How Gadgets Will Change in 5 Years

Tablet Man is a tongue-and-cheek look at the future, where electronics will be a part of everything we do and are.
Tablet Man is a tongue-and-cheek look at the future, where electronics will be a part of everything we do and are.

Today’s high-definition TVs and tablets will have to make room for tomorrow’s video greeting cards, audio speakers customized for each person’s ears, and gadgets that can read human emotions. Such futuristic devices will arrive within the next five years, experts say.

Touch-based tablets and gesture-recognition devices on the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) convention floor could give way to eye gaze interaction that allows for automatic scrolling, “skin stretch feedback” that moves tiny knobs against human fingertips as a cue for gamers, and mobile or household devices that take people’s emotional states into account.

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“We’ll have computers and devices that interpret our emotions, gestures and faces as we use them,” said Tom Wilson, CEO of emotion3D. “They’ll interpret moods to give consumers a more helpful and rewarding experience.”

Wilson and several colleagues discussed new technologies that are likely to appear on store shelves in five years — technologies poised to transform how consumers see, hear and interact with future gadgets. Their panel gave a sneak preview of the International Conference on Consumer Electronics that took place directly after CES in Las Vegas from Jan. 11-14.

Sensory Overload

Tomorrow’s earpieces and speakers could adapt to a person’s hearing by measuring their eardrum and cochlear reactions. Tiny microphone arrays and advanced sound systems could help reduce outside road noise in cars or even “steer” audio toward listeners in a room.

“The big change for the next five years is that audio is going to match you,” said Rich Doherty, director and co-founder of the Envisioneering Group.

Mobile devices such as smartphones will also get improved audio quality up to 16 times better than the tinny sounds of today’s gadgets, Doherty said. On the video side, tablets and smartphones could get ultra high-definition display screens with a far richer visual feast for the eyes. [3D Ear Scanning Enables Custom-Fit Headphones]

On the big screen, Hollywood may push up frame rates to speeds well beyond the 48 frames per second on display in “The Hobbit” and closer to 1,000 frames per second, Doherty explained. On the small side, video displays could become so inexpensive that stores will use video tags in retail displays and greeting cards.

3D films could also become better matched with surround-sound audio for a truly 3D experience in movie or home theaters, Wilson said.

More Space Needed

Higher resolution video in new 4K TVs (Ultra HD) will also mean films or TV shows requiring much more digital storage space. Films with 4K resolution that currently require more than 100 gigabytes of storage would also represent a very long download for most home Internet users — even those with fast broadband Internet speeds.

Such huge ultra HD videos could mean a slight resurgence in physical media such as Blu-ray discs, as opposed to downloading online videos.

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“We may be able to get a 4K movie into a 50-gigabyte Blu-ray disc,” said Tom Coughlin, a storage analyst and president of Coughlin Associates.

But digital storage devices have also increased to holding terabytes of information (1 terabyte is equal to 1,024 gigabytes). And even storage-light mobile devices can pack more storage into smaller sizes — Coughlin says 128-gigabyte tablets could become common starting in 2013.

New Mobile Forms

People who play on their video game consoles or smartphones can also expect new ways to interact with their games. “Skin stretch feedback” controllers resemble tiny joysticks on top of the main joysticks that offer a way to guide gamers as they move left, right or carry out more complicated motions.

But a bigger shift may come from devices that can bring tablet games closer to the experience of playing on an Xbox or PS3 video game console. Such devices range from wireless gamepad controllers to accessories that give iPads hand and button controls similar to old arcade machines or pinball machines.

“We’re now seeing tablets becoming competition for the Xbox and other video game consoles,” said Will Lumpkins, director of engineering for O&S Services and standards chair for the IEEE Consumer Electronics Society.

Whether working or playing on mobile devices, people could also benefit from smartphones or tablets that are more usable on the go. Google glasses and smart car apps could help free people from the potential hazards of falling into a fountain or crashing while texting.

“We call them mobile devices, but they’re designed to be used stationary,” said Stefan Mozar, principal consultant of CCM Consulting. “Safety issues with mobile devices need to be rethought.”

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