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New wave of wearable gadgets at CES ‘Internet of Things’ with users at its heart

LAS VEGAS, Jan 6, (Agencies): As spending on gadgets flattens in a world obsessed with smartphones and tablets, the Consumer Electronics Show here hopes to be a launch pad for a new must-have device. From drones and smart cars to remote-controlled door locks and eyewear, the annual CES event officially starting Tuesday promises to showcase an “Internet of Things” with users at its heart. The technology extravaganza that plays out each year in the glitz-laden city of Las Vegas has evolved beyond the eye-popping television technology for which it is known, to serve as a stage for once-dumb devices given brains in the form of computer chips and Internet connections. “You will see two types of technology here,” Shawn DuBravac, chief economist at the Consumer Electronics Association which puts on the international show, said Sunday. “You will see the technologically feasible and the ones that are commercially viable.” Innovations on display but not prime for market will include bendable screens.
Potentially disruptive technology that is available includes 3D printers that let users print objects in a fashion similar to printing documents. “It is still a very nascent market, but we are starting to see it grow,” DuBravac said.

Showcase
The CES stage is typically a prime showcase for gizmos that don’t usually get a spotlight. “You will see a lot about the Internet of things; all the gadgets that are not a tablet, smartphone or personal computer but are attached to the Internet,” said Forrester analyst Frank Gillett. “Like your car telling you that you are speeding too much or door locks that you unlock with a smartphone. There are all kinds of gadgety things like that we will see.” A driver of the hot CES trend of wearable computers such as bracelets or pendants that track wearers’ activities or health is proliferation of low-cost sensors. Sensors in cars help drivers park or enable cruise-control features to modify speed depending on traffic, while Internet-linked thermostats in homes can sense when residents’ smartphones are nearing and adjust temperatures to welcome them. And door locks with wireless connectivity and sensors can open automatically for people arriving home, or be controlled remotely using smartphones. As a result, protecting personal information gathered by sensors is “certainly on the radar for all manufacturers at CES,” according to DuBravac.
“I almost wonder sometimes if privacy is an anomaly instead of the other way around,” DuBravac said, noting that in small towns of days gone by everyone seemed to know everyone else’s doings.
“If I can get a richer experience by sharing my data, that is a fair trade-off,” he suggested.
The latest in television ultra-high definition screens will be on display, but analysts expected them to land in the market with a thud similar to that made by 3-D televisions.

Benefit
“Your television gets a zillion more pixels, but most people won’t be able to notice the difference,” Gillett said, though DuBravac expects scores of Ultra HD television announcements at CES.
UItra HD television stands to benefit from availability of rich content at online venues such as Netflix, YouTube as well as from major film studios.
They are also hitting the market about eight years after consumers upgraded en masse to high definition screens, and historic buying patterns indicate people will be looking for replacement TVs.
The global market for technology hit a record high of $1.068 trillion in 2013 powered by uptake in smartphones and tablets, according to Steve Koenig, director of industry analysis at the Consumer Electronics Association.
He forecast that figure would ebb slightly this year and level off at $1.055 trillion, noting that regions where demand for smartphones or tablets is hottest tend to be places where low prices are needed to penetrate markets.


“North America is no longer in the lead in terms of technology spending,” Koenig said. “The spending coming on line in Asia has sealed the deal in terms of leadership and America will have to settle for number two. Simply put, there is strength in numbers in China.”
Amazingly, 43 cents of every dollar spent on consumer electronics this year was predicted to go on smartphones and tablets. “We are now awaiting that next wave of innovation, and that is really what CES is all about,” Koenig added.
The wearables wave is still in its early phases. Many of the technologies on display will offer a glimpse of the future — not necessarily products that are ready for the mainstream consumer.
These new gadgets are “like the first generation of the iPod,” says Gary Shapiro, chief executive of the Consumer Electronics Association, the group that has hosted the trade show since 1967. “It was bulky and it wasn’t that pretty. Look what happened. It got slimmer. It got better.”
Industry analysts’ estimates for the growth of wearables are rosy. Research firm IHS says the global wearables market — which also includes health products like hearing aids and heart-rate monitors — could top $30 billion in 2018, up from nearly $10 billion at the end of 2013.

Growth
While some of the growth will come from an aging population that requires more health-related monitoring at home, devices like the Fitbit Force activity band — which tracks a wearer’s steps, calories burned, sleeping patterns and progress toward fitness goals — are also expected to gain popularity as deskbound workers look for new ways to watch their waistlines.
At this week’s show, companies are likely to introduce improvements in wearable screens and battery life, says Shane Walker, an IHS analyst. The two are linked because the more a device tries to do, the more battery power it consumes. This creates demand for innovative low-power screens, but also for ways to interact with devices that don’t rely on the screen, such as using hand gestures and voice.
“With wearable technology, it’s all about battery consumption,” Walker says.
What’s driving the boom in wearable device innovation is the recent widespread availability of inexpensive sensors known as microelectromechanical systems (MEMS). These are tiny components like accelerometers and gyroscopes that, for instance, make it possible for smartphones to respond to shaking and for tablets to double as steering wheels in video games.
There are also sensors that respond to pressure, temperature and even blood sugar. Toronto-based Bionym Inc. will show off its Nymi wristband at CES. The gadget verifies a user’s identity by determining his or her unique heartbeat. The technology could one day supplant the need for passwords, car keys and wallets.


