The Connected Car: Your next mobile device

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If you thought talking on the phone hands free in your car was cool, brace yourself for what’s next. Your next car will be smart and connected–empowering safer driving and greater efficiency, serving up dynamic and interactive infotainment, and even be context-aware, automatically adjusting to your cockpit preferences.

Connected cars will access, consume, direct and share digital information between infrastructures, people, organizations and other mobile devices. As vehicles and devices are increasingly linked, they become intelligent, self-aware and eventually autonomous (you’ve heard about the self-driving car?). The connected car will be an extension of your smartphone, yet another mobile device (ok, a really, really big one) that will broaden your experiences and improve your ride.

Our appetites to be always-on is driving the demand for this connectivity, and the innovation, the investments and the partner deals are aligning to make it happen. The Consumer Electronics Association forecasts the market for factory-installed tech features in vehicles will grow 11 percent this year alone, to $8.7 billion. Big name automakers are placing bets on mobile devices and applications to fuel connectivity capabilities, making it easier for existing apps to talk to vehicles.

At CES, automakers showed how they’re leveraging smartphone features and services so that motorists will soon be able to control their in-vehicle experiences for both drivers and passengers, making the car more intuitive, enjoyable and safe. Mobile devices won’t just unlock the door and start the ignition, they’ll alert drivers if their vehicles have been hit or tampered with while parked, prove a safe track record to insurance companies, prepare drivers for a sharp turn ahead, and entertain the kids so that the words “are we there yet?” may never be heard again.

Advancing mobile connectivity

To ensure that smartphones from all manufacturers integrate with cars and to drive globalhtc car     in-vehicle innovation solutions forward faster, automakers, smartphone vendors and makers of display technologies formed the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC). At CES, the consortium introduced MirrorLink, a technology standard for connecting smartphones to steering wheel controls, dashboard buttons and in-dash display screens. With this standard in place, the CCC is ready to turn its full attention to mobile app developers in an effort to saturate the global marketplace with MirrorLink-enabled apps.

“This is an incredibly exciting time in MirrorLink’s history because by the end of Q3, we’ll start to see an exponential rise in MirrorLink-certified apps,” said Jörg Brakensiek, chairman of the CCC’s Technical Workgroup in a press release. “The sooner this takes place, the sooner we’ll see more consumers with their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road.”

Nearly 70 percent of the world’s smartphone vendors, including Samsung, HTC and Nokia (though notably not Apple), and 80 percent of global automakers, including BMW, Ford, GM, Mercedes, Toyota, and Volkswagen are involved with the CCC to optimize the in-car experience. Though most apps are designed initially as lifestyle enhancements, eventually there will be features that access a vehicle’s driving frameworks, keep tabs on a car’s systems and maintenance needs, or monitor a driver’s acceleration habits and following distances, among other things.

Moving car apps forward

ford syncValidating this initiative, Ford and GM both announced developer programs for their in-car software platforms at CES, taking cues from the smartphone ecosystem for the dashboard and encourage independent app development for their cars. Ford is opening its existing and well-received SYNC connectivity and AppLink systems to interested mobile developers, while GM is allowing access to its platforms, including its OnStar In-Vehicle infotainment systems.

“When we first introduced SYNC in 2007, there was a need for an appropriate way to connect and control cellphones and digital music players in the car due to the massive consumer adoption trend,” said Ford’s VP of Engineering, Hau Thai-Tang, in a press release. “Now, with an even faster adoption rate of smartphones, there is a need for a renewed focus on voice control for the unique capabilities of these devices, especially for the use of apps.”

Rest assured that both car manufacturers and developers are focused on safety, so you won’t see mobile apps that involve distracting videos, games or excessive texts. They expect to see apps that alert drivers to, and direct them from, dangers that can’t be seen and communicate among moving cars to prevent them from colliding.

A car paired with your smartphone and filled with easy-to-use but not-too-distracting apps is where we’re headed, and you can get a preview of sorts with apps available today.

