Tuesday, January 23, 2018
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ECOSYSTEMS FOR SMARTER LIVING

The Consumer Electronics Show 2018 showcased the products that can assist you20 Jan 2018 | 1:36 AM

A handful of genuinely useful products, a broad sense of where the industry will be in the coming years and an avalanche of outlandish gizmos.

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Ashis Dutta Roy

A handful of genuinely useful products, a broad sense of where the industry will be in the coming years and an avalanche of outlandish gizmos. These are all we are usually left with at the end of arguably the world’s largest gadget gathering in January each year. But this year, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) generated a mountain of buzz (mostly snickers) for… power cuts. Yes, power outages at the grandest electronics fair in town was what set gadget blogs and social media on fire this time in poetic indictment of the times we live in.

But all due despondency aside, this year’s CES did bring its share of news that you should care about. This year, the headline was the Artificial Intelligence-Virtual Assistant war. The contest has been on for more than a couple of years now but what changed this year was we saw who really stands a chance to win — at least this year if not thereafter.

This is important because this war will decide which ecosystem you should invest in. Ecosystem, you ask? Well, at the heart of smarter lives beyond the smartphone are things like connected home appliances, voice-controlled electronics and trinkets of our lives that work with minimum friction is an all-pervasive personal butler for each of us.

Should be Apple’s Siri-enabled devices or Google’s Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa or the dark horses Microsoft’s Cortana and Samsung’s Bixby? When the ‘Top 5’ of the tech world are after just one thing, you can safely assume it’s not a fad. It matters.

If things this year at CES are anything to go by, the war has narrowed down to two frontrunners — Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. Siri and Cortana, both featured in those one-off devices but their ecosystem dream was nowhere to be seen this year. Bixby — at times unfairly — remains a joke. Nobody but Samsung, and the bloggers it is paying, is pushing this thing.

The flurry of action breathed new life into smarthome devices at the show this year. We saw a deluge of lights, locks, security cameras, speakers, refrigerators, washing machines and more that promised to be best friends with Alexa and the Google Assistant.

Both companies also carpet bombed the entire event with publicity for their prodigies. While Google announced its Assistant now works with 1,500 devices from 225 brands, Amazon boasted of 4,000 smart home integrations across 1,200 partners. Some devices hedged their bets supporting both.

While hope of these connected devices becoming as ubiquitous as smartphones is far, and perhaps even unfair, the bottomline right now for you — the humble Indian consumer — is this: Do not bother with the third, fourth and fifth place contenders unless you know what are doing. We wouldn’t say the time is here for you to rally entirely behind either Google Assistant or Alexa but if you must, we’d recommend that you pick up devices with one of these installed in it (like Amazon Echo or the Lenovo Smart Display), prefer electronics and appliances that support one of these and download either of their apps on your phone.

Other great things

 

Connected homes 

Plastering screens, cameras and microphones into every single home appliance, CES is the prime destination for turning your home into the wet dream of government surveillance officials. From robot butlers, kitchen TVs and more sleep trackers, this year’s event did not disappoint. LG slapped cameras and screens on a new range of refrigerators and said it can now suggest recipes based on the items you have stored inside. Of course, it supports Amazon Alexa. Not to be left behind, Whirlpool also showed off a range of home appliances that can take voice commands and connect to your virtual assistants of choice.

AR and VR

We are always a bit sceptical of augmented and virtual reality products but the event showcased some noteworthy evolution of the technologies. They are definitely not ready for prime time nor ready to totally revolutionise everything you see and hear, but the little things do count. A company called Vuzix demoed the Blade AR, an Alexa-enabled smart glass that promises voice-controlled access to messages, connected devices and information when you need it. HTC presented its Vive Pro VR headset that makes it more expensive than the current gen Vive but offers a higher-resolution display, a comfierfit and an option to avoid a wired connection to a computer.


On display

TVs and other screens, in general, form a large part of the CES roster. While seeming superfluous at first, many of these products trickle down in one form or another into our living rooms. Smart TVs? Curved TVs? 4K? All these technologies once started as propositions at past CES. From LG this year, we were wowed by a 65-inch Roll Up TV — a display that simply rolls up into its base once it’s done entertaining you. The company also brought a thunderous 8K TV to the show while Nvidia showcased blazing fast displays that will take gaming to the next level. Samsung, meanwhile, crashed the party with a 146-inch “Wall TV”. Playing to the ridiculously rich was Sony with its drop-dead gorgeous $30,000 4K projector that has more bells and whistles than the Queen’s personal band.

Project Linda

One trend that we always welcome is efforts to unify our gadgets. There are many of us who unwillingly toggle between a phone (to get through the day), a tablet (to wind down) and a laptop (to get work done). Building on the back of concepts like Microsoft’s Continuum and Samsung DeX, which upscale your powerful smartphone into a PC when connected with an appropriate larger screen, mouse and keyboard, gaming company Razer showed off ‘Project Linda’. It’s a laptop shell that cleverly takes in the beastly Razer Phone where the trackpad should be and boots up like an android-powered PC, making it the most seamless implementation of the unification concept we’ve seen so far.

Wild Ones

What’s a good trade show 

without the customary cavalcade of crazy contraptions?

For fans of the fantastical, we present the weirdest gadgets of CES:

ForwardXCX-1

How about a self-driving carry-on strolley that follows you around like a house elf around the airport? Price: $400 (Expected)

Somnox

A pillow that mimics human breathing so that you can cuddle with it at night to sleep better. 

Geek level: Forever alone. 

Price: $549

Kohler Numi

Alexa, please flush my poop — that is the promise of this internet-connected toilet. 

Price: $5,625 and up.

Modius

Exercise is for sissies. Some of

us like to zap our vestibular 

nerve to watch our weight. 

Price: $500

Laundroid

We all hate folding laundry but will you play Rs 10 lakh for a cabinet that does it for you? A company called Laundroid thinks so. 

Price: $16,000

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