What consumer technology will make the biggest splash in the New Year?

Jan NordmannJan Nordmann, Fraunhofer USA Digital Media Technologies,

While personal music services such as Aupeo and Spotify are popular today, streaming Internet Radio will evolve and continue its rise to fame with new technologies like MPEG Surround. More broadcasters are distributing content over the Internet as IP delivered audio competes with other forms of media for the consumer’s attention and is gaining ground.

The desktop and smartphones are established platforms for Internet Radio but other connected CE devices are gaining popularity: TVs, BluRay Players,AVRs and even cars come with some form of audio streaming and are usually attached to better speakers.

We’ll see a demand for better quality audio, especially since audio streaming competes with other types of media such as HDTV, video streaming and games, for the consumer’s attention. MPEG Surround will play a major role in enhancing the streaming experience.

Bottom line, all of the above make audio streaming a very dynamic area with a unique value proposition to the consumer if done right. Short-term, individual service providers might dominate the standards in the long-runand will hopefully enable a healthy ecosystem that can focus on the content and user experience, rather that the transport mechanism. 

Eric PerssonEric Persson, International Rectifier,

Over the span of a few short years, phones have transformed into personal sidekicks—a cell phone can give directions, forecast the weather, and provide endless entertainment. Phones have gone through several waves of redefinition and relabeling, and accompanying each new change comes the increasingly eager consumer, always impatient for the newest technology.

One of the latest innovations in cell phones has been the recent launch of the iPhone 4S with “Siri,” the amazingly effective voice recognition technology that one can literally hold a conversation with. Voice recognition has been around for many years (“Open the pod-bay doors, HAL.”) However, the ability to recognize, interpret in-context, decide, and act—(“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”)—is now an integral feature in this device.

This leads me to believe that voice-interactivity will be the technology to make the biggest splash in 2012. I predict appliance, automotive, and other markets will soon be filled with product introductions featuring similar capabilities. However, there have been technical shortfalls alongside the new iPhone 4S, namely the short battery life. Running such complex algorithms on battery-powered devices places a large burden on designing an efficient power management and conversion system, creating opportunities for companies like IR to develop ultra-efficient power management ICs and switches for the ever-expanding portable market. 

Rodger RicheyRodger Richey, Microchip Technology,

We see tablets continuing to grow, but tempered by the release of ultrabooks. Also included in this growth are accessories for tablets and smartphones that will expand beyond traditional audio docks into medical, sports/fitness, home automation, financial transactions and diagnostic equipment. The growth in tablets will be fueled by four key drivers: more manufacturers, lower prices, increased performance and increased feature sets. 2012 will see many more releases of tablets from non-traditional mobile device manufacturers that will help drive tablet prices from $600+ down to $300, making them more affordable and attractive to the causal buyer. The major manufacturers of tablets will release new versions of tablets that use faster processors, bigger screens and more memory that not only enable more and faster consumption of content, but the ability to create and modify content and then share it. Finally, the proliferation of new apps and accessories will more fully integrate the tablets use in our daily lives. Features such as Bluetooth 4.0, or more specifically Bluetooth Low Energy, will also help drive a new wave of accessories, such as medical devices, sports and fitness monitoring and home automation. 

Andrew J. PeaseAndrew J. Pease, QuickLogic , 

I believe the pico projector will emerge as an important new mobile segment in the coming year. The pico projector attaches to your smartphone and lets you project your photos, YouTube videos, and apps onto a wall so you can share them with a group of people, rather than passing your phone around to each person.

Pico projectors were originally introduced a few years ago, but the product announcements fell short of expectations. Specifically, the pico projectors were too expensive and consumed too much power.  I believe the light engine manufacturers have now greatly improved the power consumption issue and that   the pico projector can really take off if the price point can be made attractive enough.

One of the keys to success will be ensuring that the user’s viewing experience is of high enough quality. QuickLogic’s Visual Enhancement Engine (VEE) adapts an image to the viewing environment based on a human vision model.  This technology, which is based on proprietary cores from Apical Ltd, greatly improves the viewing experience by increasing the effective lumens of the pico projector.

By addressing the power, price and viewing experience, the pico projector segment will be a big success in 2012. 

Les TylerLes Tyler, President, THAT Corporation/dbx-tv

In 2012, the consumer electronics industry will see an increase in demand for high-performance audio in television sets. For years, TV development has focused primarily on picture quality (1080p, 3D, etc.), while audio has trailed behind. However, new audio technologies are emerging that finally enable TV-makers to achieve sound quality that better complements today’s brilliant HD pictures, without sacrificing ultra-sleek, flat screen silhouettes with minimal bezels.

This high quality audio will be achieved via advances in DSP audio technology that's priced within the reach of most TV makers. New, intelligent, easily-configurable and customizable audio software will redefine the TV-listening experience by extracting deeper bass, crisp highs and more natural sound from TV than ever before possible. Consumers will reap the reward of a new generation of TVs that deliver sound quality that better matches the picture quality without requiring external speakers and sound systems.

Eric SiegelEric Siegel, Texas Instruments,

Haptics, by far, will make the most waves. Haptics is the technology of vibrational feedback. This coming year, something that exists inherently in all mobile devices in the form of the silent/vibrate option will be growing out of its toddler form and into its adolescent stage, getting its learners permit and really starting to drive innovation.

This year, Haptics will manifest itself most prominently within the mobile gaming market through handsets and tablets, adding an extra layer of fun to those already addictive “apps.”  You are already seeing it prevail in games like “Plants vs Zombies” and “Angry Birds,” and soon it will pick up more momentum, adding more effects to its offerings and eventually leading up to the end result of synthetic surface recreation (making it feel like you are touching various surfaces, even though you’re just touching a screen).  How long until we reach that point remains to be seen (could it be this year?), but what you will find is that newer technologies will be finding their way to the market and ultimately into the hands of consumers worldwide. 

Brian KumagaiBrian Kumagai, Toshiba America Electronic Components,

Driven by the increasing consumer demand for streaming of HD content to different devices in the home, high-speed SD cards will be the consumer technology making the biggest splash in 2012. High-performance memory to enable the mobility of digital content – especially HD content – is key, as consumers increasingly choose to view their digital content on the go. Whether it's downloading content on a PC or tablet, users want ultra fast data transfer capability to minimize the wait time. The new high-speed SD cards allow for about 90 megabytes per second – that’s twenty times faster than a class 4 card.

Frank Stewart Frank Stewart, RF Micro Devices,

We see 2012 as a big year for LTE, both in device deployment and network deployment in additional markets. RFMD has been quite bullish on LTE adoption rates, and we believe 2012 will meet or exceed our bullish forecasts. As a result, we see significant growth in 2012 for LTE-based smartphones and tablets on the device side. For the cellular backhaul market, we see an acceleration of growth in point-to-point and remote radio heads. 2012 will be bigger and better than 2011!