Bigger & beefier, mobile tech takes over CES 2012

By all accounts mobile health has taken over the floor at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week. In years past, the consumer connection may have been a murky one for healthcare. Hospitals' specialized systems had little, if any, connection to personal computers and other devices on the consumer market.

But big changes in the smartphone and tablet market last year--namely, that millions of consumers, especially physicians, bought them--means the connection is now iron-clad for hospitals. If you want to lure patients, improve clinician workflow, market your services and find easier ways to access your own records, consumer technology has at least some of the answers.

So I dug through some of the coverage of this year's meeting to unearth the hottest tickets for mobile healthcare:

Ultrabooks, smartphones take a shot at tablets: Trying to bridge the gap between size and processing power, vendors are all over the "ultrabook" concept at this year's show, according to VentureBeat. Consider them the laptop's svelte, sexy cousin, although ultrabooks still don't have the ultra-portability of a tablet. They do offer enough additional storage and processing heft to make healthcare and other data-heavy organizations take a second look.

And considering that tablets don't fit in physicians' labcoats and they aren't set up for easy data entry, the ultrabook may just have a shot at luring back some of those iPad-loving docs. CES-watchers say between 30 and 50 new ultrabook options should debut at this year's show.

Vendors are trying to beef up their smartphones too, according to insiders. After years of dual-core processing as the central drivers of performance, new quad-core processors, or chipsets, are debuting at this year's show, and should allow smartphones even faster speeds and better graphics, which could improve apps for image viewing, video and data streaming, etc. The line between computer and mobile device continues to blur.

And, with its small profile, the smartphone may yet hold tablets at bay in the mHealth market.

Sensors take center stage: Glasses with built-in video sensors ... wearable sensors for everything from cardiac rhythms to body temperature ... tiny smartphone plug-ins to measure vital signs ... we have arrived at the crossroads of smartphones and remote sensors.

Meanwhile, gaming system makers continue to move into the health monitoring space. Kinect is out in front of this trend, trying to spin its built-in microphone, gesture recognition and other non-health-specific sensors into healthcare add-ons.

Data begins to morph: With most physicians--and their patients--carrying smartphones, plus engaging with dozens of other mobile/wireless devices each day, 2012 will be the year of data "morphing," according to one Forbes blogger's commentary.

Vendors at CES are pushing hubs, gateways, aggregation software and other ways to funnel multiple data streams into a single pipeline, while still allowing access to and from multiple end-points (regardless of the generating or receiving system). It's great news for hospital CIOs, who are playing traffic cop to multiple data streams and devices on already overburdened VPNs.

The trend is also for one device to act like another: TVs acting like computers, tablets acting like video cameras, smartphone processing like mini-laptops, etc. Vendors seem to be getting closer to the device-agnostic nirvana so many CIOs are praying for. - Sara