LAS VEGAS -- After the better part of a week, the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show is finally winding to a close. With 140,000 people attending, crowds here in the high desert have been as deep as we've seen in years. While there hasn't been a stand-out consumer hit, we've learned a lot about where the tech field is headed this year. Here are our top three small-business tech trends you can count on.
1. Digital health care data gains acceptance. Doctors and patients are beginning to digitize significant amounts of information, such as blood test results and body scans. And giants including AT&T, Verizon and even The Ford Motor Company are getting into the business of hosting the networks that carry this information. Health care data is tightly regulated and often can require expensive handling and complex user interfaces.
"Enabling the networked health care management app is one of the fastest-growing areas of our business services unit," Chris Hill, vice president for mobility product management for AT&T business solutions, told us.
But many small companies, including Durham, N.C.-based Sonamba, which launched a remote health monitoring service three years ago, are also spotting the same opportunity.
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"This space is growing so fast that we are not worried about what Ford is doing," says company founder Ajit Pendse. Translation: 2012 may be the year of the health care tech boom.
2. USB monitors are popular for productivity. USB monitors that plug into a computer like a mouse -- no battery or bulky electrical cord necessary -- are big on productivity for businesses.
We found USB monitors from device-makers such as Tokyo-based Toshiba and China's Lenovo to be unexpectedly effective business tools. For example, Toshiba's USB 3.0 Mobile LED Monitor is less than one inch thick, weighs less than two pounds, and yet is an exceptional 15.6-inch high definition display. It retails for less than $200.
3. Ultrabooks live up to the hype. Ultrabooks -- light and thin notebook computers that have tablet-like portability but notebook-like computing power -- turned out to be among the stars of the show for business users. The good news: We handled several Ultrabooks, including the Asus Aspire S5 and Lenovo U310, and found them feather-light, with crystal clear screens, strong enclosures and performance that can outstrip tablet devices.
For $1,000 or less, and with prices expected to fall quickly, Ultrabooks might be the new business computers for 2012.