It's not quite time for an end-of-year list of 2011's most important gadgets and trends, but a mid-year round up is exactly what took place on stage at the CEA Lineshows Conference in New York City this week.
Clayton Morris from Fox News got Ross Rubin of NPD Group, Peter Rojas of gdgt, Andrea Smith of ABC News Radio, Mark Spoonauer of Laptop and Josh Topolsky of ThisIsMyNext to chat about the most exciting gear and gadget-related trends on the market now. Did these tech journalists get it right? Feel free to offer your own list in the comments.
Software/App is the new gadget
For a panel billed to be all about gadgets, it was surprising the journalists would kick things off by talking software rather than hardware, but they were spot on. With all the tech coverage devoted to software update news -- from iOS 5, Windows Phone 7 Mango to Android Ice Cream Sandwich (what's with all the food references?) -- so far this year, software is without a doubt defining (if not outright making or breaking) gadgets right now.
Eye-Fi Memory Card
An Eye-Fi card looks and feels just like a standard SD card but contains an embedded Wi-Fi chip that allows users to upload photos and videos instantly and wirelessly from camera to computer or even your phone, without having to physically move the card from one device to another. As Rojas pointed out, many people don't bother moving their photos or videos off their phones or SD cards, so they rely solely on the camera's tiny LCD screen to show off their images. With the Eye-Fi, users don't have to bother with moving a thing, and only have to worry about capturing the best shot. That said, the card only works with select cameras and camcorders so check for compatibility before buying. The Eye-Fi is available from major retailers like Best Buy starting at $40 for 4 GB.
OnLive Game System and other set-top boxes
What makes the OnLive Game System a game-changer to the panelists is that the cloud-based video game service takes the device out of the equation by running games that used to be only possible on the latest consoles or high-end PCs with top of the line parts, on devices that have a fraction of the power. Other set-top boxes in the living room like the Roku, Singbox and Boxee also got a mention as they are helping people cut the cord to cable. Smith made a good point that her college-aged son just cares about getting Netflix on his Xbox, so the box that wins will be that one that makes it easy to get the content consumers want, as opposed to what the cable company wants to push to consumers.
No particular product was singled out but all the panelists agreed the use of technology to help consumers take more responsibility for their health is growing, especially among the "boomer generation" according to Smith. Average consumers can now purchase attachments like the iHealth blood pressure reader and app to measure and record their vital signs and send the information directly to their doctors, rather than drop by their doctor's office. There are even apps that remind users to take their medication, and measure there caloric in-take and exercise progress. Whether these apps and gadgets are as effective at improving our health as advertised, we'll just have to wait and see.
HTC Thunderbolt 4G/LTE
Phone-wise, the panelists were most impressed with Verizon's HTC Thunderbolt to date. What separates the Thunderbolt from others is the incredible upload (30 seconds to one minute) and download (5-12 mbps) speeds it can achieve thanks to the LTE network. In Spoonauer's opinion, "This is a huge deal. It's mobile broadband that feels like home broadband." The Thunderbolt's 4.3" display, 8 megapixel camera and 1 GHz Snapdragon CPU running Android Froyo still rank among the best specs in phones currently on the market, though it faces "lots of challenges around battery life," said Rubin.
For Topolsky, companies trying to catch up to the iPad 2 have yet "to make a really compelling argument about their products," which explains why the iOS device is still dominating its category without much competition. The panelists attribute the iPad's success to its software because "the main reason people buy the iPad is for the apps," according to Smith, "People want to play with those apps." Spoonauer got some chuckles by pointing out that, "There are probably more apps in the Chrome app store than in the Android Market for Honeycomb."
Speaking of Google's cloud-centric laptop running the Chrome OS, Rojas believes the Chromebook will "eventually be a game-changer [but] we're not there yet." At $350 for the cheapest model by Acer, the Chromebook is still too expensive for a laptop that has limited functions (no Bluetooth or Ethernet port, for example) when a netbook at a similar price is much more flexible and powerful. Perhaps when the price of Chromebook drops further, it will encourage more people to purchase the Google laptop as a secondary device and hence influence the industry.
Nintendo Wii U
Although the next generation Nintendo Wii U console won't be launched until 2012, the announcement of its new controller at E3 earlier this month captured the imagination of many eager consumers, including these tech journalists. As Rubin put it, the Wii U offers "innovation with a second screen" so they can't wait to see how it will play out.
MusicLites is a light bulb that streams and plays music wirelessly through the built-in receiver and speaker, which can be controlled with a remote via Infrared. Simply screw the bulb into a regular light socket, connect the USB transmitter to the source of music (computer, phone or tablet), and the music will be able to play in rooms installed with the MusicLites bulbs. The light bulb is a 10-watt LED light (equivalent to about a 65-watt reflector bulb), with a 70-millimeter full range high fidelity loudspeaker and a wireless audio receiver that works on the 2.4GhZ Wi-Fi band. "I think this is an insane idea," said Topolsky and I would have to agree given its price: $250 for one bulb, and $120 for the iPad/iPhone/iPod-compatible transmitter and remote. They are available in select audio dealers now. See for yourself in the video below:
Motorola Atrix 4G + dock
The panelists lamented what could have been with AT&T's Motorola Atrix 4G smartphone that can transform into a netbook with the Webtop OS and laptop dock. The idea is that you can expand on your phone's functionality by docking to a laptop shell, but in practice, "the laptop component isn't great," said Topolsky. Other gears like the Asus Padfone and Transformer are also following in this direction as the design makes sense "for people who are looking to combine gadgets," said Spoonauer. I know I am always looking for ways to do more with less gadgets. What about you?