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From Apple's iPhone 5 to next-gen thermostats to OLED TVs, here are 10 tech products we're looking forward to seeing in 2012.
Kinect for Windows
Microsoft's motion-sensing interface is coming to Windows in 2012, and the technology has the potential to radically change the way we interact with our PCs. Keyboards and mice aren't going away anytime soon, but hand gestures and even facial expressions may become viable means of controlling your computer.
What new desktop applications will Kinect enable? Developers can download the Kinect for Windows SDK to get started.
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When Apple's Siri comes out of beta--and when Google and Microsoft enhance their respective OSs with better voice commands--we'll all be able to have meaningful conversations with our devices.
And we won't be talking only with smartphones and tablets: Microsoft is launching an Xbox 360 update that adds voice navigation to the gaming console (provided that you're using the company's Kinect sensor).
Google, meanwhile, is working diligently to improve Android's voice-recognition skills. One prime example is the "experimental" Conversation Mode in the Google Translate app.
As for Siri, a new rumor has Apple adding voice controls to its mythical TV set, which may arrive in 2013.
Android 4.0 Phones
The latest version of Google's mobile operating system is already generating buzz in the mobile world. Android 4.0 offers a lot to love: a polished interface, improved multitasking, better search tools, and the intriguing-yet-gimmicky Face Unlock and Android Beam.
Plus, a fresh batch of Android smartphones (led by the Samsung Galaxy Nexus) and a new generation of tablets (including the Asus Eee Pad Transformer 2) are designed specifically for Android 4.0, also known as Ice Cream Sandwich.
Apple iPhone 5
When Apple unveiled the iPhone 4S in October, many fans felt a twinge of disenchantment. The iPhone 4S has some nice changes under the hood--including the voice-recognizing personal assistant Siri and an excellent 8-megapixel camera--but it looks virtually identical to its predecessor.
The rumored curved glass screen and daring teardrop shape are apparently still on the drawing board over in Cupertino. Assuming that the iPhone 5 arrives in 2012, it just might pack the visual wallop that Apple watchers have been waiting for.
The MacBook Air's success is creating a style revolution in the laptop world. Now Windows laptops are shedding pounds and inches to mimic the Air's thin-and-light chic. The Intel-led Ultrabook initiative will bring a bunch of wafer-thin notebooks in 2012, including the Lenovo IdeaPad U300s, the Asus ZenBook, and the Toshiba Portege Z830 series.
But what we're really looking forward to is the price drop. By the second quarter of 2012, Acer reportedly plans to sell Ultrabooks for just $800 to $900, with prices falling to $500 by 2013. That's a big drop from today's $800-to-$1500 range.
Wider Choice of Tablets
Tablets are currently going in two directions, splitting into the "just good enough" variety and the "powerful yet pricey" business models.
On the low end you'll find Amazon's $200 Kindle Fire (whose tepid reviews aren't discouraging holiday shoppers) and Barnes & Noble's $250 Nook Tablet. Those bargain slates may force competitors such as Samsung (with its Galaxy Tab 7 Plus) and Toshiba (with its Thrive) to cut the prices of their 7-inch models. Meanwhile, other tablet makers may pursue the lucrative business market, where powerful quad-core slates such as the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime may have a receptive audience.
Pricey and picturesque OLED TVs have been trade-show favorites for years now, but they remain gorgeous novelties that are too expensive for mainstream adoption.
Will that change in 2012? According to Korean tech news site Etnews.com, both LG and Samsung will debut 55-inch OLED TVs at CES in January. What they will cost is unclear, but they will certainly be priced at a premium relative to today's LCD and plasma sets.
Recent manufacturing improvements on larger OLED panels may help lower production costs, however. Given the ongoing sales slump in the TV industry, it's debatable whether consumers will be willing to spend extra for OLED.
Apple iPad 3
If the gossip is true, the next-generation iPad will be a sight to behold. Its most compelling (alleged) feature: a 2048-by-1536-pixel display, offering four times the resolution of the iPad 2's 1024-by-768-pixel screen. Assuming that Apple maintains its tablet-upgrade cycle, we can expect to see the new slate in the spring (the iPad and iPad 2 each shipped in the spring).
Microsoft Windows 8
Microsoft's next operating system promises to be everything. Designed to power both tablets and conventional PCs, Windows 8 is ambitious and risky. The new OS will feature the touch-oriented Metro interface that we first saw in Windows Phone 7. That means Microsoft's "reimagined" flagship OS will be the first Windows version since the iconic Windows 95 to revamp, rather than simply tweak, the desktop interface.
Windows 8's touch-friendly tiles might make sense for tablet users, but how will Microsoft's bread-and-butter business clientele embrace the radically new look and feel?
Tech in 2012
We're nearing the end of the year, so it's time to ask what wonders 2012 will bring. No, I'm not talking about the possible end of the world. I'm talking about tech wonders--products that many of us wish were here right now, such as Apple's (alleged) iPad 3 and iPhone 5, and Microsoft's tablet-friendly Windows 8 operating system.
What are you anticipating in the new year? Here's what I'm looking forward to.
Windows Phone 7 Platform
Microsoft's efforts in the mobile OS arena have been greeted by big yawns from the majority of smartphone shoppers. But Windows Phone 7's prospects may brighten in 2012. The new Windows Phone 7.5 (Mango) software adds the features and fine-tuning that the OS needs to compete with Android and iOS.
Nokia's adoption of WP7 should also help spur sales, and WP7 handsets such as the Samsung Focus S are getting good reviews. The next 12 months may decide whether Windows Phone 7 handsets succeed or go the way of the Zune.
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