  • Aha Radio: Organizes your favorite Internet content, including radio channels, news, music, audio books, social media feeds and pod casts. Available for Android in select Acura, Ford, Honda, and Subaru vehicles and leading car stereos.
  • BeCouply: Suggests date ideas and directs couples to their destinations with turn-by-turn navigation. Available only for iOS (for now, but Android app soon) and select Ford vehicles equipped with SYNC AppLink, including Mustang, Fiesta, F-150 and Expedition.
  • BringGo: Provides full-function navigation, including turn-by-turn directions. Available in future versions of the Chevrolet Spark and Sonic vehicles.
  • Glympse: Allows drivers to share their location information with family and friends via email, SMS, Facebook or Twitter using voice commands. Available for Android and Windows phone in select Ford vehicles equipped with SYNC AppLink.
  • Greater Media: Listen to live streams of favorite radio stations from around the United States. Available for select Ford vehicles equipped with SYNC AppLink.
  • Inrix Inc.: A global parking navigation service that goes beyond standard points-of-interest notifications to provide the current cost to park, detailed parking location information and real-time space availability. Available in North America and 36 countries throughout Europe for Android and Windows Phones.
  • Kaliki: Radio talent reads audio versions of the most compelling articles from a variety of magazines and newspapers, including Shape Magazine, TV Guide, Men’s Fitness, OK! and Agence France-Presse. App is free and available for Ford vehicles equipped with SYNC AppLink.
  • OnStar: Provides real-time information from the car, including automatic crash response, navigation, roadside assistance, hands-free calling, remotely lock or unlock the car, vehicle telemetrics, gas mileage, tire pressure, and a wide variety of other services. Available for Android and more than 30 GM vehicle models.
  • Pandora: A free, personalized radio that plays music, news and comedy you want, creating customized play lists and radio stations based on what you like. Available for Android and most leading, late model car manufactures.
  • Parkopedia: Provides information on nearby parking garages, including pricing and real-time space availability, as well as navigation. Available in more than 40 countries, the app supports Android and Windows Phones.
  • Rhapsody: Lets drivers access songs through their phones, listen to any of the service’s 16 million titles without a connection by downloading a playlist to a mobile device accessible through the car. Available for Android and Windows Phone for Ford vehicles equipped with Sync AppLink

These apps are just a taste of what’s ahead of us. What are you looking forward to most? I can’t wait for my car to become a hot spot.

 

*Portions of this story were first published for myHTC

10 Great Productivity Apps for 2013

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We all have New Year’s resolutions (whether we acknowledge them out loud or not). While getting fit is usually at the top of the list, getting organized and more productive often follows closely behind. With today’s lifestyles, we’re always connected, on the go, in a hurry and just plain busy. It’s easy to get distracted from important priorities. Though always being connected is great, it creates more information, people and projects to manage.

But don’t fret. New apps designed for modern lifestyles will put an end to the chaos, keep you on track and help you get things done. Try out a few of these finds, and make your life a little easier.

Did we miss one of your favorites? Let us know in the comments.

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There are lots of apps for making task lists, but Any.DO stands out for its style. With a simple interface, Any.Do offers easy organization and built-in syncing across devices. Not just for organizing your tasks, it can also be used to keep track of any list.

Free for Android

 
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Magically find anything when you need it most with CloudMagic. Search across Gmail, Google Apps, Facebook, Twitter, Evernote, Dropbox, Box, Microsoft Exchange, Office 365, Google Docs, calendars, contacts, chats, cloud storage and more.

Free for Android and Windows Phone

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Evernote makes it easy to jot down a quick note, save a video, record a thought or clip a story. View and create from a phone, a web browser or installed on your PC, notes are synced to the cloud, so you can find them regardless of the device you use. Best of all, it just went through a massive overhaul, making the mobile and desktop apps easier to use and more functional.

Free for Android and Windows Phone

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LastPass is a powerful password manager that keeps your information safely guarded behind a single password, providing access to your password “vault,” auto-fill forms, secure notes, and a password generator. LastPass can even be used to enter login information for websites and apps on your device.

Cheap for Android ($1 per month)

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The days of having to remember, write-down, and dial audio conferencing details are gone. MobileDay streamlines conference calls when you’re on the go with your smartphone, integrating with your Google calendar, dialer, email, text messaging, and contacts to provide you with seamless, one-touch access.

Free for Android

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​If you’re a list maker, MyThings is the app for you. Create task lists with due dates, prioritize importance, and set reminders so you never miss a deadline. Simple and easy.

Free for Windows Phone 

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​Everyone knows Microsoft Office for your PC, but now you can get it exclusively for Windows Phone. View and edit Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote docs with all the essential tools at your disposal, wherever you are, and then save them to your Skydrive.

Free for Windows Phone

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Pocket lets you save the content you like and come back to it later—be it text, videos or images. With your free account, access your saved content from any device. Pocket has a simple user interface, great filtering tools and it’s easy to organize your stuff.

