Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The next big thing

Computers are still with us in offices and laptops retain their attraction for a segment of the population, particularly business people. But tablets are catching on with tech and maintenance people. Some even skip the tablet and totally rely on smart phones.

Cell phones now perform a myriad of functions, including playing music from the holder’s private collection and listening to what used to be known as books on tape. Digital books have become so sophisticated that they feature big name actors reading various parts. Some authors are now writing exclusively for digital audio, skipping the long paragraphs and literary loading and concentrating on dialog, executed by multiple actors along with sound effects. It’s the return of the radio plays from the 1930s. But the new twist is software enables the listener to switch to reading without losing his or her place.

The ubiquity of smart phones and various Websites to serve their users includes photography, which is why Eastman Kodak went into bankruptcy, emerging this year as a mere shadow of its former self. Even the compact digital camera is being eclipsed by smart phones. Global shipments of compact digital cameras dropped 42 percent in the first five months of this year. Japanese camera makers are dropping their least expensive models.

Fujifilm estimates 1.6 trillion photos are taken with smart phones annually. In the year 2000, 100 billion photos a year were made with film cameras. The high-end sophisticated digital cameras with interchangeable lenses made by Nikon and Canon are staying profitable. These inheritors of the single-lens reflex film cameras with curtain shutters now also take high-definition video and will produce high dynamic range photos.

The next frontier for smart phones is replacing the TV remote control. Eighty-six percent of U.S. households subscribe to pay TV, either through cable or satellite. TV as we know it is going the way of the livingroom radio and the vacuum tube. Already 18-to-24-year-olds spend the most time watching online video, something they also download to their smart phones.

Cablevision Systems CEO James Dolan admitted to the Wall Street Journal, “there could come a day” when his company shifts from television service to primarily broadband service.

Hooking the TV to the Internet has long been a project under development by Apple and Microsoft. Google’s Chromecast is a thumb-drive sized device that plugs into the TV to turn it into an Internet platform by connecting to your smart phone. Intel is designing a set-top box that will access a “cloud” that comes from a server farm that has recorded three days worth of every local, national and international television programming. It will be “live” TV but with rewind capability.

Smart phones are at the center of modern living. You can use them to display your airline boarding pass to TSA agents. They can be used to pay for things some places and modern smart cars can translate text messages into voice messages and vice versa. Expect fast food restaurants to receive your smart phone text order and then charge the hamburger after you present your smart phone for reading. This is definitely not your grandmother’s touch-tone phone.

Speaking of fast food restaurants, look for robots to take over cooking and packing orders. If they can move things in warehouses and make automobiles, they can sure flip hamburgers.

Some of you may know that comedian and car collector Jay Leno uses a 3D printer to reproduce hard-to-find auto parts. Locally a machine shop uses a 3-D printer. These machines cost anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000. In 1981 a laser printer cost $17,000. They now cost $200. The same cost shift will happen to 3-D printers and the possibilities will be limitless, from making our own sandals and jewelry to clothes and unique table lamps or wall sconces. When 3-D printers get down to $500 or less, this country will become a nation of inventors.

The future is at hand and it’s pretty exciting.

Mountain Democrat


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