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Mobile phone as the center of your universe at CES 2013

If there’s one overriding theme for this year’s International CES it’s that innovation isn’t dead but it does seem to be taking a nap. There’s plenty of interesting tech on the show floor. However, it’s very much iterative. The phrase we’ve heard no fewer than 100 times (we’re even guilty of saying it a few times ourselves) is “evolutionary, not revolutionary.”

One little publicized trend we’ve seen on the show floor is that of your mobile phone as the center of your universe. Here are a few of the things we saw that speak to this trend.

Ubuntu on your phone

Ubuntu is a user-friendly Linux operating system. For the uninitiated, it’s like Windows or Mac OS in that it runs your computer at the core level and provides the user interface.

Ubuntu showed off its own mobile phone operating system running on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus here at the show. We grabbed a video of Ubuntu Mobile OS in action.

While attendees weren’t allowed to interact with the phone running Ubuntu, the demonstration was reasonably impressive. More interesting though was the fact that, when docked, Ubuntu on your phone becomes Ubuntu on the big screen; it looks, acts and indeed is a full computer operating system.

This is not an entirely new concept; Motorola had the Atrix line of accessories that turned your smartphone into a sorta computer if you bought their Atrix Dock accessories. However, in the Ubuntu case, it’s a full, working Ubuntu desktop system that just happens to be running on your phone.

More interesting is the fact that you don’t need to use the free Ubuntu mobile OS (which, it must be pointed out, is not ready for primetime anyway) to get this benefit. Ubuntu for Android which is targeted to launch by the end of the year will let you use your current Android OS on your phone but will turn in to a full Ubuntu computer when docked. It shares the core Linux kernel with the Android operating system which means no rebooting to get to the desktop version of Ubuntu. You receive calls and text messages in the Ubuntu OS when docked.

It may not be the perfect solution. Especially not in the early days. However, it looks like an excellent first step and anyone already running Ubuntu on a home computer or laptop should certainly take a look when it’s released in the wild.

In-dash systems

Another example of phone as center are the various in-dash and dash-mounted entertainment systems and GPS navigation devices. Devices accessing data isn’t new. However, this is the first year we’ve seen the trend move to using your mobile phone’s data connection for things like Internet radio, traffic updates and the like.

Previously, these devices would come with a fee attached so they could access the data network. They would integrate their own cellular radios and would broker deals with carriers for bandwidth. End users would pay a given amount monthly or annually to finance this infrastructure. That’s a trend we’re very happy to see the back of. While some live services do still require a fee, that fee is necessarily lower.

At this year’s show, the in-dash systems and GPS units we saw linked up with the mobile phone to get connected to web services, live traffic and the like.

Parrot’s ASTEROID line is one example. There are three flavors on display at the show with the Smart (pictured) being the top of the line. Even though it’s a true in-dash system that you have installed in your car, replacing your existing car stereo, it connects with your phone for data.

Garmin’s nuvi 3597 is another example. It acknowledges that you already have a smartphone. It comes with a handy app that lets you, for example, find out exactly where you parked. At the top of the nuvi line, you also get things like live traffic data.

It seems at least this lesson has been learned.

And the rest of it

Solar charging solutions for your phone to the usual array of docks, headphones, cases and the like, CES has no shortage of this stuff. The reason is that we don’t just use our phones, we augment them, accessorize and protect them because they’re important to us.

One trend that seems to have really caught fire is the personal speaker that connects to your phone via Bluetooth to pump out the jams, as the kids say (note: the kids totally don’t say this anymore). Jawbone’s JamBox was the first one we saw at last year’s show. Granted, it’s not the most exciting trend going. However, just about every company that makes just about any kind of audio gear seemed to have one.