New technologies continue to grow from “Leonardo DaVinci-worthy” sketches drawn on a whiteboard by a team of engineers to become actual products that are integrated into hundreds of millions of units shipped globally. But what is the correlation between hardware features, physical design and user experience, and how can combining technologies lead to some of the most amazing and innovative CE products?
The Open Highway: Digital TV
By fundamentally changing TV viewing habits, the new television set ceases to exist as a simple box in the living room. It reinvents itself as a gateway to a rich and interactive supply of information and multimedia content. As everything is based around user interaction, a safe approach would be to bring the smartphone and tablet experience over to the TV realm. The problem with that is the sheer dimension of a screen—not to mention panel costs.
So instead, some companies have reimagined how people can interact with their TVs by redesigning it as an interactive multimedia surface. This surface offers a more flexible display solution
, where different apps and widgets running in parallel can be easily introduced. But this requires the right hardware to sustain the increased pixel count of a complex user interface running at 120Hz or more on an Ultra HD resolution display.
Imagine your TV recognizing your face and automatically tuning in to your preferred channels, playing your favorite movies or shows and remembering your preferred volume. The computing capabilities of powerful and efficient hardware graphics could also enable gesture control and thus eliminate the need for complicated remotes, which have been one of the problems with the current generation of smart TVs.
Another important driver of the digital TV space continues to be resolution. With the future ratification of the high-efficiency video coding (HEVC) standard, Ultra HD content will become easier to broadcast thanks to the doubled data compression ratio compared to H.264. But this does not require a complete overhaul of how the broadcast industry itself works, as it can continue to transmit in 1080p for the foreseeable future and push user generated content in the foreground. Ultimately, the way in which platform developers fill that remaining space on your screen will matter most.
The Scenic Route: Augmented Reality
Still seen by some as a relatively young technology, augmented reality (AR) has the potential to improve the entire consumer retail experience. Projects like Swiss watch manufacturer Tissot’s app in which consumers can use a smartphone to try on different watch models before buying them online, or IKEA’s solution that allows customers to pick furniture from their catalogue to virtually decorate their homes, have real potential to break through to the mainstream. One size fits all is not enough anymore, as AR applications offer a personalized experience where users can create and interact with their own tailored world.
And the advantages don’t end there. AR can also breathe life back into the print industry, which has been hit hard by the macroeconomic climate. This technology is versatile in its ability to reach different target groups like entertainment, industrial design or interactive navigation as it can be tailored to do anything.
Getting brand followers involved with company- specific activities becomes a breeze, as well as promoting more generic campaigns built on photo sharing or discount and voucher distribution. Due to AR technology’s ‘always-on-the-go’ aspect, the mobile and embedded industry is a natural environment for it to expand.
Google’s Project Glass
concept illustrates how wearable systems can take advantage of increasingly smaller chips. Taking a cue from the tablet revolution, Project Glass is designed around the idea of a product that becomes a portal of information for digital life. It’s also an example of heterogeneous processing, where GPU computing, video transcoding and multi-threaded processing are all pushing the barrier of what a typical system on a chip (SoC) can do.
By combining technologies like Imagination’s PowerVR Series6 graphics with their Meta apps processor, Android or Linux can run alongside DSP-oriented tasks like video decoding with enhanced GPU post-processing such as overlay, zoom and pan effects.
The High Road: Mobile Gaming
As the mobile gaming market expands, companies are using more sophisticated systems. For instance, graphics technologies capable of performing teraflops—one trillion floating point operations per second—are enabling physics engines to become even more complex and run on graphics processing units (GPUs) rather than on central processing units (CPUs). Coupled with ray tracing solutions for digital content creation, these new technologies give developers a vast array of resources to work with. Advancements in multicore technologies have made tower stations a thing of the past, as game architects can now work on a tablet.
Many companies are now paying attention to this space. For example, the gambling industry in Atlantic City now offers guests portable gaming devices they can take with them anywhere on the casino premises. Also, gamification has started to be seen as a way of improving the workplace, not just by introducing an element of fun, but also as an effective and coordinated effort to run HR or marketing departments. Recent advancements in open and proprietary APIs like OpenGL ES, OpenCL, DirectX and OpenRL have made cross-platform compatibility much easier to achieve so players in the PC or console space wanting to move into the mobile space have adequate tools to do so.
Stairway to Cloud Computing
The rate of adoption for cloud services has been rocky due to issues with security, availability and performance but the benefits are undeniable. Having instant access to all of your content through a lightweight smartphone or tablet without carrying physical storage devices around or worrying about periodic back-ups and firmware updates is a key advantage not just to individuals but also to companies.
But moving to a cloud-based system is a lot of work, depending on a company’s size. To solve this, new technologies are hitting the market that enable ubiquitous connectivity across all embedded products in the consumer, industrial and enterprise segments. Using these platforms, it is possible for developers, large and small, to prototype and deploy connected solutions without requiring the incredibly broad range of engineering, commercial know-how and resources usually only found in the biggest industry players.
With each iteration of new technology, engineering continues to benefit from consumer-driven feedback based on how technology can improve our lives. Companies that choose to ignore key trends can quickly go under, so leveraging the advantages of the IP business model will ensure a company continues to thrive in an ever-changing industry. Understanding how future consumers will behave means having a wide view of the possible roads ahead. This naturally leads to making the right decision in fusing technologies that shape the CE market; something that industry leaders have been successfully doing for the last decade.
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