The future of electronics

Updated: Jan 19 2014, 07:39am hrs
Now that the worlds biggest Consumer Electronics Show, held annually in Las Vegas, has ended, its a good time to sit back and reflect on the major trends on display and whether they are sustainable. The biggest buzz was clearly around 3D printing and what the future holds. There is a lot of hype surrounding the technology, so any evaluation needs to err on the side of caution. There were over 30 companies, which showcased their 3D printing technology and it was clear that price is a major issue since most came with a hefty price tag. Yet, the applications are certainly expanding. The ChefJet Pro 3D printer prints food and will retail for $10,000. There were printers like the MakerBot Replicator Mini for $1,375, but right now, the fact is that the most general use for 3D printers is to create plastic toys. Thats a long way from being a technology that many believe will one day revolutionise the world in countless ways. 3D printing is, however, getting exciting and moving closer to our living rooms. The database of downloadable, printable designs; mobile and desktop apps and products show that right now, we can start printing whatever our minds can create. For the uninitiated, users create a 3D image using computer software and send their digital blueprint to the 3D printer. What follows is known as additive manufacturing. The printer constructs objectsfrom the bottom upby adding materials, as opposed to traditional manufacturing processes in which a raw material is pared down to the desired shape or products are moulded. With each pass of the 3D printers motorised head, the machine adds a thin layer of materialbe it liquid, powder, metal or another materialuntil the object is complete. Products can take 24 hours to print.

The status of 3D printing is similar to the other big idea at CES: curved screens. TVs from Samsung, LG and other brands with curved screens grabbed a lot of eyeballs, but more for the novelty value than for any technological benefit. Right now, it looks pretty cool, but its still highly experimental and of little use in terms of viewing pleasure. Its the same story with 4K Ultra HD technology, which was on display for televisions, monitors, cameras, etc. The problem is that there is very little content available for 4K Ultra HD, so the attraction is limited. What did make an impact was LGs arched phone called the Flex. True to its name, it bends when you push down on it, and also, more important, when you sit on it. The benefit, clearly, is durability.

The other big ideas were in wearable gadgets. There were a huge number of wearables announced this yearsome very good, some not, but the category still has a long way to go before breaking out of its niche. Pebbles classy smartwatches and Razers fitness band present perhaps the best in wearable tech at the moment. Sony introduced its Core SmartBand activity tracker bracelet and new, smaller companies are making products like the Wellograph, an elegantly-shaped fitness watch that has a sapphire crystal, integrated heart-rate monitor and a two-week battery life per charge. The Pebble Steel also showcased the Kickstarter in a handsome new stainless-steel frame and dressed up metal wristband. The question is will wearable tech be something people want to wear No one is going to ditch their smartphone for a wearable one any time soon. To sum up, CES had some signposts to the future of technology but it all seems a long way off right now. What is now and trending are the number of big fashion brands that are getting into accessories for tech products. There were any number at Las Vegas, from Versace to Jean-Paul Gautier, showcasing their mobile cases, sleeves and accessories. Probably the funkiest, and most interesting, product on show was the X12 mattress, which uses sensors to adjust to your body weight and sleeping habits to provide the perfect nights sleep.