Tues 12 April: Feeling the early morning chill on platform 5, I awaited the train with only a cardboard cup of tea and a luke warm bacon bap for company. This trip will be the envy of many, others may possibly even drool at the prospect, but sometimes you’ve just gotta do what you’ve gotta do…

It’s important to keep abreast of the latest developing technologies when you’re working in an integrated design and digital agency. Be it software or hardware developments, emerging new media platforms or routes to market, it’s essential to keep your eyes peeled for the next industry evolution or new standards on both developer/designer and user sides of the table.

Sadly, Tomorrow’s World was canned in 2003 and frankly just reading about new technologies doesn’t cut the digital mustard. You can’t beat hands-on interaction and demonstration. So I took a trip to the Birmingham NEC on an exclusive Press preview invitation to The Gadget Show Live Professional, the largest consumer electronics show. That’s five huge exhibition halls crammed with hundreds of stands sporting the latest gadgets, consumer tech, demos, workshops and presentations from every industry imaginable, giving an insight into technology and trends of the future… FIND OUT WHAT’S HOT!

For a multimedia and graphic designer with an unhealthy interest in futuristic tech this was something special and after spending 6 hours negotiating the bustling halls and exhibitor stands, playing, learning and experiencing, here’s my take on future Tech and ones that dominated the show. Amidst the eco transportation, domestic robots, sound systems, digital storage devices, gimmick-focused toys, customisables and things you’d find in your local Curry?s, the big boys were:

3D home cinema and gaming.
You may still require those dodgy glasses but playing the latest Nvidia 3D vision system on the worlds largest 3D plasma was pretty immersive. Like last year’s expos, 3D was everywhere and 3D PC-powered experiences was chief. With every major manufacturer touting their improved 3D tv engines (LG’s being non-battery powered and shutter/flicker free – RealD cinemas style), 3D video cameras, stills photography and now 3D Bluray recorders, the industry is charging ahead with this stereoscopic mindmelding whether we like it or not. With the Nintendo 3DS paving the way for no-glasses consumer electronics it’s only a matter of time before that hits our home and we’re all pleasantly cross-eyed.

Tablets, slates, touch-screen mobiles and PCs.
These little babies were simply unavoidable. The lines certainly are blurring between these devices – way beyond the Dell Inspiron Duo’s netbook/tablet identity crisis. The new HP touch pad has sidelined it’s Windows slate and opted for WebOS on it’s new 9.7inch tablet. The Motorola android powered Xoom is weighing up a real contender against the iPad2, with Nvidia’s Tegra 2 Dual core processor and using Google’s (built for tablets) version of Android, Honeycomb. Even BlackBerry have jumped on board the casual bandwagon with their ‘executive plaything’, the BlackBerry Playbook. Throw the Xperia Play (the Playstation Phone) into the mix with its D-Pad design and dedicated portable gaming service and you’re spoilt for choice. Mobiles are becoming smarter and tablets are getting lighter, smaller and more portable – surely there must be the perfect middle ground soon? Well, Acer’s Iconica phone has now entered microtablet territory with it’s 4.8inch 21:9 widescreen display. Powered by Android Gingerbread, the Iconica smarts an 8megapixel camera, 720p video capture and HDMI out. A big phone, a tiny tablet or the best of both worlds? Time will tell. On the other hand, sWaP’s tiny Nova phone is the worlds lightest at 43grams cramming top touchscreen tech into the size of a matchbox! The latest word on the future of this big/small conumdrum… expandable smartphones. Oh and that Android is set to win the OS war… Did I say that aloud?

For portable gaming, widescreen media device and work tool, 2011 is the year of the tablet.

From the web getting smaller, to it getting much bigger! Smart TVs are certainly where things are going.
After experiencing the LG PZ950T 3D smart web-connected television with it’s pointer controlled web browsing, on demand streaming and tv-specific aps it was a no-brainer and is set to become a standard in years to come. Also integrating wirelessly with your other devices to stream from phones or computers, I was suprised that no other exhibitors were fronting these features.

My pic of the Gadget Show's Jason playing a proto-type 'whack-a-mole' with the power of his eye-balls.

Superpowers! It sounds far fetched but both eye-controlled and mind-power controlled electronics were on show and any were on sale! Recently appearing on The Gadget Show, the NeuroSky MindFlex head gear works with custom apps using brainwaves for control, be it focus to beat an onslaught of Zombies or meditation to reduce difficulty levels. Not exactly mass appeal though. Likewise, NI’s Waterloo Labs have developed a working prototype of thier Eye Control techology - forget jumping about with Microsoft Kinect, now you don’t have to raise a finger – literally!

Although not as dominating as it might have been Augmented Reality, fronted by T-Immersion was also a key player – blurring the lines between the real and virtual worlds. AR is a relatively young, but actually quite established technology and it’s extremely flexible. I saw examples of product focused AR whereby the user has full control over a 3D model of an animated Nissan, educational focused AR whereby Dinosaurs literally came to life from a picture book, through to in-store interaction and videos to engage you before you purchase. AR has massive potential but it’s still misunderstood, yet to break the novelty barrier into a mainstream form of consumable interaction. However this is set to happen very soon in conjunction with traditional print advertising methods.

Unfortunately my biggest let down were the highly anticipated Vuzix Augmented Reality glasses, capturing 3D video in real time and and overlaying 3D digital creations and experiences before your eyes -great in theory but in practice, well I’ll try again next year.

An animated, lighting box, no circuitry - just ink.

Wireless Power?
While we?re on the subject of futuristic tech and with relevance to digital media, advertising and design applications my favourite has to be the progressive work by Fulton Innovations and their eCoupled intelligent wireless power. Although it appears to be in it’s infancy as far as final applications are concerned, this tech allows phones to charge without wires, food to heat itself whilst in it’s packaging and even animation of the packaging design itself through the use of conductive ink! All you need to do is place said item on an eCoupled countertop or shelf – lets get then in stores pronto!

Finally, some other things to look out for:
3D printing, literally Ink-jetting a solidifying resin into a 3D object from a 2D data file.

Near Field Communications – using mobile devices as secure travel passes, wallets, travel cards etc. Major players like Samsung, Orange and Google are backing this one and a similar tech is already established in parts of Asia.

4G mobile networks – O2 are already testing the super fast 4G system with rumored speeds of 20x faster than today?s home broadband on your mobile device!

Then there’s folding, paper-like touch and display screens to be the norm in 2018, Ultra HD TV is set for launch in 2020 although initial tests have resulted in sickness due to the image appearing as ‘too real’… after that, quite possibly time travel.

Well, the day was an educational and insightful one and although I wouldn?t say my mind was blown, it was certainly frazzled. ? lot?s to think about.

Check out the official GSL website here for more information and to sign up for public tickets or watch videos from the show.

(Opinion: Jon Price ? Designer)

1 comment so far

Add Your Comment
  1. Fantastic post Jon, I really enjoyed it. My wife’s tried to get tickets for us in the past but we’ve never got in at the right time.