Another technology that will start to transform consumer electronics over the next year is USB 3.0. The first consumer products featuring this new generation of the technology–already used to connect printers, keyboards, cameras, scanners, and other peripherals to personal computers–have just reached the market. Several manufacturers showed prototypes of devices to come at CES. Seagate and Western Digital both showed off external disk drives, and HP and Fujitsu have announced notebooks that will support USB 3.0.
USB 3.0 has a maximum speed 10 times faster than the current standard, USB 2.0, with data transmission speeds of up to five gigabits per second. USB 3.0 uses a new cable design that includes nine wires instead of USB 2.0’s four, but it is backward compatible with the older design, at least on the personal computer end of the connection. The USB 3.0 connector on the other end of the cable will not be compatible with the older standard.
Finally, there was a strong uptick in the number of devices featuring wireless charging technology. These products operate on the principle of relatively short-range inductive coupling, originally pioneered as a way of transferring power through the air by Nikola Tesla at the end of the 19th century.
There have been a handful of wireless power systems every year at CES. But this year marked a turning point for the technology, as users’ frustration with short battery lives and bulky chargers met with improved industrial design. In the past, one of the big problems with inductive power was how to modify consumer devices to incorporate power receivers. The receivers have now been shrunk down enough to make this a minor issue. For example, with Powermat’s products, users can replace the battery cover of their cell phone with a slightly thicker cover that incorporates the receiver. Wireless power transmission could get a further push in the future if magnetic inductive coupling technology, a longer-range form of wireless recharging, takes off.
If a standard for wireless power could be developed, receivers and transmitters could be built into all kinds of devices, such as laptops and conference room tables. Then the days of hunting around for a power outlet at meetings could be numbered.