Apple will launch nothing. Microsoft will not be exhibiting. Don’t bother searching for Google on the show floor. These are the most sure-fire predictions you can make about the Consumer Electronics Showcase (CES) 2014.
While those heavy hitters will be absent, however, their impact will be felt throughout much of what gets shown in the massive halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center. This is the year when the smartphone experience begins to permeate the design of almost everything else we surround ourselves with at home, at work and on the road. That’s what really makes CES worth watching. While novelty products and prototypes tend to grab the headlines, you need to look at what gets exhibited there the way a fashion magazine editor looks at a haute couture show: some of it will be incredibly over the top, but it’s what trickles down to everyday consumers that counts.
Many analysts and bloggers are expecting we’ll see all manner of wearable computers, influenced perhaps by early experiments like Google Glass and Samsung’s Galaxy Gear. But wearable computing is only on the rise because smartphones have enabled the average individual to carry what was once a powerful computer in the palm of their hand. What wearable really promises is the incremental convenience of not having to pull a smartphone out of your pocket or purse, offering a more immediate, even ongoing experience of apps and interactions. Look for companies like FitBit and Pebble to dominate much of this area at CES 2014.
Similarly, the notion of a connected car has been a staple of CES for many years, but it’s the rumours that Google’s smartphone OS, Android, will make its way into Audi vehicles that has generated some of the biggest pre-CES 2014 interest. Millions of people’s experience with mobile computing has been informed by their use of Android handsets. The question now is how Android apps can be discovered and accessed by consumers to create unique in-car experiences that will also end the dangerous use of smartphones while driving.
And for another year ... TV
Finally, CES 2014 will likely maintain a tradition of exploring innovative ideas in one of the oldest consumer technologies: the TV set. Just as smartphone makers tend to focus next-generation models with bigger displays, higher-resolution displays or curved screens, TV makers like LG will follow suit. They’ll also strive to make them easier to connect to a range of other “smart” appliances in the home like thermostats, alarms and lighting systems. Given that smartphones now act as a sort of remote control for so much of our lives, expect TVs to morph into a command centre when you’re at home with your smartphone resting on the coffee table.
Besides being the show that focuses on everything the smartphone is not, CES is also becoming much more about apps. The size, shape and colours of objects in the exhibit halls will no doubt provide some crazy visuals, but they’re useless without powerful, intuitive, entertaining software to run them. This is how I like to think about it: If our digital selves increasingly look like one big entertainment centre, CES is the place we start to see where we can organize all the apps that might sit on it.