Free for Android

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SkyDrive is Microsoft’s cloud storage service, allowing you to save and access your documents, photos and other important files across any connected device. Careful though–with 7GB of free storage, you may develop hording tendencies you never knew you had.

Free for Android and Windows Phone

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​Looking for a mobile personal assistant? Skyvi can help. Find places, get directions, call contacts, define words, get weather and time, have a chat, access and update Facebook or Twitter. Skyvi answers all your questions, tells jokes and keeps you organized.

Free for Android

 

**Portions of this story were first published for myHTC

 

Xbox 360, Kinect GIVEAWAY!

 
Enter to win the Microsoft Access Your Holiday Gift Bag Sweepstakes!
 
 

 
Eight lucky winners will each win a Microsoft and Access Hollywood gift bag consisting of a Microsoft Surface with a Touch Cover, Windows Phone Nokia Lumia 920, Xbox 360 with Kinect, five (5) Xbox games (Dance Central 3, Halo 4, Nike + Kinect Training, Kinect Disneyland Adventures and Kinect Adventures), one (1) Month Xbox LIVE Gold Membership and an Artist Series Mouse!
 
 
Come back and let us know if your a winner. Crossing fingers for you!
 
 
 

That’s A Wrap! CES 2012, Smart and Connected

In spite of a lack of ground-breaking news, CES 2012 put a stake in the ground for the tech trends we’ll see in the coming year and beyondSyndicated on BlogHer.com

Smart this, smart that. Gadgets unveiled at this year’s big dance focused on one thing: connected. We want anywhere, anytime access to our digital lives, in and out of the home, so this year at the International Consumer Electronics Show, everything seemed to be billed as smart and connected.

With more than 20,000 products unveiled, most of them streamline the connected experience. New PCs, smartphones, and TVs were expected, but even new cars and appliances are smarter than ever, simplifying the way we live and creating unexpected efficiencies.

Women play a huge role in making the vision for the connected home come alive. According to new findings from international research firm Parks Associates, women today share more content online and download more movies and music than men. For example, women are 73% more likely than men to have watched a full-length TV show online in the past 30 days.

“Women are frequently the product buyers – and once she owns a CE product, she becomes a heavy user, most particularly for devices that allow sharing and uploading content and downloading TV programs,” said Tricia Parks, CEO, Parks Associates.

I’m one of those women, and my device portfolio is growing rapidly, which is why CES interests me so much. But with so many new devices unveiled this year, it was impossible to see everything, though I still have a few favorites. Check them out below.


Personal Computing

Generally speaking, I expect a ton of new PCs to be shown at CES every year without fail. There were lots of PCs from the usual suspects this year, but only a few of them pleasantly surprised me.

Lenovo IdeaCentre A720: A great option for the family command center, the world’s slimmest 27-inch all-in-one IdeaCentre A720, with Windows 7, uniquely combines a frameless display supporting 10-point multitouch for greater accuracy with a widely adjustable screen angle (from -5 degrees to 90 degrees) that allows comfortable use in any position.

Samsung Series 5 ULTRA: Somewhere between the Series 9 and the Series 7 Chronos, the Samsung Series 5 ULTRA is an affordable, thin and light beauty. In your choice of a 13-inch or 14-inch display, this new laptop connects in just about any way you. Each version can be equipped with either a 128GB SSD or with a more spacious 500GB standard SATA hard drive and 16GB of ExpressCache memory. Starting price is $899 and its available later this month.

ViewSonic EXOdesk: Long rumored to be cooking up something special, this unusual setup supports an HTML5 interface running on top of Windows 7, Mac OS or Android, the ViewSonic EXOdesk transforms a 32- to 40-inch touchscreen monitor into a Surface-style desktop, supplementing your keyboard and mouse, and connecting to your main monitor. Fully customizable, the surface acts as the hub for casual games, productivity widgets (calendars, weather) and an app launcher, including Microsoft Office. You really have to see the demo to understand its full functionality.

Though a dozen or so tablets were on deck in another attempt to give the iPad a run for the money, CES 2012 was really about Ultrabooks, which were shown off by nearly every leading PC maker. Intel said it expects to see at least 75 Ultrabook PCs hit the market in 2012, characterized by an ultra-thin and light chassis and powerful processors with extremely fast boot-up times.

