Some of the new devices showcased at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) go beyond cool – they point to potentially substantial benefits. One such is a hand-cranked tablet. I like the idea of anything that doesn't need a charger and can see the benefit to kids in the developing world. But I'm also struck by the implication that power requirements for handheld devices must be tumbling. Battery life is the major issue with mobile devices – I'd put it ahead of network coverage. My Kindle gives weeks of use on one charge, thanks to its low-energy electronic ink screen. I know electronic ink isn't appropriate for every application, but it will nevertheless have a hand in raising people's expectations of other types of devices.
The show also saw announcements of new tabletop gene sequencers that can bring down the cost of running a whole-person genome to $1,000 or even $500. These machines are becoming more affordable to researchers, and as the technology develops we can't be far from the point where it starts appearing in doctors' offices. The insurance industry will be taking a keen interest in how this market pans out.