News Column

A Tech Extravaganza in Vegas

January 6, 2014

By Jefferson Graham, @jeffersongraham, USA TODAY

Coffee makers and a dishwasher that can be fired up while you're out doing errands. Driverless cars. Wearable tech gear, and not just smart watches, goggles and sunglasses -- there's even a line of smart jewelry that displays new photos from your Facebook and Instagram feeds.

No, you haven't stepped into an episode of The Jetsons. You're looking at the big trends on tap for the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show, a mammoth annual tech extravaganza in Las Vegas. Preview events begin today for the show, which runs through Friday.

It's not just a big deal for tech insiders. CES often sets the tone for the rest of the year for which gadgets will win the hearts, minds and wallets of consumers.

Each year, CES packs in thousands of attendees despite its seemingly diminished influence: This year, more than 150,000 are expected. Some of the most popular tech products of recent times -- Apple's iPad and iPhone, Amazon's Kindle and Samsung's Galaxy smartphone -- were introduced elsewhere. But CES remains the biggest tech show in America, and it's a place for the entire industry to congregate.

Tim Bajarin, a longtime independent analyst who has attended CES since 1975, says the show is more relevant than ever.

"The promotional value that comes from the show, the chance to see new technologies and trends that will emerge through the year, is unmatched," says Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies.

In many ways, CES is the Super Bowl for geeks -- a week-long bacchanal of parties, exhibits and keynote speeches from the likes of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and Intel CEO Brian Krzanich. Among bands performing at private events during the coming week: Fleetwood Mac, the Dave Matthews Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Celebrities touting products at booths include singer Pharrell Williams, rapper 50 Cent and football's Tim Tebow.

Deals are made behind the scenes. Headlines and reputations are made onstage and in the cavernous exhibit halls. Heavy hitters such as Samsung Electronics and Sony are going all out, with a slew of new products and press events.

The show is considered essential for most of tech's biggest players. "It's the world's fair of technology," says Richard Doherty of the market research firm The Envisioneering Group. "All the forces are in town to bless or condemn a new idea."

Despite smash successes such as upgraded video game systems, hot tablet sales and the ubiquitous presence of smartphones in our lives, electronics sales will have been flat for 2013, according to the Consumer Electronics Association, which stages CES.

CEA projects 2013 sales at $202.6billion, up slightly from $202.3billion in 2012.

For several years, CES has been all about TVs. First, it was 3-D sets, a trend that never took off. Last year it was Ultra HD -- super pricey 4K TVs with four times the resolution of standard HD.

But this year, while TVs will continue to dominate the show floor if for nothing more than their mammoth size, other trends are emerging for products that will start showing up on shelves in coming months and years.

Of the thousands of products that will be showcased, here are some highlights:

Smart kitchens. It started with Internet-connected TVs and expanded further into the home in 2013 with smart light bulbs and other products that can be controlled by a mobile device. Now, look for more ways to always be connected. CES will feature kitchen products that can be turned on and off and adjusted via a smartphone or tablet. The idea is that you can be out doing errands and, for instance, turn on the stove to get the pot roast going before you get home. Or you can wake up, brush your teeth and start the coffee maker from the bathroom via the smartphone, so that a fresh cup of coffee is waiting for you.

LG will show off its texting dishwasher, while Whirlpool will show a microwave that can scan bar codes to operate the oven.

"The consumer expects this from us," says Chris Quatrochi, director of user experience for Whirlpool, of the push for connected kitchen products. "You have to deliver future value now."

Auto tech. Last year, auto manufacturers came to CES to tout in-dash stereos that could incorporate music apps like Pandora and iHeartRadio. This year, it's all about the truly connected car. Nine of the top 10 auto manufacturers will be on hand, several with concept versions of cars that drive themselves. Ford will also show off a solar-powered concept car that will run for much of the time via sunlight from the sun roof.

Auto manufacturers will also be showcasing new ways to bring popular review and mapping websites into the dashboard.

Wearable tech. One of the most distinctive -- if odd-looking -- products of 2013 was Google Glass. Look for many more gadgets in this vein, with regular glasses, sunglasses and ski goggles that can display maps, restaurant reviews and more.

CES will feature a Fashion Zone with wearable devices and smart clothing. "We'll have a sweater that will measure the weather around you," says CEA Senior Vice President Jeff Joseph. "It will adjust the thickness based on the outside temperature."

There will even be a solar charging handbag to power up smartphones, and Kiwi Wearable Technologies will showcase a wearable sensor that fits in the palm of your hand and can turn on music and track ski moves.

Smart watches. Last year's CES saw the introduction of Dick Tracy-type watches from Pebble and Martian that told the time and showed text messages. Samsung followed in the fall with the Galaxy Gear watch.

None has taken off in a big way, but that hasn't deterred manufacturers. Doherty expects to see "dozens" of new smart watches on display. (Apple is expected to unveil its version in 2014 as well.)

Healthy living. Some of the most popular new smartphone apps monitor what we eat, how many steps we take and how long we sleep. CES will have a special section of the convention floor devoted to healthier lifestyles via technology. Muse, a Toronto-based company, will showcase a "brain sensing headband" that connects to a smartphone with games and exercises to work on your mental skills.

Bigger, more beautiful TVs. TVs will not only still dominate CES, they'll be bigger than ever. Both Samsung and LG have their 100-plus-inch sets, and many more companies will showcase 4K sets at lower prices.

And look for more of the pricey new sets with curved screens that had critics raving in 2013. LG will show off a curved 77-inch Ultra HD OLED display.

Doherty expects to see a new high-definition TV format introduced, somewhere in between HD and Ultra HD, that will be more affordable.

Lower-priced TVs that look amazing and won't break the bank? Happy new year, everybody.

For more stories covering the world of technology, please see HispanicBusiness' Tech Channel

Source: Copyright 2014 USA TODAY

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