One that caught my attention was the HP Envy Spectre, which won a “Best of CES” award.  One word: GORGEOUS. Unique in that its lid and palm rest are forged from durable, scratch resistant Gorilla Glass, which we’ve seen across most smartphones. But its style isn’t just all that glass, its sleek lines and powerful computing capabilities make it one of the most attractive devices at CES this year. You’ll get an Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD drive. Connectivity is easy with the latest options, including Near Field Communication (NFC), which is the first that I’m aware of for a laptop, but opening up all kinds of futuristic capabilities. Think about how easy NFC will make it for your laptop and smartphone to share information—just by the proximity of each other!

Another Ultrabook launching at CES that caught my attention was the Lenovo IdeaPad ”Yoga,” boasting a display that bends back into a tablet form factor, aptly fitting its name—though I’m not quite sure if it’s a tablet or Ultrabook. Either way, it’s pretty cool, and it took home nine awards from prominent industry publications, all highlighting its groundbreaking hybrid functionality, distinctive design and innovative engineering. Be sure to check it out.

If you’re an Internet multitasker—surf while you listen to music, check your email and social networking accounts, watch streaming videos, write a paper, work on a presentation, etc., your device portfolio is probably growing faster than your children. Expanding the portfolio, though, increases the power cords and a need for more ports. If this sounds like your household, you’ll be interested in this little gem:

The Toshiba dynadock USB 3.0 hub is a universal docking station that links all your electronic devices to your laptop with just one single USB 3.0 cable, enabling you to connect your computer to your large screen displays, stereo speakers, external hard drive, optical drive, printer, full-size keyboard and mouse. It has a built-in Gigabit Ethernet port for Internet connectivity and two 3.5mm jacks for headphones and a mic. The hub comes with a full HD video card built in, because of this feature the hub can support up to two additional monitors via its HDMI and DVI/VGA video ports. At about $180, look for it later this month. I’m not sure my family can live much longer without this gizmo!

Smartphones

Though most new phones will be announced next month at Mobile World Congress, there were still a few new ones shown at CES 2012. For me, the most notable were the two new Windows Phones nominated for cnet’s “best of CES” award:

HTC TITAN II  Available in the coming months to customers of AT&T in the U.S., the smartphone includes the largest display among Windows Phones, an advanced 16-megapixel digital camera, and access to AT&T’s 4G LTE speeds.

The Nokia Lumia 900:  This phone took cnet’s “Best of CES—Phones” award, and is the first of Nokia’s Windows phones to arrive in the United States exclusively to AT&T in spring, feature high-speed 4G LTE connectivity in a colorful cyan and matte black. With Nokia’s largest display at 4.3 inches, the Nokia Lumia 900 balances speed, power and size for a rich content experience in a phone that still fits easily in your hand.

Connected Entertainment

As in years past, televisions were amongst the stars of the show, with skinny flat screens, Internet connectivity and delivering rich picture quality. LG, Samsung and Toshiba were probably the “TV stars” of CES 2012, arguably stealing the show from Ultrabooks.

LG and Samsung both unveiled skinny OLED 55-inch HDTVs, including Internet connectivity with streaming capabilities and integrated social media features.  Samsung announced its Smart Interaction technology, which is similar to Microsoft’s Kinect, supporting face, voice and gesture recognition. You can expect these smart TVs to be very expensive, so if you can wait, LG predicts that by 2016, it will be able to deliver OLED TVs at the same cost as LCDs. For the most part, Google TV was the operating system of choice, which allows users to surf TV listings and the Internet using Google’s Chrome browser and a variety of apps, but a few other interesting products surfaced that enable you to stream content from the Internet directly to your TV.

Other Streaming Devices

Simple.TV is a next-gen digital video recorder (DVR), which might push you to finally cut the cable subscription. It allows you to access over-the-air TV programs, either live or stored on your connected hard drive, then streams it to a number of supported devices already on your home network, including Roku, Google TV, Boxee, and your iPad.

Roku Streaming stick: If you’re looking for a Smart TV alternative, then you’ll probably want to learn more about this tiny gadget. Looking a lot like an ordinary USB flash drive, the Roku Streaming Stick is a wireless, all-in-one power and HDMI streaming-media tool, offering tons of video content, supporting over 400 channels, including Netflix, Amazon Instant, Pandora, MLB.TV, HBO Go, MOG, and Rdio. It connects to the back of your HDTV, but it requires an MHL port, a relatively new mobile audio/video interface standard for directly connecting portable devices to hi-def displays (cnet has a great primer on this new connectivity port). That said, adapters are available for HDMI to MHL, which may work here. Expected to ship later this year, pricing isn’t available, but I suspect it will be between $50 and $100, considerably less than a new Smart TV.

