The economy will cast an unusual gloom this week in Las Vegas over the annual geek extravaganza that is the Consumer Electronics Show. And no blockbuster product is likely to dominate the scene as has happened in some years past. But a slightly smaller show isn't stopping innovation in technology. Here are five of the most interesting trends to watch in 2009:
Chip Flicks. Kiosks that download movies onto memory cards will begin arriving in retail stores. Mod Systems, a startup backed by Toshiba and NCR, will detail at CES its plans to deploy the movie- and music-dispensing machines. The use of Secure Digital memory cards is just one approach to kiosks, which other companies will use to instantly burn movie DVDs. But it's the use of memory chips that's most intriguing, with their portability and cheap and easy playback. Many phones and some TVs already have reader slots, and Toshiba will demo a variety of inexpensive SD decks.
Fast Boots. Two or three minutes can seem an eternity when waiting for a Windows computer to start up. Companies have developed new, stripped-down operating systems that sit or even run alongside Windows. They enable quick access to basic functions, such as Web browsing and E-mail. Phoenix Technologies is launching its HyperSpace software, which will come preinstalled on some laptops and can be installed on many others. In one version of Phoenix's software, the bloatware from Microsoft is available by just pushing the "F4" button.
Deep and Shallow. Televisions will go in several directions, including a new push for 3-D sets and monitors. HDTV is getting new depth with three-dimensional broadcasts of a few big sporting events to movie theaters, silly glasses and all. Panasonic, Samsung, and others will display 3-D-capable sets at CES. While images get deeper, the sets get shallower. Sony is expected to expand its line of OLED sets, while Samsung shows off its first. Other makers will slim down their LCD sets, with LG expected to show off a set less than an inch deep.
Wireless Wonders. It isn't enough to fling E-mail and even the Web through the air. New gear from Gefen, Belkin, and Sony will transmit HDTV-quality video and sound through the air. But be warned: There are at least four different standards at war for wireless high-def. Wireless electricity, meanwhile, is arriving in products that can charge batteries without cables. Commercial trucks can be outfitted with shelving coming from Leggett & Platt that will charge devices tossed aboard for storage, and Energizer is working on portable lighting with wireless recharging.
New Old Smartphone. The smartphone will break into the mainstream in 2009. An early pioneer, Palm will unveil its long-awaited software revamp and reportedly a new handset. Palm execs haven't said much other than that they'll be looking for that sweet spot where iPhone fun meets BlackBerry business. Palm needs a hit to arrest its slide into oblivion. The upstart Google phone, meanwhile, will proliferate, with new models running the Android software that will finally join the T-Mobile G1. Nokia will show off the N97, its effort to catch up with all the touch-screen madness set loose by the iPhone