This is a sign of further upstream integration of components as well as maturing manufacturing and assembly.
- Products update themselves now. “While we might curse updates or think it encourages poor engineering, the reality is that the quality of what we experience is better than ever because of these updates.”
- Many products integrate with social networks. “You can hop on a scale and share the weight right away. You can share movies you have watched easily. You can even share how happy a meal made you.”
- Other technologies are accelerating as fast as processing power. “We’re now seeing this increase in bandwidth usage (UHD Netflix streaming, for example) and in the silicon based nature of visuals (screens and camera sensors, for example). Even wireless networking is seeing a significant uptick in speed.”
- Offline tools are coming online. “For sure, the connection of our lives to the internet continues as a trend. It is really amazing how many analogue things are being digitized—door locks, luggage tags, mouth guards, and more.”
Sinofsky says that these were the cutting edge technologies on display in 2013:
- Super high definition televisions. “Seeing the 100″ and greater 4K screens is breathtaking. It is incredible to think that it was just two years ago we were ogling at a 60″ LED 1080P screens. Moore’s law applies to screens. Every major TV/screen company was showing 4K screens and these will be products soon enough for sure, and then the prices will come down.”
- Computer (and tablet and smartphone) displays are getting much better. “This year saw a significant amount of credible innovation in the area of screen technology. Flexible displays seem more realistic than past years because they were in more than one booth. OLED made a strong reappearance with an amazing 4K OLED screen. Curved screens that match what we see in movie theatres showed up. I loved the wide aspect ratio screen from LG. Touch is being integrated into large panels for use for broadcast, meeting rooms and signage. Even the distribution of HDMI signals for digital signage saw innovation with single CAT5 systems at commodity prices. Samsung had a very cool transparent display that allows a physical product to be “enclosed” in the screen.”
- Content is moving from device to device and from screen to screen. “There’s an incredible desire for the ability to get what I am seeing on a phone or tablet on to a bigger screen (the flipside of getting what streams over cable/sat onto my phone/tablet is a different problem). This seems to be struggling with scenarios and responsiveness right now but seems like it will be figured out—after all, how many of us watch a movie and look things up on IMDB on our phones or watch sports tracking another game or stats on our tablet? The scenarios last year were focused on Facebook/twitter on your TV or news/weather while you watch and that is what seems to have been reduced in excitement (those always seemed a bit awkward to me for a family room).”
- High end digital cameras are coming back. “Digital SLRs are seeing a rebirth at a level of flexibility and sophistication that is mind blowing. The role of DSLR for video has spawned a whole industry of accessories to morph a still camera into a motion camera in terms of form factor (the sensor and lens are the real value). Image stabilisation, critically important on tiny form factors, is becoming incredibly good.”
- The “Phablet” is a sign that consumer will have wide choices for phone sizes. “The made up word that was used more than it seems like it should was Phablet—a device that is bigger than a phone and smaller than a tablet. Given the size of phones this might mean 5-6.9” or so. It seems that there are two views. There’s the view that a phone is a phone and should be “less than” some size, and a tablet is a tablet which is 7-8″ unless it is a big tablet (9.7″) or a PC/tablet. The other view is that consumers will be selecting from a wide variety of sizes and the industry will meet many needs. I like this second view.”
- Cable companies and satellite TV companies are getting better at organising “real TV.” The companies that distribute “real TV” to consumers (especially live events and original programming) seemed especially innovative this year. DISH is particularly innovative in bringing together a very nice and high quality multi-room and multi-device scenario. One thing that really struck me was the new ability to flag a program for transcoding to your mobile device and easily download it. To date this has been mostly impossible to do. Unless you want to wait for DVD or streaming this is the only way to time and location shift first-run programming. Programming guides are getting much better and faster to interact with and the integration of fun data (related programs, background info) is great to see. Getting to place where you have one tuner box and then much smaller, fanless, storageless, settop boxes in other rooms is really close.”
- Gadgets that work as sensors on humans are becoming ubiquitous. “These products are truly modern products—empowering consumers with technology to literally improve their lives, and connect them to the internet and other resources. There are all sorts of sensors for well-known human telemetry: weight, blood pressure, pulse oximetry, glucose level, air quality, distance traveled, and more. There are also sensors for fuzzier (computed not measured) areas such as concentration, sleep quality, mood, and so on. The common element for all of these is measurement with a device that connects to the internet (or directly your mobile device via bluetooth) and then on your device you can view trends, track, and analyse the data. For many people this is literally life and death (tracking bp, glucose). For many it is a way to maintain fitness levels or achieve a better level of fitness. Two things really struck me. First, there is a real responsibility these companies will need to shoulder to separate medically actionable data from telemetry that will simply drive you crazy and drive up medical costs for society (tracking pulseox for a normal healthy person is dubious). Second, these are really a unique set of products/services/businesses that are essentially mobile-only, profiting by either the device sale or a device + service subscription. Some are not even bothering with web-browser based viewing.”
- New PCs are going to come in all shapes and sizes. “There were a number of hybrid PCs (tablet with removeable/hideable/flippable keyboards) that are becoming clearer and more refined—I especially liked the Samsung and Lenovo entries. These PCs are really great for developers and designers—they let you work directly with the code and a client/designer at the same time in both coding and tablet usage styles. As with “phablet”, it seems that the variety of tablets enabled by Windows will be something that continues to bring innovative ideas to consumers.”
- Technology will keep trying to be green. “The most interesting challenge is that to really reduce power consumption (and extend battery life) requires hardware and software working together. Hardware companies announce the power draw of the hardware independent of the software platform; devices advertise battery life independent of radio signal strength or app load; manufacturers can create a software profile (drivers and more) that is not optimal for the advertised hardware number. There’s a lot to get this right.”
- “Help I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” gadgets are getting updated. “There were related products for pets and luggage as well, but the one for humans seems to be particularly valuable.”
Equally as fascinating is Sinofsky look at which consumer tech trends are losing traction. He writes:
- 3D. “3D was really big last year and you really had to work hard to even find a booth with glasses at all. I can’t recall something that had so many real products you could buy (and could buy that previous holiday) and in one year essentially vanished. I’m still surprised by this a bit because the world is 3D—it seems that the technology approach wasn’t working so I would not write off the concept just yet.”
- Storage. “There was a lot less in the way of storage technologies—hard drive cages, USB drives and sticks, media storage cabinets even. The cloud world we live in along with seemingly unlimited storage in the devices we use indicate this trend will continue.”
- Waterproof. “Last year it seemed like every booth had a fish tank holding a phone or tablet.”
- Media boxes. “There used to be a seemingly endless array of boxes that distribute photos, videos, and music around a home network. With Pandora/Netflix/etc. built into every TV and DVD player (and apps on every device), this type of device has probably been integrated.”
- Gesture based TV. “The excitement of gesture based control of TV was all but gone.”
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