Touched by tech at trade show

( dpa )- Back in the early days of mobile phones, cutting-edge users were happy to lug around a bag the size of a cement building block to have the convenience of making phone calls on the go.

Now mobile phones that fit in your pocket can do far more than PCs could do back in the early 1990s, and judging by the evidence on show at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, they're not going to stop improving any time soon.

Put it down to the iPhone effect. The new communications device announced by Apple a year ago has sold millions of units and immediately positioned the company as a major player in the mobile phone industry. But paradoxically it seems to have also helped other manufacturers, by igniting consumer interest in high-end phones, and showing other companies what features consumers will gladly pay for.

That's why the touch screen technology popularized by the iPhone has emerged as one of the dominant themes of the CES.

Also contributing to the trend is the Nintendo Wii , which trumped other gaming systems to become the must have video console by replacing traditional thumb-based controllers with ones that react to natural human movements.

These improved user interfaces are now being championed by everyone from Microsoft chairman Bill Gates to the phone manufacturers that are Apple's great rivals. Some are even beating the iPhone at its own game.

The new Sony Ericsson Z555 allows users to simply wave their hand over the flip cover phone to mute the ring tone and ignore a call. Similarly, a consumer using the phone as an alarm clock can activate the snooze function by waving across the phone.

Another phone from the company, the Walkman W760 music phone comes with satellite positioning technology that combines with mapping software from Google to give users step-by-step directions to their destination.

LG is also trying to go one better than the iPhone . Its Voyager model uses a touch screen interface, but improves on the concept by offering tactile feedback with a screen that vibrates when a button is pressed. Just as important for some users, the Voyager swings open to a full QWERTY keypad inside, letting them press real buttons if they so desire.

Nokia is also not taking the iPhone lying down. Its latest marvel is the Nokia N810 Internet Tablet, which combines touch-screen with a traditional keyboard and offers higher speeds and a larger screen than the iPhone .

Samsung is getting into the touch trend with its P2 MP3 player, which uses a touch screen to let users access photos, videos, pictures and, of course, music. Also setting the P2 apart is its ability to record FM radio broadcasts and use a touch screen sound equalizer to customize the sound of songs.

Even more touch ambitious is Samsung's Reactrix TV and game system that takes on the Wii by responding to human movement without any need for controllers. The system uses multiple cameras set up over the TV screen to track users' feet and arm actions and translate them into on-screen movements.

Microsoft's offering so far centers on a touch screen table called Surface that it is touting as a innovative solution in stores, restaurants and wine bars. The technology is impressive, allowing users to manipulate on screen objects with hand and finger movements like Tom Cruise in the movie Minority Report.

Its limited applications have failed to wow reviewers, but once it gets to office applications, they are likely to be more receptive. According to Gates, Surface is part of a bigger trend "which is to simplify the relationship people have with their technology." Or to put it another way, to use the increasing power of technology to make devices that are smarter and simpler to use.

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