The past month has been hectic for the iPad & iPhone User team, taking in long-haul flights to Las Vegas (the Consumer Electronics Show) and San Francisco (the Macworld | iWorld conference). But all that jetlag was worth it for the glimpse we got of the future of consumer technology.
What can we expect from gadgets in 2012 and 2013? It’s all about mobile, of course: devices are shrinking (with the exception of the giant iPod dock) and adding wireless, cloud computing and app-controlled functionality. But there continues to be a pleasing vein of weirdness: a diversifying market where companies find their niche (360-degree video cameras, waterproof smartphones) and specialise.
Finally, despite having no official presence at CES, Apple continues to exert a gravitational pull. When not releasing iOS apps, or kit for the iPad or iPhone, tech firms are launching smartphones and tablets of their own. Time will tell if the iPad has anything to worry about.
GADGETS & INNOVATIONS
Welcome to the world of tomorrow
Makerbot Replicator 3D printer
The Makerbot Replicator is one of the most intriguing and powerful examples of the new generation of 3D printers, which are capable of an astonishing range of creations. Our dream of Star Trek-style infinite-meal machines seems closer than ever.
The Replicator comes in two versions: one with a single extruder ($1,749) and the other with two, for $1,999. The double extruder allows you to print in two colours – or even two materials – at the same time, and MakerBot says it’s the first consumer-grade 3D printer that can do this.
When you use multiple colours and the two extruders on the high-end model, the new Replicator can copy some cool things, like a two-colour cupcake. Mmmm... Next step: actual cupcakes (we hope).
The MakerBot also has a 8.9x5.7x5.9in build envelope, or almost 5L of build volume. This gives you considerably more space to work with than that which you got with the earlier MakerBot Thing-O-Matic, making it easier to fabricate those more complex objects,
like, say, an awesome 3D-printed toy robot.
To learn more about the MakerBot Replicator – and to pre-order – be sure to check out MakerBot’s blog. The device is expected to ship around the end of February: stay tuned for news on a European launch. www.makerbot.com
PixelOptics emPower smart glasses
There are smartphones and smart TVs. And now there are smart glasses.
PixelOptics has developed technology for people who wear bifocals. But instead of looking through the top or bottom of the lenses depending on whether you’re driving or reading, you can change the focus by tapping on the frame near the temple. An invisible layer of liquid crystal embedded in the lenses is electronically activated to switch the focus of the lenses.
That’s manual mode. But there’s an even cooler automatic mode (activated by a swipe along the frame) where you just tilt your head, and the glasses react to the movement.
The glasses will come with a charger; a single charge should last you two to three days. pixeloptics.com
Ultra Definition TV
This year’s CES saw the usual glut of mind-blowingly luxurious TVs, with 2012’s buzzwords being bigger, thinner, smarter, 3D (of course), and… Ultra Definition.
Toshiba and LG were displaying sets rated at 4K resolution: that’s a stunning horizontal pixel count of around 4,000. But Sharp surpassed that with an 85in display with 8K resolution (7680x4320 pixels): 16 times the resolution of a normal HDTV. It followed up that trick with the world’s first 80in 3D LED TV (which is merely full HD). The LC-80LE844U features Sharp’s Quattron technology for better 3D images, plus LED backlighting and 240Hz to decrease blur during fast-moving video. www.sharp.co.uk
Parrot AR.Drone 2.0
The successor to 2010’s popular Parrot AR.Drone wowed CES attendees with an impressive array of acrobatic tricks, but more intriguing still was the connected video feed. Ideally for the spy/film auteur crossover segment, the helicopter’s camera now shoots in HD – or at least 1280x720.
A free app is available that lets users record HD video from the helicopter’s camera and share it with others, and there’s a ‘travelling’ feature that enables those previously mentioned film director types to set a particular aerial, moving shot – a direction and duration, basically – and then the AR.Drone 2.0 will do the hard work.
The higher-def camera adds to the potential for gaming; it can recognise shapes and colours, and there are various apps available that create an augmented-reality view of the world around you, and put you in the pilot’s seat.
