By PCMag Staff
The Consumer Electronics Show officially kicks off on Tuesday, but the PCMag team braved flight delays and cancellations to get to Las Vegas and bring you all the gadget news you need.
But what do our analysts expect to see on the show floor? We asked them to tell us what they think companies in their area of expertise will be bringing with them to Sin City. From tablets and cell phones to digital cameras and HDTVs, the Las Vegas Convention Center will be a geek’s paradise for the next few days. It can be a lot to take in, so here’s our rundown on what we expect from the show.
For more, be sure to follow along on our official PCMag CES page.
TABLETS: PCMag’s Sascha Segan predicts “Windows 8.1 tablets up the wazoo,” probably from the usual suspects: Lenovo, Asus, Acer, and probably Dell and HP. Also keep an eye out for some Samsung Galaxy tablets, and smaller Android tablet makers getting into the mix – from the kids-centric Fuhu to Polaroid and its Q line of tablets.
CELL PHONES: The biggest battle in the phone world at CES will be AT&T vs. the UnCarrier, according to Segan. Verizon and Sprint will have a somewhat lower profile, but they’ll be there. Expect Sprint to announce more phones and markets for its tri-band “Spark” LTE network, while Verizon focuses on its “Powerful Answers Awards.” Three of the biggest booths at CES, meanwhile, will be held by mobile chip titans: Intel, Qualcomm, and Nvidia. But the big CES cell phone announcements won’t be from Samsung, LG, or Motorola; they’re waiting for MWC. Instead, keep an eye on smaller Chinese and Taiwanese phone vendors.
LAPTOPS: Expect more hybrid laptop/tablet designs, more portable all-in-one designs, and even a few devices that attempt to be all things for all people—tablet, laptop, and desktop. Meanwhile, full HD (1,920 by 1,080) is the new baseline, and you’ll be seeing larger storage capacity in even slimmer laptop designs. Also be on the lookout for Chrome OS devices at CES, as well as devices running off-brand operating systems, from SteamOS to other Linux derivatives.
DESKTOPS: We don’t think it’s going to be a flood, but there are bound to be a bunch of hybridized computers that bridge the gap between a large-screen tablet and a stay-in-place all-in-one desktop PC. The workstation desktop PC segment is another area that also can’t be ignored. But if a Mac Pro is too expensive, prices will continue to drop for desktops, since the public sees $200 – $300 tablets as an alternative to buying a full PC. Look for those $300 desktop PCs alongside $2,000 high-end PCs on the display stands at CES this year.
DIGITAL CAMERAS: There’s still room for most families to keep a real digital camera in the house, so expect to see some cameras at CES; but don’t expect the onslaught of compact models that have come in years past. And, expect to benefit from some more impressive features that are built upon ideas that were first successful in smartphones to appear in pure imaging devices. PCMag’s Jim Fisher expects to see connectivity all around, more niche and less low-end devices, and the emergence of 4K in the camera space.
HDTVs: The real 4K news, however, will be in the HDTV space. But while you might be able to reasonably get a 4K screen in 2014, don’t expect to watch much of anything in native 4K if you get it. For now, expect to see more HDTV manufacturers introduce smart TVs that integrate a program guide of some form into their interface, listing what’s on live TV alongside your Netflix, Hulu Plus, and YouTube apps.
HEALTH AND FITNESS TECH: In 2013, dozens of activity trackers and hundreds of apps and websites promoting a better you took off, made money (to put it bluntly), and are now in a position to experiment with people’s comfort zones. PCMag’s Jill Duffy predicts a serious uptick in the kinds of measurements different devices collect, while Networks will play an even more important role in the fitness-technology revolution. Get ready for a new take on wearables – like “smart” bras, socks, and other clothing.
It’s not just an attractive advertising demographic that Facebook is losing asteens take their mercurial attention elsewhere in a sullen search of what’s cool. Facebook sans the cool kids may well be taking a substantial knock to the accuracy of its data, too.
A study of Facebook use among 16-to-18-year-olds in eight EU countries recently concluded that Facebook is “dead and buried” to teens, who have migrated to rival platforms like Instagram (itself owned by Facebook, of course), Snapchat and Twitter. Who is on Facebook? Parents.
Case in point: my 70-year-old mother is on Facebook (how she came to sign up is a telling tale in itself*). On her Facebook profile she deliberately has only a handful of friends — being as she’s not accustomed to the concept of sharing digital information with large groups of people. So instead of the hundreds of ‘friends’ younger Facebook users (used to) typically amass, she has around 10 connections on the service.
