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Gadget makers at Int'l CES 2013 embrace connectivity

LAS VEGAS--At this year's International Consumer Electronics Show, everything is getting a bit “smarter.”

Smartphones ushered in the notion that cellphones didn't have to be limited to just making calls, and tablets uprooted the definition of the personal computer. Now, the buzz at the world's largest tech gadget conference has shifted from the devices themselves to the growing crop of accessories and technologies that are piggybacking on their massive popularity.

Connectivity is one of the main reasons smartphones and tablets became blockbuster hits among consumers, and tech manufacturers want to bring that feature to other objects — many of them everyday, non-digital household items.

So a smartphone case is no longer just about protecting your phone, a fork is not just an instrument for getting food into your mouth, and a wristwatch is about more than just a fashion statement to tell the time.

“Things are better when they're connected,” said Chris Penrose, senior vice president of emerging devices at AT&T Inc. “They're smart when they're connected, they're dumb when they're not.”

LG Electronics Inc. on Monday rolled out a line of smart appliances that can connect to and be controlled by users' smartphones or smart televisions. The smart appliances include a refrigerator, an oven, a vacuum robot and a washer. For example, a smart TV can be used to pause a washing cycle.

Another product getting an upgrade is the smartphone case. The new Sensus iPhone case, a plastic covering no bulkier than a typical protective smartphone case, incorporates a processor and sensors that add touch-screen sensitivity to the back and sides of the iPhone.

“At any given time, statistically speaking, the thumbs and fingers are covering about 25 percent to 33 percent of the screen,” said Ian Spinelli, a marketing coordinator at Canopy Co. in Minneapolis, which manufactures the Sensus case. “When you're covering the screen, especially with games and other things, you can't see what's going on.”

The case snaps on to the phone, and users can play games by touching the back of the case and scroll through text by sliding a finger down the side of the case. Instead of awkwardly pressing on the glass surface of the touch screen to snap a photo, users can press on the side, much like they would with a digital camera.

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