Connected Home

While Whirlpool, Samsung and LG demonstrated smart washing machines that can alert you remotely when it’s time to put clothes in the dryer, what I was really watching for were the genius appliances, and LG delivered. The new LG appliances are focused on savings in energy, time and expense—the trinity for busy moms. But their latest appliances go further with new features, allowing homeowners to manage refrigerators, washing machines, ovens and robotic vacuum cleaners across a smart network, enabling them to talk to each other, to LG Repair and to you.

At $3200, the ThinQ Smart refrigerator will be available this summer, along with it,

a smart oven, and smart washer and drier. Imagine, with a smartphone, tablet or PC, you could see how much longer your food has to cook, or check the temperature and contents of the refrigerator without ever having to open the door. In addition, with its drag and drop icons, built-in camera, and voice recognition functions, LG makes it easy to keep track of where everything is in the refrigerator, when it all expires and it delivers grocery lists and recipes based on what you have inside—to your smartphone. Upping the ante further, its “blast chiller” can cool a bottle of wine in just eight minutes, and a can of beer within five minutes.

Connected Cars

We usually think of PC companion devices as smartphones, netbooks or tablets, but at CES 2012, a new companion was introduced: your car. Carmakers have been delivering enhanced entertainment systems, navigation tools and safety features that are controlled from the dashboard by the driver’s voice for a few years now. But more and more carmakers are boasting apps, touchscreens, and personal assistant capabilities to set themselves apart, transforming them from a vehicle to a companion and entertainment hub.

Ford has had a long and fruitful partnership with Microsoft for its Ford Sync software. Taking it a step further at CES and partnering again with Microsoft, Healthrageous and BlueMetal Architects, Ford announced an alliance to research technology to help people monitor and maintain health and wellness while on the move. Ford boasts that it is building a “car that cares,” hoping the new technology will not only improve drivers’ health, but also foster a more intimate bond between vehicle and driver.

Mercedes-Benz unveiled its mbrace2, billed as a “digital lifestyle” solution which can function as a “personal concierge,” continuously streams navigation information to the car, and enables connectivity to social media sites such as Facebook, and will send real-time automotive diagnostics back to the dealer. For us moms, the mbrace2 will allow parents to track what our kids are doing with the car and perform other common connected activities, including a variety of safety-focused functions.

Behind the showstoppers, other quirky devices were also introduced at CES, including motorized shoes, a laser system that will turn your car’s windshield into a see-through digital map (think Minority Report) and contact lenses that display images, text or other augmented reality information to the wearer. But from my vantage point, both LG and Samsung stole the show with their smart, connected devices with screens that range in size from 4 inches to 80 inches and appliances that communicate with each other and YOU.

This is just a sampling of the cool new consumer devices revealed at CES 2012, which was a hotbed for great topics to write on, and I’m not able to cover all of it here.  So, I’ll be showcasing lots more connected experiences from CES 2012 in the coming weeks, including more apps, more on the connected car and more devices that deliver on the connected home.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. What got you most excited from CES 2012?

CES: Prom for Gadgets

The big dance for the consumer electronics industry, CES 2012 promises crazy cool gadgets and lots of excitement 

Like high school prom, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has historically been a pretty big deal for electronics manufacturers. It’s the coming out party for the most innovative, and sometimes the most outlandish gadgets and gizmos, sporting the latest technology advancements. This annual gathering draws more than 140,000 attendees and nearly 2700 different exhibiters crisscrossing 1.8 million square feet of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Given its exposure, the stakes are high and the pressure is on to impress.

Though some say CES relevance is waning due to the economy, competing events and big vendors sidestepping it in favor of other, more cost-effective product promotion, we can still expect at least one more year of fun, excitement, drama and gadget overload next week. I’m not attending this year, but I’ll be watching closely from the sidelines, looking for the latest computing advancements, home entertainment innovations and a variety of connected devices that promise to make our lives simpler.

