Smart products reach a HAPIfork in the road

AT THIS year's International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, everything is getting a bit smarter.

Smartphones ushered in the notion that mobile phones didn't have to be limited to making calls, and tablets uprooted the definition of the personal computer. Now, the buzz at the world's largest tech gadget conference has shifted from the devices themselves to the growing crop of accessories and technologies that are piggybacking on their massive popularity.

Connectivity is one of the main reasons smartphones and tablets became blockbuster hits among consumers, and tech manufacturers want to bring that feature to other objects - many of them everyday, non-digital household items.

So a smartphone case is no longer just about protecting your phone, a fork is not just an instrument for getting food into your mouth, and a wristwatch is about more than just a fashion statement to tell the time - it links to an iPhone.

''Things are better when they're connected,'' the senior vice-president of emerging devices at AT&T, Chris Penrose, said. ''They're smart when they're connected, they're dumb when they're not.''

LG Electronics this week rolled out a line of smart appliances that can connect to and be controlled by users' smartphones or smart televisions. They include a refrigerator, an oven, a vacuum robot and a washer. For example, a smart TV can be used to pause a washing cycle.


Another product getting an upgrade is the smartphone case. The new Sensus iPhone case, a plastic covering no bulkier than a typical protective case, incorporates a processor and sensors that add touch-screen sensitivity to the back and sides of the iPhone.

The case snaps on to the phone, and users can play games by touching the back of the case and scroll through text by sliding a finger down the side of the case.

Instead of pressing on the glass surface of the touch screen to snap a photo, users can press on the side, much like they would with a digital camera.

Another sensor-equipped item is the HAPIfork, designed to vibrate in diners' hands when they eat too quickly.

Creator Hapilabs has also made a similar spoon. The utensils are fitted with sensors that track how often they're placed inside someone's mouth. Too many lip trips in too short a time span - say, three in a minute - cause the handle of the fork or spoon to gently pulsate. Users can program the devices to buzz at a personalised pace. ''You can be told to eat slowly, but you usually forget,'' inventor Jacques Lepine said.

''This way, your mind doesn't have to do the work.'

The annual CES convention opened on Sunday with events for the media, and to the industry on Tuesday when 3200 exhibitors showed off their latest gadgets and gizmos across 177,000 square metres of exhibition space at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

The Consumer Electronics Association, which runs CES, said global spending on consumer electronic devices is projected to hit $US1.1 trillion ($1.05 trillion) in 2013, with tablets and smartphones accounting for 40 per cent.

That sum would represent about 4 per cent growth from 2012 and reflect a turnaround of sorts from last year, when spending unexpectedly fell about 1 per cent, said CEA senior director of market research Steve Koenig.

Los Angeles Times