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CES 2012: Focus on the User Experience
CEA research director says gadgets at this year's Consumer Electronics Show will boast simpler, better user interfaces and emphasize device personalization

LAS VEGAS—In a presentation on the eve of the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Shawn DuBravac, research director for show producers the Consumer Electronics Association declared that the industry was entering the second decade of the digital transition.

“We spent the last decade playing out the digital transition, which was a broad shift from analog technologies such as VCRs to PVRs, or analogue TV to digital TV. The second phase will see the market start to leverage all these digital devices. The average household today has about 25 consumer electronics (CE) products—the next step is taking advantage of those devices with interconnectivity. This means starting to capture the vast volume of digital assets we have created, whether that is professional video or music content or self-generated, and to begin to organize them so we can search and discover them.”

He further suggested that as technology becomes more omnipresent it will step to the background. “The home of the future will have technology hidden from the user rather than very visible to the end user,” he said. “

He outlined three key themes that will play out over this year. The first was what he called the "morphing of computing" where there is a move to pull computing power out of devices while at the same time pushing more computing functionality into historically non-core devices.

“The Smart TV is great example,” he said. “We have had 50-plus years of TV but now it is increasingly behaving like a computer with apps and the capability of a browser. In 2010, 12% of all TV units shipped were internet capable, and by 2012 we expect nearly half of all TVs that ship globally will be connected TVs. That is a pretty phenomenal rate of change."

Smartphones too, fitted with quad core processors and 4G are now becoming more like fully fledged computers, he said. “While last year was perhaps the strongest wireless show in CES history I expect more phones to launch at this year’s show than ever before.”

On the flip side there are devices where the focus is not so much on the computing power but on other elements of that experience. Products here include the thin, lightweight Ultrabook, of which 30-50 are expected to be on display at CES, in addition to 50 or so different tablets.

The second DuBravac prediction was that 2012 will be the "year of the interface."

“In the last few years we have seen apps like email, Twitter and Facebook on CE devices like TVs,” he said. “Manufacturers wanted to show these properties because it said to consumers that the product is connected. But the experience is generally poor. The next focus will be on improving the user experience."

In addition companies will replace complexity with simplicity. A key product here is the LG Magic Wand remote control, which uses gesture control—and perhaps soon voice control—to deliver a more natural experience for users. “Gesture control and voice control will show up in more and more devices such as tablets during 2012,” he suggested.

The final trend he identified was "the prevalence of personal."

“In the past everyone has broadly had the same experience with their audio and video, but now with personal devices like tablets and smartphones the experience is personalised,” he said. “Even if two people own the exact same model and carrier, users are able to customize them and make them our own so that they behave in a way that is specific to us.

“Manufacturers  are supporting this as well by providing services that can be customised to each user.”

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