CES: Technology for the blind and deaf

Technology is supposed to make life easier for everyone, and at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, we found some gadgets that are accessible by the blind and deaf.

Check out Sinead Carew’s story on how Stevie Wonder is at CES to make the case for tech that’s friendly to the blind. As she reports, with the popularity of touch screens, once simple consumer electronics such as televisions and stereos have become difficult for blind people to use as they often require navigation of multiple menus that need to be seen.

If you want to learn sign language, Krown Manufacturing will be rolling out a pocket-sized device that may help. Use a stylus to type a word on the Sign Language Translator’s touch screen and it will play a video clip of that word translated into sign language. The device has over 3,500 words in sign language, Krown says. It doesn’t do phrases yet, but may some day.

This video is kind of grainy, but hopefully you’ll get the idea:

CES: Robbie Bach on Microsoft’s 3 screens strategy

We gave you our notes from a Q&A with Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices Division, yesterday. Here’s a clip of him talking about Microsoft’s three screens strategy (PC, phone, TV) and what it means for the consumer.

CES: Is Sony’s new Vaio a netbook?

In the old days -– say six months ago -– netbooks were easy to describe in a few short words. Cheap (less than $400), small (10-inch screen or less) and light (less than 3 pounds). Alas, things are not quite so simple anymore.

The netbook category’s parameters were already expanding as the market flooded with new offerings. Screen sizes crept up, as did retail prices.

And then along comes Sony to really confuse things with its Vaio P Series Lifestyle PC, which it unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show. It’s plenty small (8-inch screen) and light (1.4 pounds). But note that decidedly un-netbook-like price tag: $900.

Ballmer upstaged at first-ever CES keynote?

After watching Bill Gates deliver Microsoft’s keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show for 12 years, CEO Steve Ballmer finally got his moment in the sun on Wednesday.

We were rooting for you Steve, but next time, tell your friends not to steal your thunder.

First, it was Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg leaking the news that the U.S. phone company has picked Microsoft as its default mobile search provider. It’s a big win for Microsoft, which has been lagging behind Google and Yahoo on the Web, but Ballmer didn’t get to be the first to tell the world. Seidenberg stole the spotlight, announcing the deal at a Citi investor conference earlier on Wednesday. We were hoping Microsoft would take back the limelight by giving us more details when it was Ballmer’s turn at CES, but alas, all the CEO said was, “I’m also thrilled to announce a new long term partnership with Verizon to offer our live services on all Verizon phones.”

CES: Microsoft’s Robbie Bach speaks

Robbie Bach, President of Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices Division, sat down to talk to Reuters at CES in Las Vegas, ahead of the big keynote address by CEO Steve Ballmer. Topics discussed ranged from the Windows 7 beta and eventual launch, Microsoft’s mobile search deal with Verizon, and how the tough economic environment is affecting the company.

What is the status of Windows 7? Is it still on track for its launch debut?
It’s absolutely on track for the debut that we won’t tell you the date of. Three years from the last one. (Vista shipped in the fall of 2006 to businesses, and early 2007 to consumers). The date has some range in it for that reason. It’s a very good product.

What have you learned from the ups and downs of the Vista launch?
We learned that people’s early experience with the product when it ships is important. Initially when it shipped, we didn’t have as much compatibility as we would like. And that frustrated some people early on. That’s all gone now. But certainly with Windows 7 we want to get that right from the start.

CES: Samsung gadgets get reporters hot and bothered

If gadgets were fashion models, Samsung would probably send its TVs, Blu-ray players and camcorders sashaying down the runway, with reporters and photographers scrambling to get close. That’s how proud they were of their gadgets at the Consumer Electronics Show — admittedly, they were all slim, sexy and worth a slip of drool.

The South Korean electronics giant paraded a number of new or upgraded TV models in Las Vegas today, including a line-up of high-definition TVs that are supposed to be more energy efficient because they use LED as a light source rather than traditional cathode lamps.

Jongwoo Park, Samsung’s president of digital media, was quite bullish when asked about the tiny LED TV market. “We’re going to create the market,” he said.

CES: Toshiba’s Regza gets a facelift this year

Toshiba’s pricey Regza LCD televisions are getting cosmetic surgery this year, the Japanese electronics maker announced at the Consumer Electronics Show on Wednesday.

Not that these TVs need a face lift, but companies do like to make splashy announcements in Las Vegas.

The newest Regza TVs will have “cutting-edge cosmetics” due to its “Deep Lagoon” design, which is “inspired by the beauty and elegance of nature” and provides a 3D feeling, according to Toshiba.

CES: Gadgets, from the corny to the cute

We reporters got the usual sneak peak at some of the gadgets on display at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, a couple days before the official start on Thursday.  Nothing struck us as terribly exciting or revolutionary, but there were a number of things that caught our eye. Just because they were cute, earth-friendly or designed to make life — or rather, downloads — a little easier. Here’s a selection of what we’ve seen so far:

Netbooks: OK, they’re not for making Photoshop collages or watching high-res movies (and the tiny keyboard can give you hand cramps after a while), but netbooks are light to carry and easy on the eye. We checked out the Asus netbooks, the smallest of which has a 7-inch screen. They have a new tablet PC model too, complete with a swivel screen and stylus. Lenovo also had netbooks on display.

Universal remote control: Not a big deal, but Logitech’s newest one is a sleek little gadget, with a 3.5-inch touch screen that fits easily in the palm of your hand. It’s an improvement on their previous universal remote, which had both a touch-based user interface and keys, the exhibitor told us. But it’s not cheap — she said it would retail for $499.95 from end-February onwards.

CES: LG’s watch a secret agent could love

Mention a watch phone and many people will say the same thing: “sounds like something out of a James Bond movie.”

So when Woo Paik, president and chief technology officer of LG Electronics, introduced LG’s new wrist-wrapping, touch-screen communications device at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Wednesday, he couldn’t let the moment pass without the obligatory 007 reference.

And it’s true, there was certainly something Bond-ish when Paik lifted his wrist to his mouth and placed a call to someone across the room.

CES: Consumer gadgets still hot, hotter than cars at least

Recession or not, people like gadgets and they’re going to buy them. At least that’s what Consumer Electronics Association economist Shawn DuBravac and industry analyst Steve Koenig suggested in their presentation at CES in Las Vegas.

Of course, overall consumer spending has fallen as thrift becomes thrilling, and the CEA projects it will be down 0.3 percent this year. But people will still shell out for really smart phones, tricked-out digicams and touchy-feely computers.

That’s because people having been spending more and more of their discretionary dollars on gadgets over the years, compared to the percentages they spend on other durable goods like cars and home appliances. Tech is now an integral part of people’s lives, Koenig and DuBravas said.