Intel, Kyocera, Pioneer and other Japanese companies are pushing their technology hard at CEATEC. But will their devices reach the U.S.?
TOKYO-It's notoriously hard to predict
what technologies will escape the lab and into the real world. For every
hundred prototypes shown off to the media with massive coverage and
expectations of greatness, maybe 99 never hit a store shelf.
At this year's Consumer Electronics
Show in Las Vegas, for example, a handful of manufacturers demonstrated tablets
and other mobile devices loaded with some form of glasses-free 3D technology.
By and large, that hardware has yet to appear. Other examples are numerous, and
go to reinforce one of the central tenets of both marketing and technology: Never
say something's ready for market until it's on a truck headed for the retailer.
That being said, Japan's CEATEC
conference offers a glimpse of technology that could find its way onto devices
in the United States, in one form or another. The Japanese companies
demonstrating their wares here seem determined to seize more of the global
market and mindshare, perhaps in response to Taiwanese and Korean rivals
seizing much of the initiative in areas such as tablets-and that, in turn,
could give some of these innovations the momentum they need to vault onto U.S.
Kyocera is using the conference to
demonstrate its advances in touch-screen technology, including an innovation
that attempts to make virtual buttons "feel" more realistic. A
show-floor prototype offered various icons on a touch screen, each of which
generated a specific kind of feedback: the sensation of a camera-shutter
double-click, in one instance, or hard and soft buttons. Will something like
that eventually appear in finished smartphones? Time will tell.
The Japanese companies here also seem
determined to push into specific verticals such as health care. NTT Docomo is
offering medical sensor "jackets," which enclose a smartphone and
come with sensors that allow users to measure body mass, judge alcohol level or
test the radiation level in the air. You slide the smartphone into the device
and activate the accompanying software app to start the process.
A local concern named Cyberdyne is
developing an Intel-powered "robot suit," a lower-body exoskeleton
designed to operate via the user's brain signals. One of the suit's stated aims
is medical, namely helping disabled people move around.
It seems more likely, however, that the
consumer-oriented innovations will be the ones to break onto a more global
stage. Hitachi is trying to reduce televisions' energy consumption by offering
the ability to watch a picture within a smaller window on the screen. Those
companies here are continuing to push 3D televisions-with glasses or without-in
a big way.
Japanese companies also want to reclaim
the initiative in automobile technology. In addition to a focus on electric
vehicles-which have the capability to power a home, no less-companies ranging
from Pioneer to Panasonic have been developing highly advanced dashboard
systems that feed navigational data to the driver and entertainment to the
passengers. Pioneer's AR (augmented reality) HUD is a head's up display that
offers real-time road data to the driver.
When asked, these companies'
representatives are more than happy to offer release dates and often price
points for these products on the Japanese market. Their eventual presence in
the United States, though, is a far more ambiguous matter. Japan dearly wants
to reclaim its position as a forefront innovator, but its tech firms are still
debating about how to make that happen.
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Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.