The 2014 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) will kick off today at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Sin City’s flagship convention is expected to draw crowds in excess of 150,000 over the next four days, and the stage has been set for innovators to showcase their latest offerings to geeks and average Joes alike.
Every year, hundreds of tech giants and startups alike display upcoming products and prototypes to CES visitors. A few surprises are always on the cards, and a number of disruptive technologies have been introduced on the busy floors of the CES in the past decade. The most prominent among these include 3D TVs (2009), Blu-ray Discs (2003) and the first Xbox (2001).
In more recent times, the focus of the trade show has been on smartphones, tablets, and 3D TVs. But the theme has shifted away from the traditional hardware touted by electronics makers this year, and CES ’14 is all about software rather than gizmos and gadgetry.
"We used to turn out to play with the toys, now with the software and services being what people are looking for, the toys just aren't as cool anymore," said Gartner, Inc. (IT) analyst Carolina Milanesi, who is covering this year’s CES.
The digital lifestyle will be the most common theme this year, and Bidness Etc is skipping the wild rumors and going straight for the big trends to bring you the best and worst from Las Vegas. Here are the five biggest themes that will be visible throughout CES ‘14:
Internet of Things
The phenomenon is already taking the industrial landscape by storm - it’s an idea that envisions having every electronic device connected to a central platform or database, much like the internet. Through the Internet of Things, devices in the near future will be increasingly connected and tracked using virtual representations and embedded technology, such as RFID chips and microprocessors, which will allow them to communicate with other devices and humans. Gartner has projected that by the year 2020, over 25 billion devices will be connected in the Internet of Things.
From corporate behemoths like Google Inc. (GOOG), to accessory makers like Belkin, companies in a wide range of categories will be seen promoting gadgets and appliances that involve communicating with the internet to function automatically.
This year at CES, we expect to see home appliances, lighting, thermostats, as well as kitchen equipment becoming increasingly dynamic, allowing consumers to control their homes at the touch of a button. Further applications of the technology include sports equipment, mobile wallets and robotics, which the Internet of Things will allow users to tie in with smartphones and tablets.
Ultra HD TVs, also known as 4K TVs, made a big splash at CES a couple of years ago and have since been touted as the next big thing in the consumers’ living room. 4K TVs deliver almost four times the number of pixels in a standard, high-definition 1080p TV, but still cost upwards of $3,000 for even the cheapest models.
This time around, expect 4K TVs to be more affordable as electronics makers push their flagship TVs to customers looking for a superior home entertainment experience. After the lukewarm response to 3D TVs, manufacturers have increasingly promoted 4K TVs for their superior performance and visually noticeable differences in quality.
While there is currently a dearth of content that takes full advantage of the extra screen clarity, the top consumer electronics companies will be highlighting upcoming 4K-compatible content slated to make its way into households this year. A key breakthrough will be if a company announces a 4K TV priced $1,000 or lower.
The auto industry is currently going through a major transformation in terms of products. Automakers’ vehicle lines have become leaner, greener, and more connected with their owners than ever before. Demand for automobiles soared almost 8% in 2013, and battery electric vehicles rapidly became a relevant part of the auto industry.
Consumers’ preferences have shifted; they now want fuel-efficient, connected cars that are capable of fully integrating with their lives. Automakers have been compliant – the cars now being produced are becoming increasingly more sophisticated. Artificial intelligence has advanced to the point that driverless cars are now a reality; and although the technology is still a decade away from mainstream adoption, carmakers at the CES will engage audiences by showing off the capabilities of self-driving vehicles.
This year’s CES will feature all major global automakers, and all eyes will be on Detroit’s Big Three and their German and Japanese rivals. Furthermore, carmakers are expected to showcase the connectivity and seamless integration of their vehicles with passengers through advanced infotainment systems and navigation platforms. Companies such as iHeartRadio, Pandora (P), Sirius XM (SIRI) will all have stalls dedicated to integrative technology for automobiles.
Watch out for Google, as the company is going to announce the first iteration of its Android OS for use in automobiles, for which it has teamed up with Audi. AT&T will also make its presence felt at the show with the telecom giant announcing its rollout of 4G LTE embedded in cars. BMW (BAMXY) will be showing off its new i3 electric vehicles, while Ford (F) will have its C-MAX Solar Energi Concept vehicle on display.
3D printing technology has been around for a few decades now, but so far its use has been limited to industrial applications – largely because of its prohibitive costs. But the last two years have seen 3D printers being increasingly used to create custom products like spare parts for household appliances and accessories, and even small ornaments. The printers themselves have also gotten smaller, superior and more affordable.
This year at CES, major players in the 3D printing landscape will be in attendance and heavily promoting their products to consumers. Companies such as Stratasys (SSYS) and 3D Systems (DDD) will be making an appearance, and are expected to reveal new, consumer-focused 3D printers. In fact, the number of vendors showing off their 3D technology this time is almost three times that of last year. 3D printers and their usage will be widely demonstrated to consumers as a way of creating their own physical objects exactly the way they want.
Wearable devices came a long way in 2013, with Google Glass getting its first look and a number of other electronics giants, including Samsung (SSNLF), introducing smartwatches and health devices. The technology is seen both as socially intrusive, and a wonder of modern science, depending on who you ask. This time around, it will be interesting to see how companies address the social issues that accompany the use of wearable technologies.
CES 2014 promises an influx of wearable gadgets that can connect with smartphones and tablets and deliver a more intimate experience with modern technology. A key trend to watch out for this year will be the surging demand for health and fitness devices that offer connectivity to other devices. The number of vendors dedicated to digital-fitness products is expect to be almost double that of last year. With the wearable technology industry set to grow fourfold to $8 billion by 2018, expect some unusual and daring innovations in this space at CES.