January 12, 2013

Have Smartphone, Will Travel

Sunday night at CES Unveiled was an unforgettable experience. Not only was there a swarm of analysts and tech press swirling around the Mandalay Bay conference room where the event was held, each of these humans was busy archiving the moment to digital film. I was no exception. I took as many photos and videos as I could with my iPhone 5 to not only remember the event, but also to share with redOrbit readers later on in the week. When I returned to my hotel room, (which was world’s apart from the Mandalay Bay I had just left) I cracked open my MacBook Pro and began going through these images, editing and deleting as I saw fit. There were no wires employed; everything was there waiting for me.

This is nothing new, of course. Such functionality has been baked into Apple products for over a year now, and in terms of technology, one year old technology is damn near old.

And yet, it feels like the future to take a picture with my iPhone and have it available on my Mac almost instantly. The iPhone becomes a bit of a remote controller, the Feet-On-the-Ground device to be on the front lines while the Mac does the heavy lifting.

In many ways, the smartphone is slowly evolving into this new role as remote control device as well as its core functionality of receiving phone calls and downloading fart apps. There have been several examples of this emerging trend at this year’s CES, including ways to control home appliances like washing machines and televisions to keeping track of your healthy lifestyle and serving up content to your home entertainment center.

Take LG’s new smart home premise. Some of the home’s biggest players can be controlled from the device that is in your pocket. An added bonus: The newer LG refrigerators can even make dinner recommendations based on what’s already in your fridge. It can it do this? IT KNOWS WHAT’S IN YOUR FRIDGE.

What LG has essentially done is bring together the 1950s with the modern era in one, fun little hypothetical. Imagine, if you will, a roast that has been assembled and placed in the oven. How 1950’s Betty Homemaker is that? With modern technology, you can turn on the oven and start the roast whilst you’re away and, presumably, arrive at your house later to the warm smell of baked meat.

Companies like LG and Panasonic are also jumping on board the smartphone as television remote train, a ride Apple has offering for a few years.

Just as Apple’s AirPlay allows iPhoners to broadcast photos and movies to their TV (assuming they’ve purchased the $99 Apple TV), these companies are working to bring the same kind of functionality to mobile devices. Apple, of course, has a leg up on the competition, but seeing the way these and other companies are fighting to bring this tech to their customers, it’s likely the smartphone will be used as a remote device for years to come.

To be fair, in the previously mentioned scenario, it could be said that the smartphone is less than a remote and more of a serving dish, a lazy Susan if you will. Not only can it control the content, but it offers it up to other devices as well.

It’s hard to find a booth at CES that doesn’t have some product with some amount of smartphone and tablet integration. Television companies are using these devices as remote controls or as servers of content. Many companies are jumping on the Bluetooth 4.0 bandwagon, offering low-powered tracking devices which can be paired with iPhone and Android. Smart watches are also making headlines at this year’s CES, despite there only being a small handful of such products. Each, of course, use Bluetooth 4.0.

Ever since the first smartphone, (and even more since the iPhone released in 2007) we’ve discussed exactly what these devices are capable of. From bolstering the business world to keeping us ever connected, smartphones have already had their fair share in the technology limelight–they’ve even dominated this stage. And yet, the more tech progresses, the more we turn to our smartphones and tablets, asking them to take on even more responsibilities and perform a larger array of tasks. This leads to 2 very important questions: Have technology makers stagnated, playing the same old song for the past 5-10 years? Or, is this simply the way it will be for the foreseeable future, with mobile devices getting even smaller and more powerful, nearly replacing desktop computers?

Sitting here at the onset of 2013, the idea of using a smartphone as a personal gateway to all things digital seems like a noble one. It’s easy to imagine a future where every aspect of our world is controlled via app, from turning our car over after work to picking up dinner on the way home to having the lights in our house turn on and off at determined times.

But this is the future we’re talking about, and the future rarely conforms to our whims and desires. Any number of variables could throw this picture of the future off course, the least of which is a truly inspired idea that sounds much better than the one we’ve got.

Industry insiders may tell you that the next big wave in tech will be 3D printing and Big Data, and they may be right….but my bet is if there’s a way to integrate the smartphone into these markets, it will be done.

One parting thought, I can’t help but notice how so many of these companies are only now offering a feature which Apple has been offering for 2 years. When paired with an Apple TV, the iPad and iPhone can deliver your content to any television. You don’t have to buy a special and new TV, you don’t have to sign up for a service, you don’t have to do anything fancy. Just buy a $99 Apple TV, a very affordable accessory considering how powerful it is, and you’re ready to go.

Seems like Apple was once again ahead of the curve when it came to understanding how consumers would interact with their smartphones.

Image Credit: Oleksiy Mark / Shutterstock

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