Yesterday morning I had breakfast with Steve Koenig, Director of Industry Analysis at the Consumer Electronics Association. In case you don't already know, the CEA is the organisation behind the biggest trade show in the technology calendar - CES. Given the CEA's relationship with the technology industry, Steve is a great source of information, opinion and analysis.
Although Steve is over in the UK to give some formal presentations, our meeting was more of an informal chat about the trends and hot topics in the tech arena right now, and what was likely to be making waves at the 2013 CES in January.
Unsurprisingly, two companies that reared their heads early on in the conversation were Apple and Microsoft. With the on-going rumours and speculation surrounding Apple TV, Steve said that it's a subject that's unavoidable.
Despite the fact that the TV market, in general, is contracting, Koenig believes that an Apple TV product could be immune to that shrinkage, and I agree with him. Whether you're an Apple fan or not, you have to admit that the company has managed to succeed in areas where the rest of the market had given up, and grow markets that had previously appeared to stagnate.
The problem with TVs is that you only tend to buy a new one when you need one, but that's the complete opposite to the Apple model. When Apple launches a new product, people buy it even if there's nothing wrong with their existing device. If we apply that model to Apple TV, then it's probably safe to say that already having a perfectly good TV, won't stop buyers from rushing to the Apple store as soon as a TV is launched.
The other problem with TV manufacturers is that they're generally obsessed with broadcast and traditional AV models. Okay, I'll admit that the Smart TV concept has gained significant momentum over the past couple of years, but IP functionality still appears to be an additional feature, rather than the focus. Both Steve and I agreed that if Apple were to bring a TV to market, IP content would be the main focus, with broadcast being a secondary function, thereby turning the traditional model on its head.
Of course all opinions regarding Apple TV are pure conjecture, even when put forward by as experienced a technology analyst as Koenig, but it's clear that the TV is the missing link in Apple's ecosystem, and it's unlikely that this omission will remain for much longer.
A more quantitative trend that Steve highlighted was the ever increasing momentum of Windows 8 on the PC market. Whether or not you like Windows 8, there's no denying that it's going to make a big impact on the PC market, with a host of new hardware waiting in the wings for its launch.
And it's not just manufacturers that will be waiting with baited breath for Windows 8, since many consumers are likely to be holding off any PC purchases until Microsoft's new OS ships. The question is whether the most significant changes offered by Windows 8 will be seen as a benefit or a distraction.
With touch-screen functionality baked into Windows 8, it remains to be seen whether the industry or users will welcome such a radical change to the user interface. Steve feels that Metro doesn't lend itself to the traditional keyboard and mouse model, but he also feels that the proliferation of touch-screen monitors isn't really at a level where the preferred interface can be the norm. Personally, I don't want a touch-screen on my PC and would far rather use a multi-touch touchpad, as already favoured by Apple.
But Windows 8 isn't just about PCs, as yesterday's Surface announcement proved. Microsoft is trying to build its own user interface ecosystem, with a uniform look and feel across PCs, tablets, phones and games consoles. It's this unified user interface that makes Windows 8 exciting, and if Microsoft can get that interoperability right, it could be onto a winner.
Steve has also been tracking another trend that's quite close to my heart (no pun intended) - health and fitness technology. The growth in this sector has been huge over the past few years, with even the most sedentary individual able to benefit.
The health and fitness technology market is now so broad, with manufacturers like Garmin and Polar catering for the serious athlete or enthusiast, while a plethora of smartphone apps can track everything from the number of steps you take each day, to the number of calories burned, to the speed and pace of your movement.
Health and fitness technology will be showcased at CES 2013 with a 9,500 square foot Digital Health Summit highlighting new and innovative companies and products in the sector. Koenig expects the health and fitness sector to continue to grow, with cloud-based connectivity and low-power Bluetooth technology making devices more feature rich, more connected and longer lasting out in the field.
Steve also threw in a new buzz phrase, CEvolution, which might sound a little tacky, but does have some merit. The big convergence between IT and CE happened a good while ago, but now we're seeing consumer electronics evolve in new directions, with the promise of improved user experience lighting the way.
The fact that we all have, what is essentially a computer in our pocket, makes this evolution far simpler than it could have been. Many of the new connected TV ranges allow you full control via your smartphone or tablet. Not only does this mean that you'll never find yourself searching for the remote again, but it also means that your mobile device and TV can work together in ways that you never thought possible.
When I was in Hamburg with Panasonic earlier in the year, the company showed off its latest smartphone app, and how your phone can work in harmony with your TV. You can swipe images, web pages and even video directly from your phone to the TV and back again. As amazing as this functionality is, Koenig sees it as just the beginning, and expects the "companion screen" to play a big part in the evolution of TV in the coming years.
All in all, it sounds like there will be some interesting products, announcements at technology demos at CES 2013 if any, or all of what Steve and I discussed comes to fruition. We'll get a better idea of exactly what to expect in Las Vegas in January at the London CES Unveiled event. This will take place on 15 November at the Inmarsat Conference Centre, and Steve and his CEA colleagues will be there to set the scene for the impending show.