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Previous USAToday Columns

May 13, 2015
The Battle for the Living Room

April 30, 2015
The new platform wars

April 15, 2015
Is Apple now a Gen 2 product company?

April 2, 2015
Smartwatches: The New Smartphones Jr?

March 19, 2015
Microsoft Windows: Not dead yet

March 5, 2015
MWC 2015: It was all about connected wearables

February 11, 2015
High tech and the laggard effect

anuary 29, 2015
Microsoft Hololens and the evolution of computing

January 15, 2015
Commentary: Tech device diversity set to explode with IoT

2014 USAToday Columns

















USAToday Column


June 4, 2015
The best new tech is invisible

By Bob O'Donnell

FOSTER CITY, Calif. – When it comes to the hottest new technologies, it's not what you can see that matters. It's what you can't.

While consumers and most of the tech industry have traditionally focused on the visual aspects of new technology products and services, today there are actually more interesting new developments that are essentially invisible.

The reasons for this change are many.

On the one hand, many of the core technology products that sit at the heart of our consumer (and business) tech experiences have now started to mature. As a result, a lot of the improvements and changes tend to be a bit less visible. That doesn't mean they're any less important, but they typically aren't as visually flashy and different as changes that have occurred up until now.

For example, it's becoming increasingly harder to make major changes to new models of large screen, high-resolution 4G smartphones. Sure, cameras may get better and processors get faster, but for most people, that will become less noticeable and less important.

On the other hand, the newest tech innovations are actually meant to be less visible. In the red-hot Internet of Things (IoT) arena, for instance, the real goal is to add some kind of intelligence to existing devices without really drawing attention to the technology. In other words, the goal is to make the things we already know somehow "smarter" and therefore make the process of using them easier and more rewarding.

Products like a Nest Thermostat or an August smart door lock offer the same basic functionality as existing thermostats or door locks, but they provide either additional levels of convenience or the potential for money savings (in the form of reduced energy in this particular case). Your house and the way you live in it is not necessarily any different with these new devices, but they give you a more flexible solution than the ones they're intended to replace.

In the case of smart connected cars, the ADAS (automated driver assistance systems) features that some car makers are starting to incorporate have a similar philosophy. Their goal is to help provide a safer environment for driving by doing things like warning you when you start to drift out of a lane, or stopping automatically in certain situations. Importantly, though, it's all done in the context of you continuing to drive as you always have. Yes, someday we will get to self-driving cars, but the legislative and regulatory challenges that need to be overcome before that happens will likely delay any kind of mainstream launch of autonomous driving technology until the end of the next decade. In the meantime, smart cars hope to make "regular" driving safer.

At Google I/O last week, Google and Levi's got together to talk about integrating technology into clothing. Imagine in the future a shirt or jacket that works in conjunction with a GPS and taps you on the appropriate shoulder while you're walking to let you know whether you should turn right or left. You'd never see this kind of technology — you'd feel it instead — but it could be very useful.

Many of the improvements that are at the heart of IoT-type products are leveraging sensors — tiny devices that can measure things like the outside temperature or your pulse rate or see things like the presence of a nearby object or the state of a switch.

Sensors are really at the heart of these kinds of invisible technology improvements. Thankfully, we're starting to see companies make subtle, yet valuable improvements to existing products by adding sensors to them. Plantronics, for example, uses sensors in its Voyager Legend Bluetooth headset to do simple things like immediately switch to or from the headset when you put the headset over your ear or take it off. This isn't dramatic technology, but it makes the device just work the way you expect and generally hope it would.

Over the next few years, I expect these types of subtle, invisible technology improvements to become more commonplace in all kinds of different products.

They may not offer the same "flash" we've seen with new product introductions over the past few years, but these invisible technologies will make the overall experience of using tech products significantly less frustrating and much more rewarding.

Bob O'Donnell is founder and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, a technology consulting and market research firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services.

Here's a link to the original column: http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/columnist/2015/06/04/the-best-new-tech-is-invisible-smartphones-internet-of-things-nest/28471075/

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