Image courtesy of CES

CES is big. Each of the expo halls at the Las Vegas Convention Center  was a massive jungle of booths that never ends. Many things melted together, and as a consumer I found it increasingly difficult to discern one product from another. Although most products were just faster, smaller and thinner than last year’s iteration, there were some innovations that caught my attention, and there were clear directions for the devices we already use.

Android and beyond

While Android touchscreens were abundant at CES, the newest version of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich, was only on a couple of the devices I checked out, both at the Samsung booth (on Galaxy S and the Nexus).

A definite stand-out was the Samsung Note, which in some ways is the reincarnation of the Palm pilot. While not perfect (the touch interface has some serious lag and it was tough to discern between skin and stylus), it does have potential, and it would be interesting to see some applications in daily life.

Samsung also did an amazing job with their caricature booths, where many attendees left with a great digital souvenir.

Caricature Gallery of Howard Freeman

I was very impressed by Nokia’s stylish Lumia phone, running the Windows Phone operating system. It didn’t exactly make the iPhone blush, but it’s exciting to see the stylish Metro interface shining on a device that I hope will grow in market share among the big name operating systems.

The future of TV

TVs were thinner and brighter this year, equipped with OLED technology. I wasn’t very impressed by the “smart” TVs, which included some super laggy touch interfaces with crude drawing tools.

The problem of “Gorilla Arm Syndrome” wasn’t really addressed. Chances are, if you already enjoy computing on a large TV, you probably experience it meters away from the screen from the comfort of your couch. A 50-inch touch interface isn’t going to lure you away.

Despite the dwindling 3D market, it was made clear that 3D will still be around in 2012. ESPN 3D was very impressive. We previewed a slew of sports highlights in 3D, and for the most part, it added value to the sole reason I still pay for cable. I’d have to watch a real match to see if the novelty wears off, but there’s a lot of potential for things like graphics and colour commentary.

During the Verge’s Argue the Future session, Joshua Topolsky used a funny anecdote to illustrate the fact that designers are still working out some of the kinks in user-TV interaction: If we were to mute the television via voice command, we’d have to mute the room before muting the TV.

In other words, we have to make sure our interactions with our screens fit the context of the living room.

In-car entertainment

There’s a scene in the new Mission Impossible movie where Tom Cruise races through the streets of India while his female counterpart, riding shotgun, begins manipulating a map with gestures using a touch interface projected on the windshield.

Similar technologies entered the real world at CES, with varying levels of usability. Audi had the most impressive demo (and easily the most immersive cube of a booth).

Similarly, on the less-glitzy side of the Samsung booth, was a buzz-worthy Smart Window demo. The blinds transition effect is very cool, but I don’t know whether to celebrate or fear the fact that we’re now one step closer to Minority Report.

Ford’s approach to in-car entertainment seemed the most market-ready since its system integrates the media stored on your smartphone. Ford has also formed partnerships with content companies like Pandora and NPR.

You may have seen the promo video with rally driver Ken Block and YouTube sensation Epic Meal Time:

Digital health

We’ve seen wellness-related apps and gadgets like the Withings wi-fi scale, the Fitbit watch and Up by Jawbone for a while now, but 2012 seems to be the year when technology gets healthy. From the usual trackers like the Basis Band watch and the Striiv tamugachi-like keychain, to mobile activity apps (like Macaw, a preventative medicine app and Roadbike) and robots like Autom, the Siri-esque weight loss coach, CES presented plenty of options for reminding users it’s time to get fit.

Seeing the light

The most innovative thing I saw at CES, hands down, was the Lytro camera. It allows you to take in the entire “light field” of a shot so you can change the focal point of the photo after the fact.

I originally tried out the demo on the website late last year, but seeing the roaring reaction of the crowd at Last Gadget Standing – a fun session where companies have four minutes to demo their invention – it was clear that this oblong camera is going to pave the way for a newer kind of photography: a true point and shoot.

Overall, CES 2012 didn’t introduce any “game changing” technologies, but it was enough of a spectacle to tire me out until next year. Time to sleep.