Four days, 5,000 companies, 20,000 new products, 1.861 million sq ft net, 1,53,000 attendees. And poor little me to cover it all on my own.
CES (Consumer Electronics Show, Los Angeles) is a big, beautiful and mind-numbing showcase of all that the rest of the year will throw up from the world of tech. It’s also where you see clear lines and trends as to where technology will go.
This week, let’s look at the new direction this mammoth event has pointed us towards. Next week, we’ll do a two-page photo spread of the best and worst gadgets of CES 2012.
TV: The centre of our universe again
From being one of four screens, TV came back to being the main one and with bang.
TV: The centre of our universe again
Apps that made sense for a large screen hanging on a wall; true connectivity to the Internet for real features; the end of the remote control and the start of voice, gesture and face control; making 1080P look bad with 4K and even 8K (mindblowing surreal clarity) resolution; glassless 3D that turned a gimmick into a must-have; and OLED finally moving from expensive, overblown hype to something we all will be able to buy and bring home.
Verdict: While I’m not really sold on this whole voice and gesture control thing, the rest is all solid. Once we have 4K OLED Glassless 3D TVs with full wireless Net connectivity and smart apps, the TV will be the God device and not the smartphone. TVs are back and how!
This was rumoured to be the year of the Ultrabook but it turned out to be far more than that. With more than 50 new models, Ultrabooks dominated in design, features, material usage and showed maximum innovation.
From transformer-like Ultrabooks to morphing ones, from powerhouses to 22-hour battery life wizards and from thin, knife blade-like designs to pure yoga (we’re talking about the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga, of course!), the Ultrabook had the crowds, the buzz and the demand.
Verdict: Ultrabooks are killing it and will dominate the computing space for a long, long time. Netbooks, it may well be time to pack up your small bags and move to redundant city.
Tablets and smartphones:
Maturity and refinement
Both of them grew up and showed a level of true sophistication in ease of use and operations. While the quest for thinnest and lightest continued (Huawei and Toshiba won), it wasn’t about a single killer feature anymore.
Each new device in each category matured and blossomed into a powerhouse device that truly put the user first.
Outstanding battery life, great utilities built in, fantastic ergonomics, true ecosystem and flawless performance were the hallmarks here.
Verdict: It’s getting difficult to distinguish between what a small Tablet or a large smartphone can do. But boy, do they both do amazing things. Any manufacturer that tries to sell a device based on a single cool feature will die a gory death.
Smart Devices: Everything talks to everything
A washing machine controlled by a smartphone 20 km away; a refrigerator that mails you a shopping list as soon as you enter a grocery store; a microwave that connects to your phone and gives you step-by-step video to cook the perfect dish; and a robotic vacuum cleaner that glides out of its enclosure and starts work as soon as you leave the house and sends you messages of cleaning up progress on your phone.
It’s a world where machines talk to machines – intelligently and for a reason.
Verdict: It’s a little unnerving to see it happen but machines and appliances are getting smarter and will make life very easy for us. A very lazy future awaits us.
Cameras: The new optical wonders
The camera phones made standalone cameras look quite foolish for a while. Now the standalone cameras seem to be rising from the ashes. They can already do what a camera phone does – but now they’ve pushed the boundaries further.
All of them have hit fantastic optical refinement, have pushed megapixel capabilities to the hilt, are WiFi-enabled and some are 3G ready too.
They can do automatic backups to a computer, post instantly to Twitter or Facebook, upload to Picasa and do in-camera editing and special effects. But the new killer feature is a remote screen control.
Use a smartphone or Tablet as your control screen, put your camera in a faraway location, control zoom, exposure, brightness and framing and even take the picture from your remote screen. Now which camera phone can do that?
Verdict: It’s good to see innovation coming from a dead category. Camera phones, what will you do next?
The real winners of CES 2012(and they don’t even know it)
Two companies came out as the real winners of the event. Microsoft, which has said it won’t even be there next year and Apple which wasn’t there at all. Microsoft won hands down as Ultrabooks proved how important Windows as an operating system was and how it still dominates this space.
Windows Phone devices and the OS had the biggest crowds around it and some of the best phones came from there.
The Windows 8 demo had the whole of CES salivating. Apple, because almost anything and everything that any company at CES did was to either compete with Apple (iPhone killer, iPad killer, MacBook Air killer) or to add on to Apple (the largest space was an iLounge for Apple accessories).
Verdict: Apple and Microsoft are being solidly foolish if they plan not to be there in 2013. Cook, Ballmer, wake up and smell the CES.
Those were the trends, now for the real meat. Next week, all the gadgets and devices that rocked and socked at CES 2012. The best and the worst. Coming up: two pages of pure tech heaven!
1. Add bookmark
Firefox or Google Chrome:
Drag this link: Encipher It to your Bookmarks Bar
Right click: Encipher It and click “Add to Favorites”
Please update your existing bookmarklets to the latest version with more secure PBKDF2 key generation.
2. Encrypt message
Login to Google Mail, Facebook or other site where you want to protect the text.