Now, as a general rule, the more data a service has on its users, the more data points it holds to triangulate to improve the accuracy of the information it holds. (Even factoring in those Facebook users who accept friend requests from random strangers — big data can be filtered; small data is riddled with holes and lacks a large enough sample size to accurately patch its gaps). So little wonder that the data Facebook holds on my mum is spectacularly wrong.
Based on the handful of friends she does have on the service, Facebook auto-filled the following fields: her current location, her (former) school, and her workplace. Or presumably that’s how it filled in those data fields. Because all that triangulated information was wrong (I’ve since deleted it for her, but the point stands: Facebook had associated incorrect information with her profile).
Facebook’s guess-work in auto-filling those fields seems to be attached to the few connections she does have on the service. For example, the school it listed her as having attended is the school one of her Facebook connections went to; and the location it said she can be found at is the location where another of her connections lives, and so on.
It may be that Facebook deliberately fills in such profile fields (via ‘best guess’) to encourage users to correct inaccurate data and thus socially engineers them to work for it on burnishing its data banks.
Or it may be that Facebook’s interface encourages people to confirm certain data points as they go along — such as where they live or went to school — and my mum simply didn’t notice that the suggested answers were so off the mark (and thus mistakenly confirmed Facebook’s algorithmic assumptions). Either way, she didn’t notice the info was inaccurate so it was left there to mislead (until I removed it and left those fields blank).
Facebook also, of course, made all her data public by default (my mum obviously had no idea it had done this) — which resulted in her receiving an unsolicited message from a spammer. She did see this, and became unnerved by this “stalker,” as she termed him. The result? She mistrusts Facebook even more than she already did. And is now even less inclined to voluntarily feed it with information. “Can I sue them?” she asked, when told the default Facebook data privacy setting had been public.
The only data she said she had filled in herself — ergo, the only accurate data on display on her profile — was her name, email and birth date. Plus a profile photo she had been encouraged to upload by her Facebook friends.
A single Facebook user that has been sketched inaccurately by the data inputted into a handful of data fields doesn’t amount to much. But if the proportion of active Facebook users is becoming skewed towards demographics that are less likely to amass huge friend bases on the service, and also less likely to voluntarily feed accurate info into Facebook’s data banks (either because they don’t trust it or don’t notice it’s wrong) then it seems likely that the quality of the data Facebook holds on its user-base is being diluted.
And that in turn paints Facebook as a less attractive proposition for advertisers: with less accurate user data in its databanks, and less attractive ad demographics comprising its (less) active user-base. Bottom line: less relevant targeted marketing and advertising leading to fewer money-making clicks.
While Facebook gets user data from other external sources, too — via its Facebook Login program, for instance, that allows it to stick its fingers in other developers’ pies — if Facebook as a brand has become toxic with teens, developers developing cool new services aren’t going to be falling over themselves to associate their shiny new thing with the digital equivalent of dad dancing. So it’s in with ‘sign up via email’ and out with ‘log in with Facebook’.
Teens are the most exciting demographic not merely because they are so lucrative from an advertiser point of view, but because they are such energetic users. When teens like something they obsess over it. They get their friends to obsess over it. They become addicts and advocates. Teen usage burns very bright indeed. And then they take that energy on to the next new new thing. Making it all the more chilly, for a business, when the cool kids move on.
Senior Facebook users obviously aren’t going to have the same usage pattern as teens. Not even close. And that changes what Facebook is now — and what it can become in future.
For me, and I am admittedly a rather atypical Facebook user (not to mention well north of the teen demographic), this long-in-the-tooth social network has felt like a very middle of the road service for years — a place where I almost never post anything, and which I check only occasionally to see friends’ wedding/new baby photos. As an information portal/photo-swapping site it can sometimes be mildly diverting or mildly entertaining or mildly useful. It’s rarely any more compelling than that. Twitter is where the really interesting information and interactions live IMO. From a data point of view, Twitter feels far more alive than Facebook.
No wonder Zuckerberg wants to connect fresh billions of Internet ingénues to his social network by targeting developing countries. In new markets he again has the chance of tapping into caches of teens who haven’t had a chance to get disenchanted with Facebook yet. Who can be sold on a ‘cool new service for keeping up with friends’ — being as it’s one their mums and dads haven’t heard of yet. And who can inject Facebook with the vitality of obsessive usage data again.
