Next week, as you’re doubtless aware, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) kicks off over in the States. Considering that I've been going to CES since 1975, I think I can be called a veteran of the show. Indeed, my first trip to Las Vegas was an eye opener concerning both the city and the show.
At that time, video recorders were a big deal and CES actually hosted a section for the adult film/VCR industry since it had a connection to the world of consumer electronics. Surprisingly, even after the adult section was escorted out of CES in the mid-1990s, its stars, who came to be known as "booth babes," would show up to sign autographs and serve as a way to get people to come to vendor's booths. By the early 2000s they were also banned from the show.
Today the products are the star attraction at what's now the most important consumer electronics show in the world. Although a lot of us complain about having to go to Vegas to cover this event, the geek inside us wants the chance to play with the coolest tech gadgets on the market, and to be among the first to see products that will be out in 2014.
I also follow this show carefully as I often get to see trends in the works or developing, and this helps to give insights into what type of technology we will see in the marketplace in the relatively near future. Bear in mind that CES is specifically timed to show retailers the products that vendors plan to have in the market by the end of the second quarter, in time for the build up to Christmas 2014. With this in mind, here are the eight major trends I see emerging during CES for 2014.
1. The car becomes a node in the Internet of things
All the major car manufacturers will be at CES this year showing off their connected car projects. While some have been at the show before, this is the first year I see them really trying to make a strong statement about smarter cars and their connection to the Internet either directly via an embedded 4G radio or through a smartphone. This is actually a big deal and a highly competitive advantage for those that get it right. The more upscale cars will probably be the smartest, with smartphones figuring in to how they'll deliver a lot of top-notch services. However, Ford, Chevy, and other mid-range cars will also be adding Internet-connected intelligence.
2. 4K TVs and monitors will be cheaper
At Dell World last week, Michael Dell said that the company would have 4K monitors on the market sometime in 2014 for around $1,000 (£600). Its cheapest model now is $3,495 (£2,100). At least one television manufacturer is said to be launching a 4K TV at around $1,000 (£600) at the show, and I expect to see others that will probably be priced around $2,500 (£1,500). That's well below the range of $3,500 (£2,100) to $12,000 (£7,300) that they go for today. I realise that there is very little programmed content available to take advantage of 4K, but I expect personal content will get quite a boost as I hear digital camera vendors will show 4K products at the show at much lower prices than we have today. Meanwhile, many studios are moving to the 4K format, so we could finally see some trajectory for these Super HD products starting in 2014.
3. Digital health moves to the forefront
This part of the market is definitely poised to take off. There are already dozens of health-related products like Nike's FuelBand, Jawbone's UP, Fitbit, and Misfit's Shine that can be used as part of a personal health-monitoring system. iHealth has a digitally connected glucose testing kit and its digital blood pressure cuff uses the iPhone for controlling the cuff and delivering the data to a user.
4. 2-in-1s take off
Intel has new ads out pushing 2-in-1s. Their theme is the device is a tablet when you need it and a laptop when you want it. Some folks think these 2-in-1s represent the future of laptops and I tend to think this might be the case.
In a sense, CES will be the big coming-out party for 2-in-1s since we should see about 50 new models launch at the show. Intel, Microsoft, and pretty much all of the vendors will be showing new models in this category and although I don't think we will see huge volume in 2014, this campaign is set to be a multiyear one since they are very bullish on this concept. All this is well worth checking out if you are at CES or watching from the side-lines.
5. Curved televisions pull people in
LG's 105in curved TV that will be introduced at CES is stunning (see above). Samsung will also show off its version of a curved TV. This will be a big issue at the show as the TV makers strive to try differentiate themselves in a very crowded market. Although curved TVs are more about innovation, they could represent a new angle on the future of televisions themselves.
6. 3D printers revolutionise manufacturing
While 3D has not caught on with TVs, there is real interest in 3D when it comes to printers. We will see 3D printers as low as $499 (£300) at CES and many in the $999 (£600) to $1,299 (£800) range for what you might call a prosumer interested in 3D printing. Although these will really still be used for consumer experimentation, I see them as important to drive the learning curve within the prosumer and professional markets. I kind of liken the introduction of low-cost 3D printers to the early days of desktop publishing (DTP) when it came on the scene in 1985. In the way DTP revolutionised the publishing world, 3D printing could become an important tool for visualisation and light manufacturing.
7. Smart home and smart light bulbs come home
We have been talking about smart homes for almost two decades now but only recently have we seen this area become really interesting. Products like Nest's thermostat and smoke alarm, and the many new smart light bulbs and other home devices with Internet connections are finally giving us a glimpse of what a smart connected home can be. This will also be a big theme at this year's show and another thing that will be interesting to follow.
8. Wearables continue trending
While Google Glass had the big buzz in 2013, the concept of wearables is still in its early stages. The most successful wearables so far are the ones used to monitor health, walking, pulse, and more. This year we saw some smartwatches hit the scene but they have years to go before someone brings the right form, function, fashion design, and technology into a smartwatch that really gets traction from mainstream consumers. CES has a dedicated education track on wearables this year as well as a small section focused on wearables. 2014 won't be a big year for wearables, but we will see some new and innovative products in this space, and the products shown off at CES could give us more insight into what wearables will mean to the tech market.
I am sure there will be a lot of other products that get attention, such as new consumer-related robots, Android running on Windows PCs, new digital cameras, and smarter digital video recorders. However, as I have surveyed the pre-show material and looked into my own research on CES trends, I believe that the areas I have discussed above will represent most of the news coming out of CES 2014.
Stay tuned for our full coverage of the show next week, naturally, and you can follow all the latest news via our dedicated CES 2014 hub.