Thursday, January 15, 2009

Taking Cue from CES, Window-shop Your Work

With Macworld and the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) generating a modest amount of excitement in the midst of depressing economic indicators, sorting through the new product releases, news wires, and other media outlets has become a mixture of electronics news and online shopping. Hybrid lawn mowers, color-changing iPod-enabled touch-sensor-laden alarm clocks, flexible wrist-worn communicators, and other devices make good use of LED technology, flex circuits, and advanced electro-mechanical design. By far the most hyped new products in this era of tight-belted dour consumers are the thinnest, most mobile PCs and Macs. And while we're talking about hype, let's take a lot at the new crop of green electronics.

Though much of Macworld's buzz focused on the health of Apple founder Steve Jobs, iPods still were the darling of accessory and upgrade providers. Thin, feature-rich, miniaturized computing devices are driving the consumer electronics business; no surprise there. Macworld hosted the debut of Axiotron's Modbook Pro tablet computer. HP unveiled a new mini laptop, HP Mini 2140 Notebook PC, weighing 2.6 pounds. AMD released a platform for ultrathin notebooks, based on the new AMD Athlon Neo processor and ATI Radeon X1250 integrated graphics. They are targeting "exceedingly thin and light OEM designs with rich entertainment capabilities at an affordable price."

And it isn't just computers. Hitachi's CES showcase included a 50" ultra thin (35 mm) plasma TV prototype and the next-generation 15-mm LCD display prototype with RGB LED back light. Speed and high-quality user experience — meaning rich graphics and interconnectivity — are highly touted on the next generation of mobile devices debuting at the shows. Toshiba, for example, announced support for the ATI Mobility Radeon HD4000 series of graphics processors in its laptops. NEC Electronics America Inc.'s power management IC lineup at CES was tailored to the mobile computing, mobile entertainment device market. Intel highlighted its Centrino 2 processor technology-based systems, as well as a new kind of personal-area network designed to link up cameras, printers, and other Wi-Fi devices around the user.

Toshiba also promoted its Portégé R600 ultraportable laptop PC, with a twist. In addition to portability and capability, the laptop is ranked one of the most eco-conscious laptop computers sold in the U.S., by the federal Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT), according to Toshiba. The green electronics trend has indisputably impacted Macworld and CES, with many brands advertising the recyclability and low energy usage of electronic devices. Is this the result of RoHS and similar legislation, or part of the larger green trend sweeping apparel, automotive, flooring, and other industries?

It's important to remember where these products came from — innovative PCB design and prototyping assembly are in evidence across the board — when looking at the finished goods. If you're designing electronic products or manufacturing them for a designer, think like the consumer, or other end user, as often as possible. Will I drop this often? Under what temperature/moisture conditions would this be used? Would I pay this price? More? Less? Most new product introductions (NPIs), if not all, should have a priorities list attached to them: cost, reliability, harsh environment endurance, etc. Thinking like the user rather than the fabricator can help us hone these priorities to more exacting assessments.

While thinking like the consumers of electronic products, you might want to check out the winners in the Crunchies, an Internet-voting-based awards program for compelling new technologies, interfaces, and tech businesses. Thinking like an electronics consumer can be fun, and it also can help your electronics design and manufacturing business in intangible ways.

Meredith Courtemanche, managing editor

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