2014 The Year of Smart – My Impressions of CES

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The Consumer Electronic Show is a massive convention in Vegas where the largest  (and even some of the smallest) names in technology show off their new products.  While it’s role has shrunken a bit as a result of companies like Apple and Samsung choosing to unveil their flagship products at their own media events, CES is still full of announcements and prototypes.

The announcements at CES tend to set the tone for the years new technology.  In the past it was things like HD TVs, then later 3D TVS.  This year the theme is “Smart” Everything, Smart Watch’s, Smart TVS, Smart Devices.  So I’m officially dubbing 2014 “The Year of Smart.”

With mobile establishing dominance (yeah I’m not going to call it the year of mobile.  Every CEO says that every year) we’re seeing more and more devices come out that integrate with our smartphones.  “Wearables” is one of the new buzzwords we’ve been hearing, but at CES we also saw a lot of home automation devices.  Archos is one of the companies making a big play in this area.  Personally I hope it takes offs, but larger have tried and failed, although can we actually call Googles Android at Home a try?  I digress.  Let’s take a look at some of the new “Smart” products that we’re seeing

Smart TVs

This is not a new category but it is one that’s gained increased focus and an area that’s going to be interesting.  I can’t tell if TV vendors think they need apps because that’s part of the reason Smart Phones took off and are all the rage, or if they believe there’s a genuine purpose for them.  While I certainly like the idea of an app on my TV I still find there to be some issues, I’ll relegate this to a separate story.  For now needless to say everyone is adding more apps, web browsers, and even operating systems into their TVs (LG is putting WebOS on theirs).

Smart Watches

There’s been a lot of buzz and speculation about an “iWatch” coming out of Apple, a competitor coming from Google, and a host of other companies.

This used to be an area of technology that highly excited me, but then again I grew up watching Michael Knight talk to KITT via a watch that looked lower tech then a Casio calculator watch.

The idea here is you can stop taking your phone out of your pocket every 5 minutes and look like a social human being at a bar.  You should have the ability to quickly glance at important information such as weather, traffic, appointments, missed text messages.  Sound like a nice evolved Smart Phone home screen (that we still don’t have options for on iOS cough cough).  However in practice I find them to be quite limited.  Having something constantly linked to the Bluetooth on my iPhone just drains the battery and I end up looking at 6 hour old weather information.

The Galaxy Gear is an interesting experiment albeit to expensive and only supported by a few devices.   While it’s already been on sale for a few months BMW showed off an app at CES for the Gear that let’s you see information about your car and even access certain features on it.  This is cool, plus one for them.

We’re seeing a host of other Smart Watches from other manufactures.  Most of the specs on these aren’t all that new or noteworthy, but we are finally starting to see more stylish options, such as the redesigned Frame from Meta and the Pebble Steel from Pebble.

Wearables

This is the category that the likes of the Jawbone Up, Nike Fuelband and Fitbit helped create.  CES showed an increasing number of companies creating products in this category.  Most of these are fitness trackers, with some occasional upgrades such as pulse and blood pressure monitoring.

Smart Cars

Ok I might be making this term up also…but CES has always had an automotive component to it and this year we continued to see a convergence of the digital with the automotive.

This year Audi announced are working on an Android integration, while Pioneer and JVC announced new Stereo head units that further integrated with iOS and Android.  With Tesla continuing to lead the way for 3/4G connected telematics we’re seeing the traditional car manufacturers adding the same technology into their cars.

Smart Startups

CNET seems to have said it best startups are starting to steal the show at CES.  Crowdsourcing seems to be a huge driver of startup success, enabling engineers and inventors to fund their ideas.   This begs the question why larger companies aren’t innovating at this high of a level, a post for another day, probably including some corporate finance.

What we can say however is we are seeing smarter products utilizing smarter funding methods, and often times crowd sourcing final feature sets.  It’s intriguing that they are spending budget on CES displays but at the same time it gives them huge exposure to the media and consumers.

In summary CES continues to show off the advancement companies are making every year in technology.  This year we’re seeing more devices that can connect to each other, sharing data and resources and providing users with better experiences.  This is a trend I hope continues.