Type your message and click the bookmark.
Enter the password and click the “Encrypt” button.3. Decrypt message
To decrypt the message on the page, just click bookmark again and reenter the same password.To decrypt the message on the page, just click bookmark again and reenter the same password.
Web applications are a little more challenging to design than websites. Designers need to anticipate user behavior, make users’ lives easier and make the experience as visually appealing as possible. Many designers tend to do what is easier for them than think about what’s easier for the user. The following is a small list of tips that designers often overlook in the process of designing a web application.1. The Power of a Good Tooltip
When you present your web application to a potential customer, the last thing you want to do is ruin your lovely graphic design work by plastering words everywhere to hand hold your new user. Tooltips on your icons can help in a big way. Tooltips offer users the ability to learn a system by exploring icons without harming their experience. People who are learning what all the buttons do can feel immersed in the experience. When it comes to mobile displays, you could use a button that toggles the tooltips off and on. The first tap would display the tooltip and the second tap would submit the action.
The tooltip clearly tells users where the icon takes them.2. Don’t Rely on the User’s Memory
There is nothing more frustrating than flicking between pages or tabs where the information you need on page 2 was entered on page 1. A web app should not force users to remember their details. They should simply allow them to do whatever action they need to do, and present them with the most relevant information possible to help them complete their task. For example, if a user is required to enter their customer reference number at the beginning of a process, they should not have to re-enter that information a second time. If you must ask a user for more than one piece of information that they have to reference elsewhere (bank statement, order reference etc.), you should make them do it all on one page to prevent cognitive overload.3. Offer Multiple Methods of Execution
Any web app you create needs to adapt to your user’s behavior and offer multiple routes to the end goal. Let’s imagine a task management application. A typical task may contain a number of information properties that define what needs to be done (date, priority, description etc.). The default method is to add a task with its associated information properties. However, you should also give users a quick method to add a task without filling in the extra information properties. Offering different routes to reach the same end goal makes your application more dynamic for users, so that they can get things done at their own pace.
Add a new task with all the info you need.
Simply add a task and sort out the details later.4. Don’t Go Modal Happy
“Hey look at me, nothing else matters!”. That is what modal popups scream to users. They are the modern-day answer to popup windows that are sometimes overused. You should use modals to draw the user’s attention. But if you force your users to focus their attention at every turn, they will soon get tired and turn off. To help users feel more in control, make your modal popups easily dismissible with either a cancel button or an ‘X’ icon in the top right. Another handy tip that’s often overlooked is to allow users to close the modal popup when they click outside of the window on the faded background. Users don’t like to do more work than they need to, and they don’t like being shouted at. Using modal popups intelligently and sparingly helps to keep the user in control of their situation.5. Give Valuable Status Messages
‘Please Wait…’ and ‘Loading…’ are usually messages you’ll find at the top of a page. They rarely add to the user experience of the application, but they do inform users that the application is busy doing something. The problem is when they are small and unnoticeable. People who miss the status messages become frustrated at the application for not reacting to their input as they don’t realize it is occupied with another task.
For example, when you first load Google Maps a small yellow status message appears at the top of the page somewhere center-left, which you may not have even seen it before. While this status message is present, the map cannot be dragged around until it finishes loading. If the message is important enough to stop all use of your application, then a small status message is not enough feedback. If a status message has a vital message such as ‘Please Wait…’ it should appear in a modal window with a transparent overlay. This clearly tells the user to wait, and users will always be more forgiving if they are aware of exactly what is happening.
Look out for this next time you’re using Google Maps.6. Don’t Worry About Scrolling. Use It to Your Advantage.
Worrying too much about ‘the fold’ can seriously turn your user interface design from a scrollable, flowing design to a cramped and messy affair. The root of the problem is an unrealistic fear that people who use computers do not know how to scroll or that anything under the fold will never be seen. What you need to combat ‘the fold’ is a quick way of explaining what your web app is all about above the fold. What is it? Why should users care? Is there more info further down the page? If you can make your app interesting enough above the fold, users will scroll down to experience more of the page. Leave enough content below the fold to continue to satisfy the user. Once they’re at the bottom, you can be fairly confident that you have an interested user looking at your content. The bottom of the page is possibly the most valuable area of your site because the end is mostly for users who are likely to engage with your app than casual browsers who stay mostly at the top.
Hopefully, this list will help you re-think some design decisions you have made or are about to make in building a web application. Whether you’re designing a web application or website, the end goal is still the same. That’s to give your users a great experience from when they first enter your user interface till when they leave.
It’s important for programmers to challenge themselves.
Creative and technical stagnation is the only alternative.
In the spirit of the new year, I’ve compiled twelve month-sized resolutions.
Each month is an annually renewable technical or personal challenge:
- Go analog.
- Stay healthy.
- Embrace the uncomfortable.
- Learn a new programming language.
- Learn more mathematics.
- Focus on security.
- Back up your data.
- Learn more theory.
- Engage the arts and humanities.
- Learn new software.
- Complete a personal project.
Read on for my suggestions.