Microsoft: Out with a Bang

(Disclosure: I supported Microsoft PR for eight years until recently, though I won’t be sharing any secrets here, sorry!). In spite of announcing its final year at CES, we can expect Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to give it his all in Microsoft’s final CES keynote, dazzling attendees and online audiences by demonstrating the advanced computing experiences we’ll get with Windows 8 on some pretty cool devices from its hardware partners (crossing fingers he’ll demonstrate a Windows 8-based tablet vs yet another notebook). And, he’ll probably put a big emphasis on Windows Phone 7, too, in a push to gain critical mindshare and compete with Apple and Google, both of which dominate the smartphone market. This is a pivotal year for Microsoft and consumer perception is crucial to the success of Windows-based devices, including Ultrabooks and tablets.

Ultrabooks: Thin, Light and Powerful PCs

Compact and powerful PCs are the way of our computing future, challenging the components under the hood to keep pace. As such, Intel has invested significant cash into what it has trademarked as Ultrabooks, requiring laptop makers to meet a very specific set of specs to realize the Ultrabook vision: thin, light, powerful and speedy, with rapid boot times that might rival what we experience today with our smartphones, which are nearly instant-on. We’ve already seen a few of these devices surface in late 2011, but I’m hearing we’ll see somewhere between 30 and 50 new Ultrabooks showcased at CES next week from the likes of Acer, Dell, HP, etc. Though expensive given the spec requirements, these skinny laptops make a world of difference as consumer mobility increases.

Tablets: Companions to the PC Workhorse

Though CES 2011 was all about tablets (I’ll have to confirm, but I recall counting something like 85+ different tablets unveiled last year!). Many of these tablets, mostly powered by Android, fell flat with consumers who were underwhelmed by performance and value relative to Apple’s iPad. That said, CES 2012 is an opportunity for device makers to re-set the tablet category and give Apple a run for its money, at least until Windows 8 ships. Acer, Lenovo, Toshiba and others are expected to show tablets, focusing on quality over quantity, many of which will likely support the long-awaited next version of Android OS, dubbed Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS)—a much needed OS update to make a real run at the iPad and demonstrate to consumers it has a device worth considering. We’ll see.

Televisions: Smart Entertainment and Rich Experiences

Though I’m not as deep or smart on entertainment devices, I’m watching for the latest in-home theater advancements, namely device-to-device streaming gadgets and connected TVs. In previous years, our friends from LG, Samsung, Sony and others have shown us their entertainment visions with prototypes that either never saw the light of day or so far away from retail ready that our hopes die on the vine while we stood right there in their booths.

It’ll be interesting to see what TV makers do with 3D this year, which was all the rage in 2010 and 2011, but lacked consumer traction. For me personally, 3D is cumbersome and annoying, but if new devices surface that strip away the glasses and improve the experience, I may take another look. While I’m expecting to see glasses-free 3D TV, what I’d really like to see is better connectivity and more services options. We’ll likely see a slew of new internet-connected televisions that allow consumers to access digital content from the Internet right from their TV to supplement regular programming schedules.  I’m crossing my fingers for more strategic and meaningful partnerships to deliver interesting content that I care about with smarter delivery (can’t wait to dump cable!), including streaming content from Hulu, Netflix and Pandora. And as devices get smarter, we should start to see the ability for TVs to talk to our other devices like Windows Phone and Xbox, responding to voice and gestures, like Kinect.

Appliance to Appliance Chit-Chat: The Promise of a Connected Home

One of the more promising visions we’ve been hearing about is the ability for utilitarian devices, such as refrigerators, stoves or washer/dryers, to take on more meaningful roles in the home, enabled by connectivity features and cloud functionality. These features have been available to some degree in appliances recently, but they are super expensive and require fairly sophisticated networking to get their full value. Though still expensive and not yet mainstream, we’re getting closer. That said, I long for the day in which my smartphone can talk to my refrigerator, letting me know that while I’m at the grocery store I’ll need to pick up milk or that I only have one egg when I need two for the dinner that the appliance so thoughtfully recommended the week before while meal planning. Both LG and Samsung lead this device-to-device connectivity with a variety of appliances, and I expect to see them both unveil refreshed products next week.  I still won’t be able to afford one, though.

Device-to-device connectivity continues to evolve in the automotive industry, too, so connected cars are likely to be a big theme at CES 2012. Led by Ford last year, Audi, Chrysler, GM, Kia, and Mercedes-Benz all have a spot on the show floor, demoing new features that deliver digital content to their vehicles, including deeper dashboard and smartphones interface. But I’ll be watching for additional connectivity that supports robust safety systems, richer music services like Pandora, and hands-free, voice-activated texting, which I actually have now with my Windows Phone 7 Bing app, which also talks to my car’s Bluetooth navigation system—pretty cool stuff!

