Editors' pick: Originally published May 24.
This year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas provided a sneak peek into what technology trends are taking off in the industry this year.
Both start-up tech companies and industry-leading veterans are making a strong push for virtual reality and artificial intelligence, and it is becoming increasingly clear that the future of technology will revolve around these two areas along with mobile devices.
The HoloLens headset is a self-contained wearable Windows 10 computer retailing for $3,000, yet those lucky enough to get their hands on one are re-selling the HoloLens for $7,000 to $10,000.
The device maps the wearer's environment while displaying virtual objects anchored to that environment. The result is the best mixed-reality experience to date by any stand-alone, non-tethered device.
Each HoloLens is powered by a 32-bit Intel Atom processor and Microsoft's custom Holographic Processing Unit. Using data generated by an inertial measurement unit, four spatial-mapping cameras and a depth camera, the HPU creates a 3-D model of the user's surrounding environment.
Applications can then use this 3-D map to position holograms and interact with the user's environment. By using such a specialized co-processor, Microsoft has sacrificed increased power and thermal efficiency to gain more flexibility.
A head-mounted computer poses serious hurdles and limitations with regard to battery size and how much heat can be generated without causing discomfort to the wearer.
Still, I own a HoloLens and can say that, despite these limitations, Microsoft has brought the most impressive VR device to market thus far.
Facebook (FB) - Get Report made a $2 billion investment into the VR realm when Mark Zuckerberg said that the company was buying Oculus VR and the Oculus Rift in 2014. But the product that essentially started the VR craze is no longer the industry's leading product, with a battle for the top product now between the HoloLens and the HTC Vive.
Rather than providing a true VR experience and interacting with the user's actual environment like HoloLens, with the Oculus Rift the user sits down in a chair with an Xbox controller in hand and plays very traditional-looking, console-type games that just happen to be in VR. It is still a fun experience but not quite up to the standards set forth by the competition.
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Even the Oculus Touch motion controllers set to launch this year aren't expected to boost the product's ranking among other VR devices.
Developers have said that Oculus is asking them to track the Oculus Touch games in 180 degrees, rather than a full 360-degree experience. This means standing Oculus Touch games must encourage the user to face in one direction.
On the other hand, consumers are raving about how the HTC Vive allows users to actually walk around in 360 degrees of VR play space. And the superior VR device comes standard with motion controllers, while the Oculus Touch controllers don't launch until later this year.
Although the HTC Vive could improve its weight distribution, battery life and possibly look into having a non-tethered device with no use for a connected cord to the user's personal computer, it stands as the most immersive VR experience that money can buy right now.
Shifting away from VR and into AI, Amazon's (AMZN) - Get Report Echo Dot acts as an electronic personal assistant. The Amazon Echo smart speaker was a huge hit last year, and the newer Echo Dot version is even better and half the price at just $90.
And Alexa, the virtual assistant housed within the Echo and Echo Dot that is always on and always listening for the next command, is giving Apple's Siri a run for her money as the leading virtual aid.
The one area where the Echo Dot falls short of its predecessor is sound volume. But consumers shouldn't worry as the Echo Dot, unlike the Echo, can be plugged into any set of speakers or even connect via Bluetooth providing whatever sound quality is desired.
Aside from playing one's favorite music, Alexa and the Echo Dot can do a seemingly ever-growing list of tasks, ranging from listing the day's news headlines from predetermined sources to ordering a pizza from Dominos or even calling an Uber. At just $90, Amazon's Echo Dot might be one of the best tech deals on the market.
Meanwhile, Alphabet (GOOGL) - Get ReportGoogle'smodular phone, called Project Ara, will make its way to developers this fall and could change the entire smartphone market. Project Ara is similar to most Android phones but with an emphasis placed on modularity.
Instead of buying one phone and being stuck with a single configuration, the phone's frame will allow consumers to change out different parts of the device as desired. This will make upgrading a smartphone as easy as changing out an Xbox game or swapping Lego pieces.
The idea is certainly new, but, if executed properly, could make waves across the entire smartphone market.
The video trailer shows a person swapping out the included camera for a slightly bulkier and likely more powerful, one. Imagine changing out the included speaker for additional speaker modules to improve sound volume and quality.
Project Ara will allow users to swap out hardware as easily as we swap out software by downloading and updated mobile apps. It will allow users to replace a cracked screen by simply buying a new one and snapping it into place.
What if the only upgrade on the phone's latest model that a user really wanted was the higher pixelated camera? No problem.
Simply buy the camera piece, and snap it onto the existing phone.
Smartphone users will no longer be forced to get rid of an entire phone in order to get the latest upgrades.
Let's say, for example, that a built-in battery is defective or dies. In today's smartphone market, a user must go to the store and upgrade to an entirely new phone.
But then a perfectly usable camera, SSD flash drive, RAM memory, processor and more are being tossed into the garbage. Why not keep all the functioning pieces and simply swap out the defective one?
Project Ara can make that possible.
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Also in the smartphone market, through its acquisition of Israeli battery maker Batteryfly Energy, LifeClips (LCLP) is bringing a tech product already being sold in 14 countries, including Australia, Canada, France, Israel and the United Kingdom, to the United States.
Mobeego is an affordable, single-use, cordless battery that provides an instant shot of power to a smartphone. The gadget requires no pre-charge, is 100% recyclable and has a 10-year shelf life.
With mobeego, users no longer need to find the closest outlet to charge a phone, and they no longer need to stop using a phone just to save the battery. Similar to energy shots, mobeego can be found at the checkout counter of convenience stores or in vending machines in airports or shopping malls.
A starter kit costs just $6.99, while each refill unit is just $3.99, a price that anyone with a dying smartphone would be willing to pay.
Smartphones have become a necessity in everyday life. We now stay connected through social media, do shopping, email, text, surf the web, watch movies, play games and even bank on our smartphones.
Meanwhile, the built-in batteries of today's smartphones just can't keep up with consumers' usage. Extended charging cases exist but can be upwards of $100 apiece and require a long pre-charge, meaning they can die just as easily as a smartphone.
Mobeego is a simple, yet much needed product that gives a one-time shot of power, adding up to four more hours of use. Simply grab a can, plug it into the phone and go.
Tech trends are revolving around mobile devices, VR and AI. Successful companies will be those that provide consumers with better experiences in these areas along with the necessary accessories.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.