Rich Warren: A look into the future of electronics

Rich Warren: A look into the future of electronics

Behold the annual ritual powering up of the crystal ball, which now is flexible.

Thanks to Corning's new Willow Glass, future electronic products slim down while gaining flexibility.

Corning produces Willow Glass in a similar way to the newsprint for this paper. That ultimately makes Willow Glass inexpensive and versatile. Corning previously gave us Gorilla Glass, which helped make smart phones possible.

Willow Glass enables the true hang-on-the-wall TV using a conventional picture hook rather than a massive mounting bracket.

It also facilitates organic light-emitting diode technology, which delivers brighter pictures with greater depth of color while using less electrical power. Science fiction no long owns the roll-up computer screen.

This is the second Christmas in a row without the arrival of Apple TV, but the hysteria concerning Apple TV increases. The gurus and pundits of the Internet (better known as bloggers) insist that any Apple TV will combine multiple breakthrough technologies, possibly including Willow Glass.

Of course, Apple TV mainly will provide a unique user experience centered on software and content.

The delays in introducing Apple TV most likely involve negotiating agreements with movie studios and TV networks as much as any futuristic hardware.

The consumer electronics industry will do its best to force sales of Ultra High Definition TV, which probably will go under the name of 4K TV, referring to its roughly 4,000 lines of resolution. This will lock you into satellite or cable because over-the-air 4K TV is unlikely.

The electronics industry cannot survive without up-selling you on "the next big thing" every decade. Since HDTV became the standard about four years ago, there are six years left on this product cycle.

In the long view, a decade hence many, if not most, of us will be viewing very large screen, 4K,three-dimensional TV at home. That is why the Savoy 16 is adding an IMAX (which stands for "image maximum") theater to its complex.

If you can view the same technical quality movies delivered nearly instantaneously via cable or satellite to your home, with much cheaper popcorn, why go to the movies? More and more major movies will be recorded and reproduced in formats, such as IMAX, not available to the home viewer.

The biggest revolution already in progress comes not from gear, but access to entertainment.

Assuming content distributors (cable, satellite, Internet sources), content creators (movie studios, TV-cable networks, independent producers) and hardware manufacturers agree which of them has its hands most deeply in your pockets, content will become universal.

You can transition from watching a movie on your smartphone, on screens in your car, to your tablet to your Mac/PC to any and every TV in your home. EBooks offer an analogy. I can leave off reading on my Nook and pick up on the same page on my iPad.

Your home network now includes your car. Using Bluetooth, which most new cars include for hands-free cellphone use, or Wi-Fi, your car will exchange data with your home network, whether a desktop, laptop, tablet or smart phone. Amazon and iTunes will directly download entertainment to your vehicle's computer hard drive.

The same network also will remotely alert you to the car's operational and service needs. Instead of just flashing oil change on the dashboard, the alert will appear on your phone, pad or PC. Google, among others, already proved the feasibility of self-driving cars, so one needs no crystal ball for that.

By 2018, IBM predicts that computers will include all five senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. I continue to claim that medical research currently targeted to giving sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf will create commercial spin-offs in 20-30 years. This will bypass your ears, obsolescing headphones and loudspeakers in providing sound in its fullest fidelity and directionality directly to your brain. By that time, my ears will be shot and I'll need it.

Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. He can be emailed at

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