With Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad selling close to 40 million units since its April 2010 launch, ostensibly birthing the tablet form factor, you can forgive high-tech punditry for reveling in tablet talk and prognostication.
Fortunately, some analysts are given to skate to where the puck will be, not where it is, a common refrain in the torrid venture capital sector.
While tablet talk is hardly cooling, Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps is looking ahead to some consumer electronics computing form factors she expects to rear their heads at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show next month. For context, these devices and gadgets are early nodes on the Internet of Things--the notion that all devices rely on Web connections to process and relay information.
First, Epps envisions wearable devices, or those worn on or near the body as fresh form factor candidates. She cited the Lark sleep tracker and BodyMedia wristband, which sync with Apple's iOS devices for health and fitness scenarios. On the Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android OS side of the camp is a wristwatch from WIMM Labs, which relays information on news, social networking, health and personal finance.
At the Cloudforce event last month, Salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM) CEO Marc Benioff showed off a biometric bracelet that could better connect the wearer with his or her device. In Benioff's case, the bracelet was mated with a Toyota "friend" car to help identify the wearer as the owner of the car.
Epps also pointed to embedded devices, or gadgets that include computing processors and sensors, such as refrigerators, coffee machines and other Web-enabled devices: Users could theoretically use their smartphone or tablet to lower the temperature of their fridge from afar, or even turn their coffee machine on at the touch or tap of a button.
At Dreamforce last August, Benioff showed off Coke machines that were aware of their customers' presence and offered them deals through the consumers' iPhones. That was a classic example of a machine with an embedded system.
Epps also sees "surfaces," or larger interactive displays that rely on multi-touch, voice and gesture input, facial recognition, near-field communication (NFC) signals and any other manner of wireless technologies and sensors.
She cited the case of Tesco Homeplus, the No. 2 grocery retailer in South Korea, which built "virtual malls" in subway stations where commuters order groceries for home delivery with their cell phones by taking pictures of QR codes on a "photorealistic" surface.
That's the kind of technology that makes the touch-screen and biometric advertising technologies showcased in Stephen Spielberg's Minority Report movie from 2002 seem less and less like science fiction today.
But screens won't be fixed. Epps envisions flexible displays, or computing screens that can be rolled, folded or flexed. These displays can come in the form of electronic readers or larger surface displays, such as furniture or wallpaper.
Finally, she expects mini-projectors, which project a larger image onto another surface or into 3D space. Epps said Apple has filed a patent to embed interactive projectors into its iPhones, iPads and Macs. Such technology could be used for collaborative presentations in the enterprise, or as impromptu photo slide shows for consumers.
"The most successful products will work with other products--for example, wearables that talk to smartphones and TVs; surfaces that are activated by the presence of your smartphone," Epps said. "We're living in a multi-device, multi-connection world, and the best experiences will be those that work across devices and platforms."
If there are themes to Epps' findings, they are mobility and a couple of common platforms. For the near future, iOS and Android are the mobile analogy to Apple's Mac and Microsoft's Windows platforms on the desktop.
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