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Trendspotting at the Consumer Electronics Show

Samsung phone

Samsung displayed a phone made of plastic that bends at 2013 CES in Las Vegas. (AP Photo)

For the third consecutive year, Frank Gorman of Gorman & Williams graciously offered to write a few blog posts while in Las Vegas for last week’s annual Consumer Electronics Show. Here, he writes about the trends to watch out for. On Tuesday, he’ll share his top ten gadgets of CES.

The thousands of products and services on display at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show can crowd out perspective, like so many trees that you cannot appreciate the forest.

But attending a keynote address or an informational program or two brings larger perspectives to what one sees at CES. I attended a Q&A with Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, and the keynote address by Stephen Woo, president of Samsung, which ended with a surprise address by former President Bill Clinton.

Here some of the trends in consumer electronics shown by 2013 CES.

Everything on mobile devices

Manufacturers are convinced that consumers want their mobile devices to do everything. Today’s mobile devices are smartphones and tablets. As a result, manufacturers are committed to developing smartphones and tablets with ever-increasing capabilities.

Bill Clinton

Former president Bill Clinton, as seen on a projection screen during his surprise appearance at 2013 CES. (Photo courtesy of Frank Gorman)

Communications by phone and email are now traditional functions of mobile devices. In addition, banking transactions, watching videos on You Tube, streaming TV newscasts and shows and playing competitive video games are happening on mobile devices now and will increase over time. Clinton pointed out how Haiti developed post-earthquake banking services throughout the country using cell phones.

Much more is coming, however. For example, manufacturers envision smartphones and tablets that can receive and display streaming ultra HD, high-resolution movies, even 3-D movies.

The implications of this commitment to mobile devices is amazing. Mobile devices must by definition remain handheld and lightweight, but to handle the increasing quantities of data they must have: faster processors handling multiple applications simultaneously and consuming less power; more memory; and longer battery life. Good technological progress has been made in each of these areas, as Stephen Woo demonstrated in his address, but the data demands on mobile devices could outpace the technology.

All devices connected wirelessly

All other devices — including television, radio, audio speakers, cars and home appliances — will be wirelessly connected to mobile devices through Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.  And the connectivity will be centered on mobile devices, not on the desktop computer.

Pictures and video will be transferred from cameras to smartphones and tablets for distribution to social media sites and/or for posting and storage on YouTube and similar video content sites. Wi-Fi Direct is the new standard that will allow Wi-Fi enabled devices to connect device-to-device, even in the absence of a Wi-Fi network environment.

An explosion of data creation

Consumers will not only receive and process large quantities of data — they will cause an explosion in data creation. Seventy-two hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute and three of those hours are uploaded from mobile devices. Consumers are joining network and cable TV broadcasters, movie studios and record labels as producers of content that will be viewed over smartphones and tablets.

Immense data storage and processing needs

So where does all this data reside and how is it retrieved and streamed to viewers? It is stored in data centers with millions of servers. These data centers also provide services that organize, retrieve and distribute data to users upon request. These servers consume power and are a significant data cost, presenting major challenges to manufacturers and content holders.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, as seen on a projection screen during 2013 CES. (Photo courtesy of Frank Gorman)

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, as seen on a projection screen during 2013 CES. (Photo courtesy of Frank Gorman)

For data security, you’re on your own

While more and more personal and financial data is being sent and received over mobile devices, relatively little attention is given to data security on smartphones and tablets. Manufacturers are not building data security protections into the mobile devices. Data security is the consumer’s responsibility and it is far more prevalent on desktops and laptops than on mobile devices.

Carriers have secured their wireless networks, as have financial institutions that offer online services. It is the data on the mobile devices that is exposed to cyber-crime. A number of companies sell mobile security protection, such as McAfee Mobile and Norton Mobile security. These data security programs, however, use processing, memory and power that could lessen the speed of your device, which explains why mobile device manufacturers do not build-in data security protection.

More spectrum for carriers to provide to wireless broadband to consumers

The radio frequency spectrum is a public resource that, in the United States, is regulated and optimized by the Federal Communications Commission. Over the years, frequency ranges on the spectrum were assigned to the military organizations, government and public safety organizations and broadcasters.

Wireless mobile devices have created a huge consumer demand for “wireless broadband.” Through voluntary spectrum auctions and engineering and management improvements, the amount of broadband available to wireless carriers has increased. Less of the spectrum will be used by traditional and regulated broadcasters, and more of the spectrum will be made available for unregulated use by consumers.

For now, Genachowski made clear that there is enough available spectrum to satisfy various demands. In the years ahead, consumer demand for wireless broadband will be controlled by market forces, such as the prices charged consumers for data plans, or by regulatory management by the FCC for the public good.