LAS VEGAS – The Consumer Electronic Show (CES) is beginning to wind down, and while there haven't been any show-stopping announcements -- like a flying, electric car or even just a rebooted Microsoft Xbox -- there have been plenty of shiny gadgets to ogle. Each year, the advancements on display at CES change how we interact with technology.
These four developments were the talk of the show, and might point the way to the future:
1. Tablets get super-sized. With the will-they-or-won't-they drama of Apple's iPad Mini, the Cupertino, Calif.-based company kept small tablets in the headlines last year. Now, the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction with massive slates from Panasonic, Sony and Lenovo.
Lenovo's entry, the Horizon, has a 27-inch touchscreen and runs Windows 8. But weighing in at 17.8 pounds, it's not very portable. Instead, Lenovo is billing Horizon as a multi-user, table top device -- which can be useful for collaboration in the workplace. Expected to become available this summer, one major drawback is its two-hour battery life.
2. Apps everywhere. Apple stole a little of CES's thunder, announcing it had topped 40 billion app downloads at the start of the show, but the competition is trying to catch up. Ford, for instance, is loading its AppLink service -- which allows developers to link mobile apps to Ford's SYNC platform, and lets drivers manage the apps through voice and radio controls -- with 16 radio station apps, location sharing software Glympse and a USA Today app.
And then there's the Samsung T9000 -- not a smartphone, it's a refrigerator. With an LCD on the front, it comes pre-loaded with kitchen-friendly organization apps like Evernote. (Available in late spring, $3,999.)
3. TVs grow smarter, brighter, larger and costlier. Televisions getting new features, sizes and prices may seem like a theme recycled from years past, but HDTVs are a big business that's continually evolving.
This week, tech giant LG fired the first shot in the TV publicity battle with a $12,000, 55-inch OLED screen, available in March. The company is also making its sets compatible with LG smartphones, setting a course for a post-remote era.
Meanwhile, Samsung countered with a 110-inch television of its own, as well as an 85-incher. It also unveiled a slew of smart features, including one model's ability to show two programs at the same time (fancy eyewear and headphones are required). The 110-inch HDTV hasn't been given a release date yet, but the 85-inch model should be available in the spring. Prices haven't been announced.
4. Talking to tech devices will become the new norm. Voice-activated products are making a big splash in automotive technology at the show, with Chevy Sonics and Sparks getting an on-board assistant (accessed via a button on the steering wheel), and Ford's AppLink, which comes with voice control in the Fiesta and Focus. The voice features became available in the companies' 2013 models, but refinements and new apps gave them renewed buzz.
Televisions from LG, Samsung and Sony also feature voice commands, and Burlington, Mass. speech-recognition software company Nuance hopes to bring their solution to a lot more devices in the future. Bottom line, you're about to get a lot more work done, without lifting a finger to do it.
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