Except, even in those untapped markets Facebook has its work cut out to get users engaged because emerging economies are going mobile first. And many such countries have been keen adopters of social mobile messaging rivals that are already eating Facebook’s lunch elsewhere. Whether it’s WhatsApp or Weixin or Snapchat or even BBM. Mobile messaging — with its more bounded and intimate form of social networking, that allows teens to go off and do their own thing away from the parents — is where the kids are obsessing now.
And where the kids go, the adults eventually tend to follow (if only to check up on them).
So a Facebook that pesters pensioners for personal information needs to take serious stock of what its overreaching behaviour has wrought. And accept that its days as the digital Breakfast Club — where cool kids come together and come of age — are gone. Facebook’s future belongs to the mainstream and the middle aged. You could say it’s the new Yahoo — albeit one that lacks a shiny new Marissa Mayer-esque figurehead to rally the troops right now. (Zuckerberg and his perma-hoodie feel about as fresh as an old-school uniform.)
As Facebook approaches its 10th birthday, it’s time to take stock, to leave the wild parties to Snapchat and its ilk. Time to stop trying to clone cool. And consider what this massively mainstream service can knit from the fuzzier threads of data that a more established, less excitable user-base is going to give it. Or it can splash serious cash on trying to buy cool – and careen off in search of a premature mid-life crisis.
*My mother signed up for Facebook because of the pester-power of its spam advertising which uses direct appeals from people you know to emotionally blackmail you (via email) to sign up. So you could argue that Facebook sewed the seeds of its own demise among the hyper sensitive teenage group by failing to respect the subtle inter-generational boundaries that delineate essential social spaces that separate adults from their offspring. Spaces that allow teens to go off and start creating adult identities of their own.
By Tom Warren
Lenovo’s second 8-inch Windows 8.1 tablet might just be the best one yet. While Lenovo only unveiled its 8-inch Miix 2 tablet back in October, the company is launching the 8.3-inch ThinkPad 8 today with a focus on power. Alongside the slight increase to the tablet’s display size, Lenovo has opted for a 1920 x 1080 resolution. That makes it the first 8-inch Windows 8.1 tablet with a higher resolution than the standard 1280 x 800 that most OEMs, including Lenovo, originally opted for. It doesn’t come close to the iPad mini Retina display resolution, but the ThinkPad 8 still has great viewing angles and good color reproduction.
Levono’s intended audience with the ThinkPad8 appear to be what it describes as “professionals.” Instead of opting for the 1.8GHz quad-core Intel Atom processor that’s used in the Miix 2 and Dell’s Venue 8 Pro, Lenovo is shipping the ThinkPad 8 with a 2.4GHz quad-core Intel Atom processor. It’s still an Atom, so performance will understandably lag behind Core chips, but for a tablet of this size it appears to power all of Windows 8.1’s built-in apps just fine. The big difference with the ThinkPad 8 over Lenovo’s previous effort is the addition of a micro HDMI port. You can connect a monitor to turn this mini tablet into a workstation, and a micro USB 3.0 port also helps for hooking up additional accessories, or even monitors, through optional docks.
NO STYLUS SUPPORT THIS TIME AROUND
While the performance and display improvements are solid, Lenovo has opted to ditch its optional stylus support this time around. The lack of stylus support will disappoint those looking for the perfect small Windows 8.1 tablet, but Lenovo makes up for it in other ways. An optional Quickshot Cover is one of the more interesting options available for tablets of this size. As with Apple’s iPad Smart Covers, it attaches magnetically at the side of the tablet and protects its screen. As you’d expect, the cover automatically wakes the device when it’s peeled back, but it also has a neat trick where you can fold a corner to expose the 8-megapixel rear camera and automatically launch the built-in camera app. The cover also doubles as a stand used to prop the tablet up in a tentlike mode.
Lenovo’s ThinkPad 8 weighs 0.92 pounds and is 8.8mm thick, so it’s slightly heavier and thicker than the Miix 2, but it certainly doesn’t feel chunky or heavy during use thanks to its aluminum build. With options for 3G / LTE support and 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB models, it seems like Lenovo has one of the best 8-inch Windows 8.1 tablets available. The company’s Miix 2 goes head to head with Apple’s iPad mini, pricing at $299; the new ThinkPad 8 also compares well with the iPad mini Retina pricing, and launches later this month starting at $399.
