Where Are the Game-Changing Technologies?

News from this year's Consumer Electronics Show reveals that the high-tech industry won't develop a game-changing technology anytime soon.

In fact, much of the technology at CES reflects an industry fiddling around the edges with designs that add or reduce the size of a mobile device, sharpen images with more megapixels, increase battery life, and provide 3D technology to TVs without viewers having to wear glasses. This is the kind of incremental change that won't significantly impact consumers' work life or leisure time in the way that the 2010 introduction of Apple's iPad did.

This year, CES comes at a time when many companies are grappling to stay relevant. Nokia, Hewlett-Packard, Acer, and Research in Motion, to name a few, are companies that have lost their competitive edge. This has caused lackluster sales and poor financial performance as their competitors have developed better products in the smartphone and tablet market. Furthermore, slow PC sales, the economic crisis in Europe, and tepid economic growth in the US don't offer the most stimulating environment to develop new, game-changing technologies that are unique, attractive, carry an affordable price point, and have an industry-wide impact.

The tech industry needs another game-changing technology that will give it a fresh chance to innovate around something new. What that new ground-breaking technology will be, however, is still anyone's guess, but a company or group of companies that produces the next industry-wide game-changing technology will not only spark growth but also energize a tech industry that now counts only a handful of successful original equipment manufacturers. So much, perhaps too much, of what's sold in the market today as outstanding products are nothing more than unremarkable incremental improvements on existing devices. They aren't game-changing devices or technologies. We are still waiting for remarkable improvements on products or outstanding innovations.

Back to CES. Reports are that the hottest technologies on display this year are the Ultra High-Definition TVs, also referred to as 4K televisions that have four times as many pixels as previous versions of high-definition TVs. However, TVs don't bring the masses in droves to stores like tablets and smartphones do, especially TVs like the one showed off by LG Electronics at CES — a 55-inch OLED TV that has a price tag of $12,000.

Still, one bright spot, according to analysts, is phablets — combination of a phone and tablet — that hold some promise. In his review of noteworthy devices displayed at CES, Richard Shim, an analyst at DisplaySearch, points to phablets such as Samsung's Galaxy Note with its 5-inch screen and the upgraded 5.5-inch Galaxy Note II, as well as Huawei's Ascend Mate, a new 6.1-inch smartphone and the Ascend D2.

In the tablet PC market, Shim identifies Lenovo’s IdeaCentre Horizon, which are tabletop PCs in two sizes, the 27-inch and 39-inch models, as well as Sony’s Vaio Tap 20, which has a 20-inch display. These technologies are capable of standing upright like a desktop PC or being laid flat on a desk, which are features that Shim believes consumers may find attractive enough to purchase.

Yet, Shim had this insightful observation about these technologies:

    Both the phablet and the table PC categories represent the extreme end of a form factor trend that we expect to see throughout 2013. The traditional lines that have been used to define, categorize, and track devices are expected to only become more difficult to maintain. We anticipate that brands will experiment with new designs and form factors in search of versions that will resonate with consumers to drive adoption.

    While we don't project that any design change will ultimately translate to an industry-wide increase in shipment growth (i.e., we are forecasting a -5 percent Y/Y shipment growth for notebook PCs) we anticipate that brands can score image points and credibility with consumers for willing to be bold with design. That has translated to good fortune for Apple so it should not be underestimated.

For those of us looking forward to the introduction of ground-breaking technology, this year's CES event tells us that we'll have to wait. How long will we have to wait? It's really anyone's guess.

12 comments on “Where Are the Game-Changing Technologies?

  1. Barbara Jorgensen
    January 15, 2013

    Hi Nicole–I've read the same assessment of CES from other sources — no breakout technology. Instead, some vendors are going the route to excess (80 inch TV screens) or just silly (the smart fork). Maybe CES is no longer the forum for breakthroughs, but then, what would be the alternative?

  2. _hm
    January 16, 2013

    May be you only have to look at Apple for game changing technologies. Threre are not many organizations with so much of brain power. People did talk about Apple TV. Hopefully it will converge technologies in this device.


  3. bolaji ojo
    January 16, 2013

    Game changing technologies emerge typically over time and often they are nothing but improvements on existing products. Sometimes, too, a brilliant designer and exec needs to come along and show us how to use better what we already have.

