London - The annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas brought its usual delicious combination of ingenious technological innovation and baffling attempts to solve problems that never need solving in the first place.
Thanks to the power of viral video, the most enduring legacy of CES 2013 may be the excruciating opening keynote, delivered this year by Qualcomm; view it on YouTube if you dare, but for those who are too fearful (or can't be bothered), its message (“Born Mobile”) was hammered home by awkward scripts and a trio of screeching young actors delivering lines like “Boom! My phone is my conference room!” (We all know how much teenagers yearn for their own conference room.)
Other questionable highlights of the week included the unveiling of the Samsung T9000 internet fridge (see bit.ly/internetfridge for a neat history of our persistent lack of interest in internet fridges) and the Panasonic SR-SX2 rice cooker which, for no obvious reason, you can control with your Android phone.
But we learned things, too. The enthusiasm for 3D that's been so generously flung about at CES for the past few years is finally waning; 3D-related announcements were noticeably thin on the ground as larger companies twigged that we really aren't that bothered about 3D, bless its poor little anaglyphic spectacles.
Instead, screen technology of the future came in a number of exciting new forms: Ultra HD screens, four times the resolution of the current HD consumer standard and currently selling at upwards of $20,000 (about R180 000) each; prototypes of curved OLED TVs from Samsung and LG, with the ubiquitous flat screen now bent into a gentle concave arc; and a flexible display from Plastic Logic (a firm founded by researchers from Cambridge University's Cavendish Laboratory) that aims to imbue computing with a “magazine-like” reading experience.
Plastic Logic has been touting its flexible display technology for quite a while, now. In a video uploaded to YouTube just over six years ago, it demonstrated the hardy resilience of its invention by repeatedly thwacking it with the heel of a shoe - and it's that lightweight robustness that's still its most promising feature. You can chuck it onto a desk, shove it in a bag or, in particularly stressful moments, hurl it at a wall without damaging it. But as for a “magazine-like” experience with bendable, foldable digital pages - is this something we really want, or are we merely experiencing a twinge of nostalgia at seeing modern technology emulate something traditional?
The fairly pallid monochrome screen featured by Plastic Logic at CES won't convert any doubters - but maybe give it a few years. Anyone who, like me, nervously cradles their glass-screened tablet as if it were a newborn infant would certainly welcome a device that requires a little less TLC. -