Dante D’Orazio contributed to this report.
By David Pierce
Withings has a scale, a blood pressure monitor, and an activity bracelet — now it’s trying to help us all get a little shut-eye between all that activity. This week at CES it announced the Aura, a $299 device designed to help you fall asleep faster, sleep better, and wake up easier. It comes in two parts, one a small pad that goes underneath your pillow to monitor you while you sleep and one a light that sits on your bedside table. The pad senses your heart rate, movements, and breathing, while the light also scans your room for noise, light, and temperature.
Like plenty of other devices, the Aura collects and shares data with your smartphone, showing you how you slept and what helped or hindered you through the night. But the great-looking, vaguely sci-fi light on your bedside table will also play soothing music to help you fall asleep, and use light and sound to wake you up at the perfect time. Withings says the Aura is constantly adapting to your sleep patterns, even in real time, and will always wake you up at the perfect moment in your sleep cycle — as we’ve found with devices like the Jawbone Up, which can make waking up in the morning far better.
The Aura will be out this spring for $299, and if you’re already using Withings to track your weight, your activity, and maybe even your baby, adding sleep to the mix is a no-brainer.
Update: We just spent some time with the Aura, and it’s clear Withings is attempting to dive much deeper into sleep than we’ve seen consumer-friendly devices attempt before. The small pad uses pressure sensors to determine both your breathing and heart rates, and leverages that data to to provide a wealth of analytics behind just how much time you’ve spent with your head against the pillow. Much like Basis is now doing, the Aura breaks down sleep cycles: how much time you’ve spent in light, deep, or the all-important REM sleep.
A SLEEK, TOUCH-SENSITIVE LAVA LAMP
As for the lamp itself, it’s both a sleep aid and a sleek, touch-sensitive lava lamp. The device glows a shade of red to help you get to sleep — Withings says the wavelength of light helps the body generate melatonin — and for waking it shines a glowing blue. Different shades, from purple to yellow, are available at the user’s choice. A standalone iPhone app lets users do things like set wake-up times and view their sleep and environmental data, though the information will also be surfaced in the standard Withings app as well for a bigger picture look at your health (Android compatibility is coming down the line, and the device will be able to connect over legacy Bluetooth, Bluetooth Low Energy, or Wi-Fi).
In a clever twist, the lamp portion of the device can also play music and serves as a standalone alarm clock even if you aren’t using your smartphone. The lamp is sensitive to touch, and you can turn the alarm on or off with a tap, and set the time for your next alarm by sliding your finger up the side of the device. There’s a lot of functionality built into the Aura, particularly when you can use it as a replacement for your existing alarm clock, and if helps with getting to sleep as much as Withings claims it could be worth every penny of its $299 price.
Additional reporting by Bryan Bishop.
by Chris Smith
After a couple of new design patents have been awarded to Samsung on the last day of the previous year, a couple of new smartphone concepts have emerged imagining what the future Galaxy S5 and the Galaxy Note 4 would look like in case Samsung would actually use the design shown in those patents.
U.S. patents No. D696,654 and D696,654 describe “ornamental designs” for a handheld terminal and an electronic device, respectively, and have been both awarded to Samsung in the U.S. on December 31, 2013. Just like with other design patents, the fact that Samsung has been awarded these patents doesn’t mean the company will indeed make mobile products that will look like the devices described in them.
However, in case the company did pursue these designs this year, this is how the Galaxy S5 and Galaxy Note 4 could look like, according to two designers.
Ivo Maric came up with the following Galaxy S5 concept that proposes a smartphone with a curved display on the sides (or at least on the right side, which is what a patent suggests), which would let users place handy shortcuts on the side of the display – check out the gallery below.
Jermain Smit came up with a similar concept, although the patents inspired him to create a Galaxy Note 4 model based on Samsung’s design ideas. The Galaxy Note 4 imagined by Smit also features a curved display, just like the Galaxy S5 model above.
In the following gallery, you can check out relevant images from the two patent applications mentioned above, in order to compare them with these Galaxy S5 and Galaxy Note 4 renders:
We’ll remind you that these concepts have nothing to do with actual Samsung products that will be unveiled later this year. The Galaxy S5 is expected to be announced at some point around MWC 2014, according to a Samsung exec, while the Galaxy Note 4 will probably be unveiled around IFA 2014 in September.