Parrot reckons it’s got the stability of the device improved, and the manoeuvres on show seemed to back that up. And if you’re concerned about nearby iPhone owners wresting control of your helicopter, Terminator 2-style, don’t worry: the control pairing is secure until you choose to relinquish it. ardrone.parrot.com
Immersive, mobile and next-gen games kit
Razer Project Fiona
Project Fiona is an odd proposition. PC gamers are a staid bunch, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find one who’ll give up the tried-and-tested control combination of mouse and keyboard. But Razer’s tablet concept aims to do just that, bringing portable PC gaming to a new form-factor. We had a chance to get our hands on the device at CES, and it’s in impressive shape.
Most of the details are under wraps, and subject to change as the product evolves this year. We do know that the Project Fiona prototype is a Windows 7 tablet running on a Core-i7 Intel Ivy Bridge processor. Razer is aiming at a target price that’s under $1,000 (about £650), and plans to have the tablet running on Windows 8 when it’s released around the end of the year.
The device is lighter than we expected – somewhere in the neighbourhood of 1.4kg. Admittedly, that’s enormous for a tablet. But it felt right in our hands. The two analogue joysticks on either side of the tablet are decidedly wider than a typical gamepad’s arrangement, which takes a bit of getting used to. But once we’d found a comfortable seating position, that extra weight was largely unnoticeable. Just don’t expect to make this your primary reading or media device.
We had a bit of quality time to sink into Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine, and playback was incredibly smooth. Things look and feel great – the action was fluid, with nary a hint of dropped frames or slowdown. We’ve no idea what the actual display settings were, but being a hand-built prototype, things bode well. There are force feedback motors built into the controllers, and while we could feel them throbbing, the effect was minimal. That could be chalked up to vibration settings in the game, or lacklustre motors in the prototype.
The expected caveats for handmade concept devices apply. It runs hot: we’re pretty sure there’s a discrete graphics card in there (although Razer wouldn’t say), but you can definitely feel the heat through the rear of the case. The right analogue stick was a bit sticky, locking into place. The buttons on the controllers aren’t especially ergonomically friendly, and we had trouble figuring out where to put our thumbs. And the games were all running on Windows 7 with a custom Razer UI splashed on top, so calls to press ‘E’ or ‘Enter’ don’t translate well just yet.
Project Fiona is in really good shape for a hand-built prototype. But it’s important to remember that this is merely a proof of concept – the hardware and controls are all subject to change, and there’s at least an entire year to go before Razer hopes to bring this device to market. Stay tuned for continued coverage; we’re looking forward to seeing this creature evolve. www.razerzone.com
Sensics tries to take gaming to a whole new level with its SmartGoggles. These goggles (why not just call it a helmet?) literally put your head in the game. That is, you have to put your head inside a bulky contraption (the SmartGoggles) before you get to play anything. We took a look at Sensics SmartGoggles at Pepcom’s Digital Experience event at CES, and let’s just say they’re definitely still in prototype form. smartgoggles.net
A cool gadget called Sphero was gathering plenty of interest in the iLounge Pavilion at CES. It’s a glowing ball with gyroscopes inside that allow two-way control: you can make the ball roll from your iPhone, or move it around to control an avatar in an iOS game. The ball costs $129; there are five apps with various games, currently free to download. The gyroscope is strong enough to get the ball
to climb a little ramp. www.gosphero.com
The new Gametel accessory for mobile gaming snaps on to the bottom of an iPhone, Android smartphone or similar, but it doesn’t need to be touching it to work – the connection is Bluetooth, allowing it to work with the iPad. It recreates the hardware controller functions of console joypads, with a D-pad, four buttons and shoulder triggers. For those who find touchscreen controls unsatisfying, it could provide welcome relief, although of course not all games will support the device. We were assured that the Gametel device works happily and easily with iOS, despite mostly Android marketing. It’s available through Amazon.co.uk and costs £49.99. gametel.se