Glasses-free 3D TV

Maybe Next YearCNET 100: The maybe next years
This is the tech that we've been eagerly waiting for, and it's still not here.

Who hasn't dreamed of enjoying 3D movies without fumbling for an annoying pair of glasses? This year has seen glasses-free 3D tech--most notably the Nintendo 3DS and a Toshiba Qosmio glasses-free laptop--but there are still challenges. Viewing angles are a big concern: anyone who's used a Nintendo 3DS knows how perfectly you have to hold your head in place. Large-screen implementation is also a challenge: the larger the screen, the harder the 3D experience is to replicate. The Toshiba Qosmio pulled it off on a 15-inch screen, but we still have a ways to go before hitting a living-room home theater size.

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All-day batteries

Maybe Next YearSome gadgets can run for weeks before a recharge (e-ink e-readers, for example). Others are awfully close to feeling like always-on devices that barely need any charging (the iPad, with an effective all-day battery life). Laptops and cell phones are getting closer, but both still need to visit an outlet by around sunset with a full day of use. If batteries can get over the hump, our in-the-pocket devices might finally feel like the truly free gadgets they're meant to be. Could 2012 be the year when we stop needing to top off our gadgets on chargers at the office? We hope so.

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Alternative-energy gadgets

Maybe Next YearAs a race, as a species, we use too much energy. The more gadgets we own, the more power we use. Energy-efficient batteries and devices help use less electricity and also allow gadgets to last longer before a recharge, but we keep hoping for truly intelligent next-gen ideas like realistically useful solar chargers or kinetically powered battery chargers. It's in the interest of our planet and our wallets to find an answer. Maybe next year.

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Great cloud storage

Maybe Next YearWe leave 2011 still wishing for an easy way to make the cloud and home storage work together. So far, data storage and backup is a rat's nest of possibilities for most people. The cloud has promise, but uploading to most sites is slow and services have their limitations--and subscription costs. Home-storage devices like NAS (network-attached storage) servers are awkward and confusing. Plug-in hard drives can crash. There's no perfect solution. We keep hoping for a "NAS for everyone," a true home media cube that can wirelessly back up and sync data with all gadgets, using non-proprietary tech. The more stuff we have to store, the more juggling proper storage needs to be handled more efficiently and intelligently. Make it simple, make it fun. Please.

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Color e-ink e-readers

Maybe Next YearWe were teased at the last Consumer Electronics Show with a peek at Mirasol's promising color e-ink technology--the idea would combine the benefits of color with the long battery life and screen crispness of e-ink. Instead, 2011 has seen better black and white e-ink, and color LCD screens for tablets, but nothing in the middle. We're still waiting, but devices don't seem far away.

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True intelligent voice recognition

Maybe Next YearSiri is a cloud-reliant mess that seems to willfully ignore you half the time. It's not for lack of excellent voice recognition: rather, it's an over-reliance on offboard software that's still not perfect. Microsoft's Kinect has a deep set of voice controls, but a stilted and robotic method for dictating commands. If the spoken word is the future of intelligent computing, then we need to be able to speak our minds without having to repeat ourselves endlessly or carefully organize our sentence structure. Voice recognition needs to meet us halfway, and understand colloquialisms, idioms, and even basic grammar far better than is currently the case.

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A password solution

Maybe Next YearEvery year, we feel like we're being compelled to make longer, more complicated passwords, and to reset them at more frequent intervals. It's a losing battle: the ability to crack passwords is growing every month, and it's only an arms race that will propel us to numbingly long passwords of unusual size. Biometric security like fingerprint readers and facial recognition could be one solution, but there needs to be another--we can't keep track of our passwords anymore.

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A true iPad alternative

Maybe Next YearWe began 2011 with tons of "iPad Killer" promise, and nearly every contender has tried and died. The Motorola Xoom, HP TouchPad, Blackberry PlayBook...need we list more? Android tablets seemed to be headed to historical obscurity until the arrival of the Kindle Fire, which has single-handedly revived excitement about a tablet other than the iPad, and enjoyed sales success to boot. Perhaps 2012 is all about the growth of the Kindle Fire platform, or maybe Android tablets will finally find their way.

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Smarter TVs

Maybe Next YearApple TV is a clever device, but it's far from versatile. However, rumors abound of a full-fledged, actual Apple television next year. Meanwhile, Google TV has tried to reinvent smart TV and failed. Will it be on more sets in 2012, and can it gain any relevancy? TVs now have more apps on them for Netflix streaming and the like, but we still haven't seen an intelligent way to browse and synthesize broadcast and streaming content into one seamless experience. The Xbox 360's new Bing-powered search interface for finding video is an idea we'd like to see grow across more platforms, but it's still too embryonic and half-baked to really feel like the future of TV. With cable provider support and more video apps in 2012, maybe the Xbox 360 will vie for the "smart TV" crown as well.

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Next-gen game consoles

Maybe Next YearThe Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 have had remarkable runs, but sooner or later a new console contender has to at least be announced. The 2005 Xbox 360 and 2006 PS3 are last-decade consoles. Maybe discs are abandoned in favor of downloads, or maybe technology like the Kinect becomes the inspiration for more evolutionary gameplay. Or, consoles could take a page from Apple and open the doors to plentiful, cheap content. The Nintendo Wii U might be the first next-gen console that sees stores, but its handheld tablet second-screen concept might be a step too far for most gamers to swallow, and one peripheral too many, unless great games are made to take advantage of the potential. Either way, we're looking forward to something new.

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