Kolibree is announcing what it calls the world’s first connected electric toothbrush today. It sounds pretty weird, but Kolibree says it can analyze your brushing habits and display them on a mobile dashboard that you can access from your phone. The idea is to motivate you, or shame you, into brushing better.
For $99, it had better be good. The Paris-based company unveiled the electric toothbrush at the 2014 International CES, the huge tech tradeshow in Las Vegas this week. It sounds nuts, but no more so than the Hapifork connected fork that debuted at CES last year.
Yes, the Internet of things is even coming to your mouth.
You download a free mobile app and connect your smartphone to the toothbrush via Bluetooth wireless. It records every brushing and syncs the information to your smartphone. Then you can use the app to see whether you brushed long enough and reached the hard-to-hit but important parts of your teeth and gums.
You get a score for your brushing and can share those stats with your dentist or your family. But if you share this data too widely, it will clearly be in the “too much information” category. Kolibree rewards your progress when you are improving. The company will make the brushing data available via an applications programming interface so third-party game designers can create games around it.
The toothbrush should be available in the fourth quarter. You can start preordering it this summer, initially through a Kickstarter campaign. The device will range from $99 to $200, depending on the model.
There’s always been little doubt that drones make great toys — the problem is that they’re far from cheap. Now the makers of the AR.Drone are revealing two new toys built from their technology that are small, easy to use, and — if the time we’ve spent with them here at CES is any indication — a great deal of fun.
The first is called the MiniDrone, and just as the name suggests, it really is a smaller quadrocopter cut from the same cloth as the AR.Drone. You can hold it in the palm of your hand but it actually has quite a bit of power. We used it inside and it zipped across a room very quickly. Its four rotors spin with ferocity and sound like a swarm of bees attacking, but the MiniDrone keeps its balance and it surprisingly easy to control.
It’s controlled just like the AR.Drone using an iPhone app. The makers say that they spent quite a bit of time to make sure that the drone would be stable and easy to use — particularly important since Parrot hopes kids will use the MiniDrone. In practice it seems their work has paid off: you can control the pitch and yaw using one thumb and altitude and rotation using another. You can also use the accelerometer in the iPhone to change the drone’s direction. It may sound complicated, but the computer on board the drone makes it very difficult to spin out of control, and at any time you can release both thumbs and the drone will instantly return to a stable hover. It’s so stable, in fact, that we were able to bounce off of walls and hit it in air without knocking it out of the skies.
By default the MiniDrone comes with large wheels, which primarily serve to let the toy roll around. They become particularly useful as a protective barrier around the rotors, allowing the drone to bounce around without getting destroyed.
On the tech side of things, Parrot’s using an accelerometer, ultrasonic sensor, gyroscope, and downards-facing camera to give the drone all it needs to stay aloft. Unlike the AR.Drone, there’s no usable camera on board and no video output — you’ll have to make do with watching the MiniDrone buzz around the room. Bluetooth 4.0 is used to communicate with the drone, and the company says that offers a maximum range in clear air of about 160 feet. We didn’t have any issues with range during testing, but you may do well to be concerned about the battery life — the company promises 6-7 minutes on a full charge. At least it will be a very fun few minutes.
The second toy isn’t a drone at all, it’s more like a toy car meets robot bug. Parrot’s calling it the Jumping Sumo, and it uses two wheels plus and accelerometer and a gyroscope to drive all over the floor. Since each wheel is independently controlled, it can turn on a dime, and it includes a QVGA camera so you can see from the robot’s perspective.
Like the drone, it’s controlled using an app. There’s a thumb-controlled accelerator to move forwards or backwards and you can tilt the iPad to drive around as well. The real impressive part is how quickly it can turn. A quick down swipe with your right thumb will make it immediately turn 180 degrees, and left and right swipes will create a quick 90-degree turn. There’s also a button to perform a spring-loaded jump of about 3 feet. Lastly, there’s a number of preset performances, like a high-speed pirouette that turns the video feed into an unintelligible blur.
The Jumping Sumo uses an accelerometer and gyroscope to make sure it goes straight, and it talks with the iPad app using dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi — the newest standard. That’s said to give the feisty toy a 160-foot range and 20 minutes of battery life.
Both toys are in pre-production, and the apps need some final touches, but both are a great way to kill some time. Parrot says both will be available sometime this year, and pricing hasn’t been determined. You can be sure they’ll cost less than the $299 AR.Drone, however.