Smartphone Tech Highlights from CES 2014


The buzzword for the Consumer Electronics Show in 2014 appeared to be “wearables”.  Vendors are racing to market with eyewear, monitors, watches and fitness-related devices that all chain to your smartphone.  The reach has expanded to every imaginable corner of human activity.  Companies touted wearable baby monitors, golf gloves, gaming devices, and pet-tracking collars to keep a digital eye on Fido.  Wireless carriers must love this trend, as unless you’re within a wi-fi zone, all that delicious data comes out of your capped plan and has the potential to drive up usage, and profits. For a peek, check out this slide show.

New Smartphone Tech

One big news point was the unveiling of LG’s new Flex Phone for the US market. With a curved 6″ glass display, it was touted as improving video quality and audio quality when held against the face, as well as being more comfortable for the back pocket or your hand.  Being rolled out later in 2014, it remains to be seen how much of a splash it will make with consumers.

There was also T-Mobile’s announcement to pay penalty fees for any customer jumping to them from other vendors.  And there were many other new tablets, cases and smartphone designs on preview, once again ramping up the variety available in the market.

Other firms had tech on display that may affect future smartphone features.  Eyelock Myris promises an end to passwords by advancing iris-scanning technology for laptops, possibly coming soon to a smartphone camera near you.   Or you can keep your admirers at bay with the Yellow Jacket, a battery-backup phone case that turns your phone into a taser. And Gorilla Glass, a subsection of Corning, announced a new “antimicrobial” glass for phone screens.  Taking a cue from hospitals in the war against germs, the glass has silver embedded in it, which they say will eliminate 99.9% of the little buggers off your screen.  It may not keep you from getting the flu, but it is one more way to limit contact with germs – especially on shared devices (think the iPad at your kid’s school).  Now if only it worked on fingerprints.

Another “big new thing” of interest was gesture tracking capabilities, this time using ultrasound.  This expands on the idea of “wave” vs “touch” to activate phone capabilities.  Using sound waves instead of light or other visual processes to determine gestures allows for a larger field of motion.   The system works by blasting out high-pitched (thankfully inaudible) ultrasonic frequencies, which hit the hands and bounce back to be read by the microphone, determining location and movement – like a bat tracking prey.   From changing volume to gaming control, it has a wide variety of uses so it will be interesting to see how phone manufacturers implement it.

Not surprisingly, in addition to advances that may directly impact smartphone design, there were also many apps and add-ons that expand phone capability.  The uses are as wide as “smart home” functions to car-connection tools to bluetooth battling robots.  Our favorite though?  A new device from California-based Scanadu that essentially turns your phone into a Star Trek-style medical scanner.   It is still in prototype, but we hope it helps us all to “live long, and prosper”.