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A Wishlist for 2013

Consumer Electronics Show 2013The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2013 has come and gone, and gadgets radical and practical have been exhibited for all to see.

Now there are a number of things I hope to see in the future, if not in use by this year at least with concrete effort in development. Some of these things already popped up at Las Vegas, others, well, let's just keep our fingers crossed.

No More 3D

3D cinema is one thing, 3D televisions are another. A full-scale motion picture can be designed and executed from the ground up to be seen in 3D. It takes a whole other set of rules in terms of blocking, camera movements, set design, and editing. Movies that were inherently built to be seen in 3D were pretty good, such as Avatar, The Hobbit, and funnily enough, Piranha 3D and Jackass 3D; strictly speaking in terms of how they used the 3D presence, not necessarily story.

Meanwhile movies that were created normally and then had 3D slapped onto them looked gimmicky and terrible, such as... pretty much every other movie that featured 3D.

Television works differently than movie-making. Movies get the benefit of months of planning and years of crafting to make, with an army of personnel to put it all together. Most TV is made quickly in rapid succession with much smaller crews. It's easier to design an entire campaign for 3D. It's hard to do quick, small projects in 3D.

Going to the movies is an event, a ritual. Watching TV is something you do when you're tired and bored. 3D glasses are tolerable at theaters because it's part of that ritual; you're in a specific place to partake in a specific experience.

Meanwhile, TV isn't perceived as special, it's done at home in sweatpants. 3D glasses are cumbersome and inconvenient, the last thing somebody wants to deal with when they just want to unwind after a hard day.

Anyways, the point is that 3D hasn't really taken off on the home television front. It may or may not continue to exist and/or grow in cinema, but on the silver screen sales of 3D sets have shrunk.

OLED LG TVAnd this trend hasn't been ignored. Manufacturers at CES this year did not tout 3D like they did last time. Instead the big thing was 4k resolution, OLED screens, thinner sets, etc.

And this is better. 3D was a gimmick and unfortunately just wouldn't work at home, pretty much for the reasons listed above.

But everybody can appreciate higher res images and lighter physical units. Let the movie theaters have their 3D films. Just give me a 52-inch screen that's less than an inch thick and as sharp as real-life, and I'm golden.

Better Batteries

New gadgets and electronics are great. Smaller, more powerful, more useful; fantastic. But until we have uber-efficient solar cells that can grab energy from all light spectra, or have potent and widespread wireless transmissions that can transfer power, we need batteries.

Batteries are the greatest bottleneck on our gadget innovation, the weakest link in the electronics chain. Without good batteries, the latest Ultrabook is useless; the newest tablet becomes a paper weight; that new smartphones anchors more than liberates.

We've seen new inventions in the world of processor and graphic chips, memory storage, and in display screens. We need a revolution in batteries. Something that can supply more power, longer, with a more stable and prolonged lifetime. Something easily replaceable, and ideally more environmentally friendly. Something that doesn't require rare and expensive materials, or at least can be effectively recycled.

Now, better batteries are only one half of the equation. More efficient power consuming electronics is the other. Intel is making strides, as they are wont to do, on this front and showcased their efforts at CES. The new third-gen processor chips are supposed to output even more power at less energy consumption. This is great! And it is a necessary step. But again, it's only one-side of the equation.

Put the physics, the chemistry, and the electrical engineering to work. We need a revolution in batteries, and I mean more than just Lithium-Ion.

Intel gesture controlsNew User Interfaces

As I've mentioned before, we need new user interfaces. Touch is wonderful, but it's still not fully intuitive, just more intuitive compared to keyboard and mouse. And even still, touch has its drawbacks. Voice command, optical tracking, even mental controls are the real revolution we need.

Again, Intel was publicly pushing this front at CES this year, and I'm happy to see it. Their designers have also released some choice words about new interfaces, comparing it as "voice will be to touch as touch was to keyboards." Scrolling through a "Where's Waldo?" book using just your eyes? Very cool, and something you do not need training to do. Heck, you don't even need hands; which is something of great benefit to amputees.

