Barometer: innovation

MindMeld reads your mind

The search box may be ubiquitous, but Expect Labs of San Francisco is launching an iPad app that does the searching for you. MindMeld’s “anticipatory computing engine” listens in to a video chat and suggests useful information from around the web.

The technology will be opened up to developers in 2013. Google Ventures has already invested.

3D printing in the cloud

Innovations such as MakerBot’s Replicator have brought 3D printing to the desktop, but such tools remain more useful for hobbyists and prototyping than for finished products. French start-up Sculpteo allows independent designers or part-time manufacturers to use its industrial-scale 3D printers through its cloud-based software. Bespoke products made through the Sculpteo system include vases created via a virtual potter’s wheel and colourful iPhone cases that incorporate your silhouette for $35.

School dance mats

Dance mat creator Konami has struck a deal with UnitedHealthcare to create Dance Dance Revolution: Classroom Edition. Up to 48 wireless mats can be set up in a school gym, each with a smart card slot that allows kids to track their progress. One way to make PE fun for nerds …

Domestic voice control

As thermostats, light switches and vacuum cleaners gain internet connections, new opportunities are emerging for Jetsons-style home automation.

Ivee, an LA start-up that began life making voice-activated alarm clocks, is working on a device that acts like Apple’s Siri for your home. When instructed in normal speech, it can check stock prices or the weather and turn on appliances. The $199 Ivee Sleek goes on sale in the spring.

iBaby monitors

Baby monitors are growing up, with this month’s Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas seeing several app-enabled gadgets. Philips’ In.Sight Baby Monitor, $169, allows two iPhones to watch baby simultaneously, and has a temperature sensor and the ability to talk back. Belkin’s WeMo Baby, $89, comes with the Evoz Monitor app, which sends phone notifications of crying, while for parents-to-be, the iBaby HeartSense will record and track a baby’s heart rate via an iPhone when it goes on sale later this year.

Meet the innovators

Donghoon Chang, Samsung’s design chief

Samsung’s “easel”-shaped 85in television was the talk of this year’s International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, winning over even the most jaded tech blogger.

The head of Samsung’s design team, Donghoon Chang, may not be as well known outside Korea as his opposite number at Apple, Sir Jonathan Ive, but his creations reach a wider audience thanks to Samsung’s broad range of top-selling mobile phones, TVs, computers and appliances.

Based at Samsung’s headquarters in Seoul, Chang joined the company in 2006 after teaching user-experience design at Seoul National University and working at IBM Korea. He also studied for two masters of fine art degrees at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois, and Seoul university.

Samsung began to place greater emphasis on product design in the mid-1990s and it is now an “integral part of all product planning”, Chang says; the latest “design identity 3.0” aims to “make it meaningful”. “Samsung is not just limited to the form, the outside – we very much focus on the meaning and value of products,” he explains. For instance, the Galaxy Note “phablet” – a phone-tablet hybrid – comes with a stylus because many people like using pens. Steve Jobs was scornful of the concept, but the Note’s success is a product of Samsung’s effort to “humanise technology”.

With the prospect of a new Apple TV challenging Samsung’s big-screen leadership, Chang is now improving the user interface on its sets. “We strive to research the latest materials,” he says.

The Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone’s plastic casing may not be as expensive as the iPhone’s glass and aluminium, but the smooth appearance is intended to evoke pebbles under water – and not be too intimidating. “Design and material is a matter of personal taste, I think,” Chang says.

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