  4. Cryptoman
    January 16, 2013

    Research & development is a long and costly process. Companies who have developed a game changing technology will not roll that newer and more advanced technology out until they have made sufficient money from selling the older technology.

    I know this from one of my previous projects where I was part of a large team working on developing a new digital storage technology. We managed to build a working hardware prototype for the new “bleeding edge” recording technology but this did not roll out as a product yet. This technology was developed nearly 10 years ago! My guess is this product will roll out when the leading company is happy with the money they have made from their existing technology.

    We as consumers are pushed for spending and consuming old technologies and we are forced to upgrade and spend more money when newer versions are rolled out. The truth is not there are no more game changing technologies discovered but it's not time to make them public yet.



  5. Barbara Jorgensen
    January 16, 2013

    Good point regarding technologies vs. enhancements. I agree that existing technologies still have a lot of life in them yet. What we are seeing is the battle of the form factor rather than the technology.

  6. prabhakar_deosthali
    January 16, 2013

    In my opinion the technologies that are supposedly  kept under the wraps by some companies till they cash onto the existing technologies may not be necessarily the game changing technologies.

    The real game changing technologies are happening elsewhere -in robotics, the nano technology, i MEMS. But since these are not directly applicable for mass consumer products  they would not be visible in the consumer electronics forums

  7. The Source
    January 18, 2013


    I wish that we could give more examples of companies that have in the past couple of years developed game changing consumer products, but as you have demonstrated, Apple is the company that comes to mind. Many of the other companies are just following along and adding designs and features to existing technology. Let me add that when you think of the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad, I think we can all agree that Apple has done an outstanding job of introducing consumers to new and compelling devices that have proven to be game changing technologies.

    Thanks so much for your comments.



  8. The Source
    January 18, 2013


    I appreciate the point you are making.  A company needs to know when to introduce new technology to the market. Remember that if the company is unveiling technology that its competitors don't have, and if it has a first to market advantage, then it needs to get that technology out as quickly as possible so that it can have a chance to gain market share dominance.  Remember, Apple had a tremendous head start with the iPad and had no serious competitor in the table space for more than a year. 

    Thanks for your comments.



  9. Cryptoman
    January 18, 2013

    @ The Source

    I guess the timing also depends on the nature of the development. Tablet computers were going to be rolled out by a manufacturer sooner or later. At the time, as the PCs and notebooks were getting smaller and smaller, the trend was obvious to all manufacturers. Therefore, the next big step was to roll out the smallest, the coolest and the most user friendly computing machine, which was the tablet. Because more than one manufacturer could see the trend, the fastest would gain a huge advantage in that particular race.

    However, the digital storage technology I have mentioned is a completely different kettle of fish. This is mainly because the solution is not an easy one to guess by the competing companies. It is definitely not an easy opportunity to spot such as the leap from a small notebook to a tablet device. The developer of this technology is still sitting on it patiently waiting for the right time. It has been nearly 10 years since the development of the recording technology and yet the product did not hit the shelves. The technology is still very valid and and better than what we have on the market today. The developer company is still very happy to make money with their existing old technology.

    My point is if companies are able to delay the roll out of new products, they will definitely use that opportunity to keep on making more money with the older technology first. This also makes a lot of commercial sense. However, whether the companies have this luxury of making money will depend on the product, the sector and the trends in that sector.





  10. _hm
    January 18, 2013


    Further to your comment, is it possible to know how much does it cost to research and introduce new game changing technology – typical estimate for iPad or iPhone?

    Also, typically how many times an organization can achieve this? Is it like olympics 100m sprint gold – you can only win once or twice in life time?


  11. SunitaT
    January 22, 2013

    May be you only have to look at Apple for game changing technologies.

    @_hm, no doubt iPhone and iPad were game changing technologies but after that we haven't seen any major innovation from Apple. Infact iPhone 5 sales are dwindling because of which Apple had to cut orders for iPhone parts. It would be interesting to see how Apple will remain as the “Leader in innovation”.

  12. SunitaT
    January 22, 2013

    Maybe CES is no longer the forum for breakthroughs, but then, what would be the alternative?

    @Barbara, you are right.  Major players, including Apple, Microsoft, Google and Amazon, didn't participate in this year's Consumer Electronics Show.  There presence might have helped CES to showcase more breakthgouh technologies.

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