Does this have its own potential drawbacks? Of course. But like all new things, it takes time and effort to iron out the kinks. The point is we're seeing some tangible (or perhaps not so tangible?) progress being made.

Mobile Computing

The Motorola ATRIX 4G and Laptop DockAt last year's CES Motorola debuted their Atrix smartphone. While it had pretty impressive specs, the most glaringly amazing feature to me was the fact that you could plug this phone into essentially a laptop shell, or into a dock that could connect to a TV/monitor, keyboard, and mouse. BAM! Insta-desktop. When you were done, just pick up the phone out of its dock and walk away, using the unit as a smartphone.

This blew my mind.

But the Atrix was ahead of its time. Its hardware just couldn't handle everything that had been promised. Running a version of Office from your smartphone? Too good to be true!

Unfortunately back then it was, the operating systems it ran needed more horsepower than this amazing concept could provide. This came as no surprise. But the concept was sound, it just needed the right environment to flourish.

Years later, and we are many steps closer to that environment, if we aren't already there. That's a fine line for robust debate. But in this day of tablets and increasingly powerful smartphones, we are much, much closer. Enter Windows 8...

Windows 8 is interesting because it is an attempt to combine a mobile-optimized OS and a normal desktop OS into one operating system. Its execution so far is, in my opinion, awkward. The Metro view is great on tablets but is too cumbersome with a keyboard and mouse, while the traditional desktop view continues the fine precedent set by Windows 7 but unfortunately doesn't have the optimizations and proper UI for convenient touch-screen use. Microsoft created an operating system with a dual-personality, and there barely seems to be a reconciliation between the two.

Windows 8 is being touted on Microsoft's new Surface Pro tablets, which would allow users to switch between that Metro mode and a traditional desktop mode. But again, why would desktop users use Metro and why would tablet users use the desktop? But I imagined there was one area where this dual personality could actually shine.

When I speak of mobile computing I don't necessarily mean more powerful smartphones or tablets. I mean a computer that is portable. But I don't mean like a laptop.

Re-enter the Atrix concept.

We have smaller, more powerful hardware that uses less energy and generates less heat. Now we have an operating system that dances between handheld touch and keyboard-and-mouse. It is the perfect time for something like the Atrix to re-appear.

Microsoft Surface ProI don't mean docking the Surface tablet to a laptop-type shell. I mean hooking it up to a full-on desktop layout, using the Surface as a "mobile motherboard" of sorts. "Desktop stations" would merely be terminals we could dock our Surfaces too.

At home and work? Your computer is plugged into a dock sporting dual monitors, keyboard, and mouse, and you've got the full computing experience and controls at your fingertips. All the keyboard shortcuts, all the precision of a mouse, all the glory of nice, big multiple screens. Your full Office suite, full Adobe CS suite, etc.

On the subway? You have a tablet, and you only have to deal with apps, large touch-friendly buttons and tiles, and a decently sized screen for watching podcasts.

Laptops are too cumbersome for true portability, that's why tablets are killing them. But when you need to do serious work, you need the full desktop experience, which is why laptops and desktops haven't been entirely blown away by netbooks and the tablets that came afterwards.

But how do we reconcile the two? Do we have two operating systems (like OS X and iOS), or one operating system with two modes (Windows 8)? Well, why don't we have hardware that switches between the two and gives us the benefits of both mobile and desktop when we want them, and not when we don't?

That is what the Surface running Windows 8 could have been. And it could have swept away the market share from Apple and Google.

But sadly the Surface Pro was no Atrix reborn, and I was highly disappointed by that. But it could still happen. Because I like portability when I'm moving. But I like my multi-monitor setup when I'm not. I shouldn't have to choose, nor should anyone.

We don't need better mobile devices. We need a mobile computer.

What are some technologies you'd like to see this year, or in the coming ones?

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