So, in spite of what might happen to CES in the future, I’m still expecting CES 2012 to be THE consumer tech event of the year. No doubt there will be lots of cool gadgets and gizmos that create a stir. In some ways, I wish I could be there this year to see them all firsthand. But since I won’t, I’ll be tracking my favorite tech pubs for all the latest news:

I’ll circle back after the event to highlight some of my favorite devices, but I’d love to hear what you’re hoping to see. Share a comment below.

Is Your Living Room Connected?


Yesterday, my 4-year old and I had a very active and sweat inducing game of Fruit Ninja with Kinect for Xbox 360. Slashing fruit and dodging bombs, he was having a great time, and I was getting a great workout. But we’ve only recently introduced our kids to the world of connected devices, and have limited their exposure to traditional video games in favor of toys and games that don’t have flashing lights or sounds. That said, Xbox rules our living room and keeps us connected to our entertainment and the people we care about.

Last year, Kinect for Xbox 360 introduced controller-free entertainment by letting you use your body and voice to play your favorite games and access entertainment, turning you into the controller. This amazing innovation changed my view of the gaming world and consoles, seeing that Xbox isn’t just for gaming anymore. In our household, it’s our entertainment hub, enabling us to access new release movies exclusive for Xbox, our Netflix video library, see live concerts and access our favorite television shows, as well as a growing library of family friendly gaming. And we use the device for live video chat with family and friends in other time zones and on different continents.

In fact, we’re so connected that our family was “forced” to invest in two consoles (one for the Man Cave and one for the family room) to prevent the boys from arguing, and by boys, I mean my husband and our 2- and 4-year old kids.

And now I’m getting in the game. Microsoft just launched perhaps its biggest software upgrade for Xbox 360, refreshing the interface, deeper voice integration, stronger social capabilities and more robust integration across devices. With these updates, we’ll get more TV programing, more movies, more music and of course more games across new third-party applications, expanding our entertainment options. And Microsoft is further enhancing the connected experience by broadly integrating Kinect with Bing search technology across the Xbox Live dashboard for smooth and seamless navigation using voice and gestures to simplify search for content and services. With Bing on Xbox, your voice becomes the ultimate remote control to find the games, movies, TV shows and music you’re looking for. Though voice control isn’t new, the deeper integration with Bing creates a completely new experience. Tell that to my kids, though. My 4-year old son already speaks to Xbox and waves his hands around, commanding it to launch Dinosaur Train, and my 2-year old skips Xbox altogether, commanding the TV to launch Team Umizoomi. Now we’ll see our devices actually respond to them!

For me, the story is about the updates that push our connected experiences further, and devices are central to this scenario. Though using my voice as a controller sounds like a fun option, it won’t always be practical. So Microsoft has also released a mobile app exclusively for the Windows Phone that enables it to control the console, services and content. The free Xbox Companion app uses Bing to search for content, access and launch programing, and turns your smartphone into a wireless remote control for media playback and for purchase transactions. I can’t wait to try it out.

Another cool feature is how Xbox leverages the cloud to create a more seamless experience across our device portfolios, including other Xbox 360 consoles. Got to run out before finishing your game or movie? This new feature will allow us to log into any Xbox 360, then play our saved games or watch our in-progress movies from other consoles. This update enables us to take our entertainment with us when we’re on the go. Parents rejoice!

Though some of the major network and entertainment partners won’t be ready to launch their content this week (see GeekWire for a complete rundown of who, what, when), you can bet my family will be bundling all our digital content and subscriptions through this one device, simplifying our experiences.

If you’re intrigued and want all the details, the folks at Engadget have a super solid review of the new features and functionality. So check it out.

What do you have to say? Do you think Xbox 360 is on the right track regarding the future of connected entertainment? What are the barriers to drive this concept forward?

UPDATE: The updates are live in many households this morning, and I see that Microsoft has updated a variety of parental controls, which will likely be of interest here. I’m told that parents can manage their child’s console activity, sharing on social networking sites as well as regulate access to games, movies, television, and music. Additionally, the update brings enhanced navigation to Xbox 360 Family Settings to better integrate with Kinect. I’ll check those updates out and report back. For more reading, check out Microsoft Xbox and Kinect Newsroom