Hamish Fletcher

Business reporter for the NZ Herald

TVs and phones learn new tricks

Rather than reaching for the remote, soon you can just yell a command at your television. Photo / Supplied
Rather than reaching for the remote, soon you can just yell a command at your television. Photo / Supplied

Here are three developments that will change the way we use technology.

Televisions that talk back

After a lifetime of shouting at your television, this year you might finally get an intelligent response.

Commentators believe the technology seen in Siri, the Apple iPhone's built-in assistant, could surface in a number of consumer goods over the next 12 months.

Siri can perform all types of tasks - from reading out the weather forecast, to finding and listing specific types of restaurants and reminding a user to pick up their drycleaning - and give answers to spoken questions.

At the World in 2012 summit held by the Economist last month, Dennis Crowley - co-founder of the social network Foursquare - said the new year would see Siri-style functionality extend further than the iPhone.

"We'll be doing that with our TV, we'll be doing it with our appliances, we'll be doing it with our laptops," he said.

At the same event, Kati London from Zynga, a San Francisco-based company that creates games for websites such as Facebook, said the coming year will be one of hyper-connectivity, where all manner of technology is plugged into the internet.

"In 2012 your fridge is going to talk to your television which is going to talk to your social networks. So it's going to be the year in which your fridge is all up in your Facebook," she said.

Although these forecasts might sound far-fetched, local pundits echo some of the claims.

Business adviser and tech expert Nathan Torkington said televisions could get voice-recognition systems over the next year.

"I already swear at my television, it just doesn't do anything in response," Torkington said.

"The widespread supposition is that Apple TV in the coming year will include Siri as a feature, so that you can bellow across the room to change the channel."

The next generation of Apple TV, which some have dubbed the iTV, has no official launch date but may be in stores in time for Christmas.

Tech writer Peter Griffin said the ability to recognise voice commands would be a "game-changer" for television.

"Rather than reaching for a remote if your TV is intelligent to know roughly what you want to do, if you say 'record channel one' and it records channel one, that's a game-changer. It gets away that barrier between you and what you want to do on your TV," Griffin said.

While Apple is likely to make a splash with its television, Griffin said the second incarnation of Google TV is also being rolled out.

"Those guys have the power with YouTube, which is launching over 100 live-streaming channels over the next year and is putting $100 million into it. You're seeing finally the start of true TV-on-demand delivered over the internet. They are perfectly positioned to team up with Sony and Samsung and Panasonic to deliver YouTube live channels direct to your TV."

The death of the 'dumb' phone and netbook

In July, 2degrees' chief executive Eric Hertz said smartphones could be selling for less than $100 in 12 months' time and within the reach of "value-conscious" consumers.

Smartphones - devices with advanced computing power, WiFi connectivity, integrated GPS and mobile broadband - are becoming more and more mainstream.

While some retailers sold lower-end smartphones for under $150 over Christmas, Hertz said the drop below $100 would depend on global penetration of the devices.

Torkington said smartphones are getting so cheap that feature phones (those that only allow users to call and send text messages) are beginning to vanish.

"I see it as a big change coming in the current year as [smartphones] hit that tipping point between early-adopters and the masses.

"It won't be long before we root the last of those feature phones out. That's a big change for everybody who builds a website because you have to think about how people on mobile phones can interact with it," he said.

Alongside feature phones, Griffin said Dell's decision to discontinue its line of netbooks last month signals the end for those type of computers.

"The netbook is dead," Griffin said.

Netbooks are small, compact laptops that have been popular for a number of years, but are getting edged out of the market by the iPad and other tablets.

Computer makers like Asus, Acer and Toshiba are now placing their bets on "ultrabooks" - a new style of ultra-portable laptop - to try to stave off the tablet advance.

Opening of the mobile wallet

At the Economist's summit, Kati London also predicted more people this year would use their smartphones to pay for goods over the counter.

Google and MasterCard are rolling services across parts of North America that turns a mobile phone into a wallet, letting users make payments with a quick swipe of their device at a terminal.

This "mobile wallet" service works by using a near-field communication (NFC) chip inside a smartphone.

NFC is technology that allows information to pass from one device to another when they are close to each other.

It is regarded as safer than Bluetooth for transferring personal data as it has a much shorter range, reducing the risk of information spilling into the wrong hands.

Vodafone, BNZ, Visa and Paymark are testing the technology in New Zealand and expect to roll it out commercially in 2013.

If the infrastructure is set up, it could allow for customers to pay for public transport, or open a card-controlled door with a mobile phone.

Two test terminals are up and running in Auckland and Wellington cafes - expect to see them in more stores before the end of the year.

- NZ Herald

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