Smartphones move far beyond communications

Digital tablets generated the biggest frenzy at at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, but smartphones held their own, particularly when it came to unique applications in the home and for the road
Griffin's Beacon turns an iPhone into a universal multimedia remote. ((Ted Kritsonis))
While digital tablets generated the biggest frenzy at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas over the weekend, smartphones managed to hold their own on the show floor, particularly when it came to unique applications in the home and for the road.

Apple may not have had an official presence on the show floor, for example, but its vaunted iPhone was a big player among a wide array of vendors looking to offer distinctive products and services for the platform.

Third-party developers are also paying close attention to the rise of Google's Android mobile operating system and the millions of phones running that software, as well as Waterloo, Ont.-based RIM's BlackBerry, which still has a significant piece of the market.

Total control

Germany's showed off the VooMote ONE at CES, which has an add-on infrared blaster to let an iPhone or iPod Touch control audio-video gear. ((Ted Kritsonis))
Many companies were offering products that make smartphones much more than a talking-and-surfing gadget. With home entertainment becoming so prevalent and given the attention paid to web-connected TVs and devices, for example, several vendors were showing off software that turns an iPhone into a universal remote that can control all these components.

Griffin Technologies unveiled a small receiver device it calls Beacon, which works in tandem with an application on the iPhone to turn it into a universal remote. It also works with Apple's iPad and iPod Touch, a rollout is planned for Android, and a BlackBerry version is a real possibility, according to the company.

Germany's presented the VooMote ONE, which works much the same way, except it houses the iPhone (or iPod Touch) in a case that has an infrared blaster at the top. Device control codes for different makes and models of audio-video components (the company says it supports "up to 90 per cent" of them) are then consistently updated through the phone's internet connection so that the VooMote app can interact directly with anything from a Blu-ray player to a stereo system. A version for Android phones will be coming soon, Zero said.

Healthy apps

On the health side, there were two blood pressure monitors that work with the iPhone. 

The iHealth Blood Pressure Dock is a cuff with a wire connected to a docking station propping up the iPhone. The app on the iPhone begins the process wherein the cuff contracts, and then releases, logging all the data onto the phone's screen. This includes everything from your pulse to systolic and diastolic numbers.

The Withings Smart Baby Monitor works with both the iPhone and Android handsets. A small video camera placed in the baby's room connects to the phone via Wi-Fi. ((Ted Kritsonis))
Like iHealth, France's Withings unveiled its own unit called the Smart Blood Pressure Monitor. It has no docking station, but sports a more elegant design and works in much the same way as the iHealth system, Both apps are able to keep a record of your history, including a graph that indicates if you are at risk of hypertension based on standards set by the World Health Organization.

Withings released its Smart Baby Monitor for both the iPhone and Android. A small video camera placed in the baby's room connects to the phone via Wi-Fi, where you can view the child anytime. The included sound and motion detector picks up the baby's cries and pings the phone to alert you, even if you have another application open.

For the road

Acoustic Research showed its Garage Door Control for BlackBerry, which uses a receiver that plugs into the door-opener's motor, and an app that communicates with it to open and close a garage door from up to 75 feet away.

But that was just scratching the surface of some of the integrated technologies that both electronics companies and the automotive industry are looking to bring to market for consumers of all stripes.

SYNC is Ford's voice-controlled in-dash system that was developed with Microsoft. Its updated SYNC AppLink will allow voice control of smartphone applications. ((Ted Kritsonis))
Ford, Audi and Hyundai all announced products and services that will have smartphone integration in mind. Ford's MyFord application will be able to 'talk' to the Focus Electric, the automaker's electric car, and control the heating and cooling of both the battery and the car's interior. It will also be able to read how much of a charge the car battery has, and where the nearest charging station is, along with the option to initiate a charge at off-peak hours for a lower electricity rate.

SYNC is Ford's voice-controlled in-dash system that was developed with Microsoft. Its updated SYNC AppLink will also look to integrate voice control of smartphone apps into the existing architecture of the platform. This will allow drivers to control application functions without having to touch the phone.

Pioneer announced a smartphone application that will work directly with certain in-dash units the company makes. This includes viewing video content streamed from the phone to a screen in the dashboard, albeit only when the car is parked and the hand brake is fully engaged.

Hyundai unveiled its Blue Link telematics platform, which also works with smartphones to help drivers detect pedestrians and cars in the dark. It will likely be a direct competitor to OnStar as the system will also offer navigation, remote door locking/unlocking, remote starting and maintenance reports. Interesting features include a remote vehicle-slowdown trigger in case the car is stolen, along with text message alerts whenever the car breaches a designated set area, better known as "geo-fencing." Parents are sure to love this when their kids borrow the family car, but it can also apply to fleets of cars that handle deliveries.

There will also be a hands-free text messaging feature allowing people to reply automatically to messages with customized responses. Blue Link will begin its rollout in the 2012 Sedan and another "youth-oriented" vehicle this year, with the full Hyundai line to follow in 2013.

Driver safety was a key element in the applications being shown at CES this year, and that included some vendors with anti-texting software for smartphones. Both PhoneGuard and TxtBlocker are subscription-based services that work to disable a phone's messaging and data options when a car is in motion.

Danish company Anti-Sleep Pilot also raised the curtain on a product of the same name that uses algorithms to anticipate and avoid driver fatigue and drowsiness. There is no smartphone integration yet, but it's a possibility down the line, according to a spokesman with the company.

Some, if not all, of these products will be available in Canada.