What's Next For Personal Technology?

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) - Smartphones, tablets, HDTVs are what customers want to buy. What's next? That same industry doesn't seem to have many fresh ideas.

Tastes, wants and needs change almost hourly - and the electronics industry thrives on change to survive. But, instead of great leaps of innovation we're being offered more of the same.. Take Apple. For the past decade they've been the innovators. But, based on this week's announcement of upcoming, new products Apple ( AAPL) is interested is currently more interested in leveling the feature "playing field" than in innovating as they once did.

In midday trading, Apple was off 0.75% at $443.32.

And, it's not just Apple. Microsoft ( MSFT), for instance, has been trying to figure out how to gain traction with all of the new computers, tablets and smartphones that run Windows 8 operating systems. So far, with a small measure of success. Others are struggling too ( Blackberry ( BBRY) and Dell ( DELL) for instance) or getting out of the business completely. Remember IBM computers or Palm?

It's more than companies or their products suddenly losing favor. It's progress. As technology improves both hardware and software have to keep up. For instance, transistor radios of the '50's and '60's were replaced by hi-fi systems and boom boxes in the '70's. Then it was Sony ( SNE) Walkman in the '80s and '90s. Apple iPods in the 2000s. Now, it's digital music files, digital downloads, streaming music services and smartphones.

For the most part, TV and radio as we once embraced them are dead. The advent of HDTV helped revived sales in the past few years. But, now that younger viewers prefer to watch shows, via the Internet, when they want to. And, on whichever device is nearby. The TV industry is hoping that the next generation of ultra-high-definition television. The new technology is called 4K (meaning it's nearly four times the resolution of current HD televisions). 8K isn't far behind. New products will be priced accordingly. That means expensive. Many are banking on it.

Remember newspapers? Or books made from paper? Barely. You'll soon be able to say the same for electronic devices which only let you read books. Everything is rapidly moving to smartphones and tablets.

It comes as a shock to no one (except, possibly, for a handful of stubborn computer manufacturers) that PCs are, for practical purposes, a thing of the past. Old-fashioned laptops won't be far behind. Last year, Microsoft tried to overhaul Windows for these new generations of computing platforms and products. They've has limited success. So, Redmond engineers are hard at work with a Windows update to help fix what's wrong. Windows 8.1 is expected to be released later this year.

Apple is also trying to offer the right combination of features to keep interest high for their laptops and desktops. On Monday, Apple announced the next big upgrade for OS X, the increasingly popular desktop/laptop operating system. Basically, version 10.9 (Mavericks) will add a number of features similar to what's offered in iOS, Apple's mobile operating system.

It's a fact. Tablets are the new laptops. And, as tablets get cheaper and cheaper (Asus has just announced an upcoming, 7-inch tablet with a starting retail price of $129) manufacturers' profit margins will decline as well.

So, what is the next? The hot items, these days, seem to be wearable computing devices (such as exercise-based, watch-like computers or the much heralded Google ( GOOG) Glass. There is also a lot of industry-generated news being released concerning advanced computing devices for car dashboards (as announced by GM, BMW, and others).

But, there are already concerns being voiced about both new types of mobile computers. Drivers talking on cell phones is bad enough. Now, there are warning about additional distracting electronic devices interfering with a driver's concentration. And, it's not just drivers at risk. Google Glass fans must be aware that performing relatively simple tasks - maybe crossing a street or cooking - while using the device might cause problems. Some are suggesting restrictive laws must be passed now to avoid future tragedies.

If some big, new product is on the horizon we might hear about it by the end of the month. The industry is holding their annual, mid-year event called CE Week here in New York, the week of June 24th. Hopefully, someone will be showing something that will excite.

--Written by Gary Krakow in New York.

>To submit a news tip, send an email to: tips@thestreet.com.
Gary Krakow is TheStreet's senior technology correspondent.

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