Trendspotter: invisible technology represents lifestyle shift
At this month's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas - certainly the world's largest annual gathering of gadgets and gadget-heads - the usual plethora of future-facing devices was launched into the world. Most of the smart fridges, connected washing machines and vast TVs, it can safely be assumed, will be forgotten by February; it's hard to see a spectacular future for the iPotty (yes, it's a potty-training accessory for your iPad).
Nevertheless, tech analysts descended on CES, as always, in the hope of seeing where consumer technology is taking us. This year, however, they might well have noticed that the technologies set to have the greatest effect on the way we live are not those you can see. Much of the next-generation consumer tech that will reshape our lives has one thing in common: it's invisible.
In fact, we're already living amid a few key examples of this trend for invisible lifestyle tech. Just take Apple's Siri voice control user interface. You can't see it, you can't touch it, but it's changing the way millions of users interact with the online space. Meanwhile, top-end Samsung TVs can now simply be told to record the next edition of Homeland rather than be "programmed" to do so. Of course, here, the real technology is not a device but the software that makes voice recognition possible (in both these examples the same California-based voice recognition specialists, Nuance, are providing that software).
But soon invisible technology will take us to some much more surprising places. If voice control seems impossibly futuristic, then check out the NTT DoCoMo prototype i beam tablet with gaze control. That's right, this is a tablet you interface with by looking at it. To open an app, simply stare at it. Two sensors along the bottom edge of the tablet, and a whole lot of clever software (again) will do the rest for you.
While those examples are primarily about software, the movement towards invisibility is apparent among devices, too. The US-based ClearView Audio will soon release its long-promised "invisible" speakers: ultra-thin, transparent membranes that, they say, offer an audio experience as rich as the best conventional speakers. And Samsung has been whispering for a while now about a revolutionary, transparent TV.
These are a diverse set of new technologies but, really, they - and the trend for invisible tech that they exemplify - are a part of a fundamental lifestyle shift. All around us, the technology that helps us live our lives is fading into the background, not because it's becoming less important but because it's becoming more ubiquitous than ever. And as it does so, our attitudes are changing.
So while the first decade of the 21st-century was characterised by the device-lust brought about by a swathe of revolutionary gadgets - digital cameras, flat-screen TVs, smartphones, tablets - we're now moving towards something new and more mature: an age in which we have tired of flaunting our technology and instead expect it to get out of our way and run invisibly around our needs. Whether that means a tablet device that doesn't require you to raise a hand or a speaker system that doesn't change the appearance of your living room, start opening your eyes to invisible tech and soon you'll see it everywhere.
David Mattin is Lead Strategist at www.trendwatching.com
Published: January 21, 2013 04:00 AM