Waterloo, Ontaro-based Thalmic Labs Inc. plans to show off how its MYO armband can be used as a remote control device to operate a quadricopter drone. The band responds to electricity generated in forearm muscles as well as arm motions and finger gestures.
Co-founder Stephen Lake says the MYO is more akin to a mouse or keyboard that controls activities than the latest line of smart wristbands that simply track them.
“We’ve seen this shift away from traditional computers to mobile devices,” Lake says. “Our belief is that trend will continue and we’ll merge closer with technology and computers. New computer-human interfaces are what can drive these changes.”


Wearables may not gain broad acceptance until sensors advance to a point where they can track more sophisticated bodily functions than heart rate, says Henry Samueli, co-founder of Broadcom Corp., the company that makes wireless connectivity chips for everything from iPhones to refrigerators. Monitors that measure blood sugar, for instance, still require test strips and pin-pricks.
“If you can monitor your blood chemistry with a wearable, now there we’re talking about something pretty compelling,” Samueli says. “Then I think the market will take off in a big way.”
Companies are also expected to tweak the business models for wearable gadgetry as the devices become more mainstream. Fitness-focused wearables could one day help lower your health-care premiums if your insurer can verify your exercise regime. Always-on wristbands that know who you’re with — and their preferences — could become vehicles for location-based restaurant advertising.
“I think you’re going to see a lot of maturity in 2014 in the way companies think about their business,” says J.P. Gownder, an analyst with Forrester Research. Right now, the market is a swirling cauldron of ideas and products. Eventually, a winner may emerge.
Josh Flood, an analyst with ABI Research, says “the killer app” for a wearable product with the right mix of form, function and price “hasn’t been identified yet.”

Sales
LG Electronics Inc said Monday it will bring the software that once powered Palm’s smartphones to majority of its new smart TVs this year.
The South Korean firm unveiled webOS-based smart TVs at a trade fair in Las Vegas, less than a year after its purchase of the operating system for smartphones and tablet computers from Hewlett-Packard Co.
HP’s sales of webOS to LG in March gave a new life to the ill-fated webOS software created by Palm Inc., the maker of Palm Pre smartphones later acquired by HP.
While HP scrapped the mobile devices running on the webOS after disappointing sales in late 2011, LG Electronics is betting big on the webOS to improve the way viewers navigate smart TVs. LG is the world’s second-largest TV maker by shipments after Samsung Electronics Co.
Even though television set makers had hoped to mimic the robust growth in the smartphone industry by introducing the Internet-connected televisions that can run applications like smartphones do, the TV market’s size was forecast to shrink in 2013 due to the global economic recession, according to market research firm IHS.

More than 70 percent of LG’s new smart TVs this year will be based on webOS, which helps simplify searching contents and setting up the TV. LG also expects the new OS would make it easy for developers to write applications for its TVs. Another point of improvement that LG hopes to make through the webOS software is the compatibility between smart TVs and other devices. The Consumer Electronics Association estimates that global spending on technology will slip 1 percent this year to $1.06 trillion as the lower average selling price of smartphones and tablets offsets unit growth in markets like China.

The decline is off the peak of $1.07 trillion estimated this year. Steve Koenig, the association’s director of industry analysis, issued the forecast at the opening of the annual International CES gadget show on Sunday. The retreat doesn’t reflect less consumer appetite for what Koenig called the “dynamic duo” of tech gadgets. Spending on smartphones and tablets is still expected to account for some 43 cents of every dollar spent on technology this year. But the average price of smartphones, for example, will fall from $444 in 2010 to an estimated $297 this year, despite the number of smartphones sold rising to 1.21 billion up from 1.01 billion. “These lower-end devices are what’s required to penetrate most deeply into these emerging markets,” he said. Smartphones and tablets remain such key drivers of technology spending that they are eating into other categories of devices like point-and-shoot cameras, video cameras, portable GPS devices and handheld gaming devices.

However, within other categories of devices there are a few pockets of growth, including wearable devices. Smartwatch sales are expected to be 1.5 million units globally this year, up from 1 million in 2013, said Shawn DuBravac, the association’s chief economist. “This is a very nascent market. We’re still looking for that killer application for that particular device,” he said. Ultra HD televisions, which roughly quadruple the number of pixels of a high-definition set, are also seen taking off. There were 60,000 such sets sold in the US alone last year, a number expected to hit 485,000 this year, the association said. However, that’s still a small number compared to the nearly 40 million TVs sold in the US each year, DuBravac said.

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