Companies like Apple (Nasdaq:AAPL), Microsoft (Nasdaq:MSFT) and Sony (NYSE:SNE) among others, are constantly working to excite the market with the next great must-have device. And while many of these proposed revolutions fail to catch on (think Betamax and HD-DVD players) other inventions have transformed our lifestyles. (For a related reading, check out 6 Reasons Why Products Fail.)
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With the recent wrap of the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show - the tech industry's largest trade show - we now have a clearer picture of what the Willy Wonkas of the tech industry have concocted to make our world easy, entertaining and accessible. Here are four entertainment tech developments coming in 2011.
- 3D - The Redux
Most people associate 3D viewing with strapping on cheap red and blue glasses (known as passive glasses) that are found in cereal boxes to watch cheesy horror movies and IMAX (Nasdaq:IMAX) documentaries. Today, 3D movies are becoming the norm in Hollywood and the technology is coming into our homes. More companies are making 3D TVs, and that competition should reduce the $2500-plus price tags.
What's better, the $150 battery-powered glasses (known as active-shutter glasses) that are currently required for many 3D TVs may be on the way out. RealD has created a projector that works well with passive glasses. This ZScreen technology is being licensed to many TV manufacturers, but there is worry that the increased cost of the technology will negate any savings on the active-shutter glasses and then some.
As with any promising and budding tech trend, the early product offerings are expensive. Runco offers a 3D home projector that works with passive glasses … for only $49,995. For a more modest $21,000, you can shoot 3D home movies with Panasonic's (NYSE:PC) Full HD 3D camcorder. Despite the big tickets, expect to see 3D tech become more common in stores this year, and look forward to 3D wedding videos of chicken dances and garter tosses.
- iPad Has Company in the Tablet PC Market
Some find it lonely at the top, but it's likely that Apple's iPad enjoyed its brief solitude in the tablet market. Many were skeptical over the tablet PC concept, but after Apple sold three million in the first 80 days, the developers at Samsung, Toshiba, Research in Motion (Nasdaq:RIMM) and Motorola (NYSE:MMI) have all made their pitch for a share of the tablet market. RIM's Blackberry Playbook variation is priced similarly to the iPad at about $500, but with a seven-inch screen - about three-inches smaller than the iPad - RIM is hoping that their faster processor, enhanced portability and camera feature will make up for its small display.
Motorola's Xoom tablet appears to be the most direct thread to the iPad. The Xoom boasts a slightly larger screen than the iPad, as well as exceeding many other iPad-specs, such as dual cameras with HD capabilities, Adobe Flash compatibility - a feature the iPad has been maligned for lacking - and the Xoom is the first tablet to work with Google's (Nasdaq:GOOG) much anticipated Honeycomb Android operating system. As tablets become more versatile and less expensive, look for this sleeker and more capable platform to shove netbooks into the electronics recycling heap.
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- Faster Phones and Stronger Internet
Tech users and "Talladega Nights" character Ricky Bobby have one thing in common - they wanna go fast! This instinctual need for speed is going to make 2011 a landmark year for both the internet and smartphones. First, internet providers are now offering Fourth Generation cellular wireless (4G). This tech can be added to some devices through a USB modem and it is now being built into smartphones and computers. This improved service makes any device a hotspot, eliminating the need to stay in wireless internet zones. Besides having more reach, 4G is also faster than its predecessor, making streaming data from providers like Netflix quicker and more convenient than ever.
To keep up with 4G's impressive abilities, many smartphones now run on 1GHz dual-core processors - technology that was previously only available in larger notebooks and computers. This improved speed will make smartphones more adept at multitasking, gaming and running large programs. All this extra power and connectivity will make 2011 the year your smartphone begins to replace your home computer. (For a related reading, check out Money-Saving Smartphone Apps.)
- App Appeal
Following up on the success of Apple's iPod and iPhone apps, Apple launched the Mac App Store on Jan 6, 2011. The online store sells apps that work only on Mac computers that run the Snow Leopard operating system. Familiar competitors like RIM and Samsung are working to catch up with their Blackberry App World and Samsung Apps online stores, respectively.
Astoundingly useful apps are being offered and the benefits are dramatic. Wishbone Apps' ISpectrum Color Blind Assistant allows your smartphone to audibly identify colors in the viewfinder - an advancement that has already enhanced life for blind people. Another soon-to-be indispensable app is Quest Visual's Word Lens app, which can read text in your iPhone's viewfinder and translate it to another language. As more languages become available for translation, the Word Lens app will become essential for traveling and foreign communication.
The Bottom Line
Leading tech companies never tire from topping themselves, and 2011 is shaping up to reinforce this theory. Apple continues to lead the way, forcing many competitors to respond to Apple product launches rather than risk being one-upped later by the America's second largest company. However, Apple's current dominance has inspired its competitors to work hard at dethroning the champ, and the resulting products prove that the 21st century is living up to science fiction's expectations.
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