CES 2014 – Trends To Watch

January 6, 2014

I’ve been attending CES for more than a decade now and it’s one of my favorite events.   Not only do you see the latest and greatest technologies, but you also see a great slew of speakers (this year Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, is one of the many coveted speakers), see tons of star quality (last year, I got to meet Wil I Am and sat at a dinner next to Kelly Lebrock – more from my time, but hey) and network with some of the best minds in technology.

Technology at CES means almost all technology related to consumers, from home audio and video, to smart homes and automotive technology to digital health and wearable technology to a ton of one-off gadgets being debuted at CES by a huge variety of emerging entrepreneurs.   For my 2012 outlook, go here, to see past predictions and failures.

This year, I am looking at what is happening in 3 trending areas; Cheaper Ultra HD/4K TVs, Connected Home Technology and Automotive Technologies.   Ultra HD, or generically 4K, really debuted last year, and though they look awesome and we’ve sold and installed a few, the price is still a sticking point for many.  Ultra HD is 4X more pixels/resolution than what your normal HD picture provides, a really stunning picture.  This year looks to get Ultra HD into the mainstream as HD did years ago.  I suspect the switch over from HD to Ultra HD won’t be as quick as the switch-over from analog to HD, but should take effect over the next few years, especially as more content becomes available.   Ultra HD is a truly remarkable picture and not something that is going to fade away or not become mainstream like 3D. didn’t.  4K and 8K projectors have been widely used in movie theaters for years and is set to become the nest standard for video production.

Having been designing and installing smart home and building automation systems for over 18 years, this is my favorite area of the show to focus on.  With the recent entrance of the telco and cable companies entering the playground of integrated homes and less expensive and more reliable wireless technologies come into wide use, this looks to really explode the “connected device” industry over the next decade or so.   I personally don’t think these companies are setup to best serve the interest of the consumer when it comes to smart home systems, but it will serve to better expose the market that even after maturing over the past 20+ years, is still seen by many is “new” or at best in it’s adolescence.   The real deal in this area is new consumer ready technologies, which won’t really make your home “smart” but can add some control and comfort aspects without too much cost.   Things like connected devices for thermostats, lights, door locks and more will become less costly and more common, thus promoting the technologies and industry as a whole.   These devices typically connect directly to a hub/router or access point of some type, allowing you to access them directly via a smart phone or tablet.   There is a caveat here, each of these simple devices typically only has one way to interface (an app on a smart phone for instance), thus they aren’t really integrated, just controlled.  Furthermore, each device or system usually requires it’s own app, meaning you have 5 apps to control your house (one for lights, garage door, front door, thermostat, etc).   This is kind of like having 5 remotes to control your TV, 2 steps forward, 3 steps back, think universal remotes.  See my previous article here on how an app “should” control your home for our views on tablet based app interfaces.

However, these devices do allow for more of the mass market to test out and DIY some minor automation in their homes, thus forwarding the technology and availability of automation.  For a true smart home though, most systems require a single central brain or controller, to which all devices  (light switches, thermostats, etc) and interfaces (touchscreens, remotes, tablets)  connect to, which then in-turn, directs all the various controls to act and react to various inputs and events around the house.    These typically still require a good design and professional installation, but more and more DIY and user installed devices are becoming available and we’ll report back after the show and update you to let you know what we saw.  We are still not sure how “the Cloud” is going to be utilized in the smart home arena, as no matter what, it seem you still need to install the devices like light switches, thermostats, door locks, etc., in the house itself, so putting the control outside of a home seems counterproductive.  If the house isn’t connected to the internet, for whatever reason you wouldn’t be able to control it.  Furthermore, if the house isn’t connected to the internet, you cannot remotely control it, so what is the point of having a cloud based system for that.  Most of our systems have been internet enabled since the houses we’ve installed in had internet access.  Many don’t realize, smart home systems have been remotely accessible and controllable since the internet was available.  The internet should not have to be online to use your home system, especially while at home.   Never say never, but I am still trying to figure out exactly why I, or my customers, would want a decentralized, cloud based home control system.   Maybe we will see something this year that changes my opinion on this.

With respect to automotive technologies, this should be a big year for the connected vehicle.   Audi and others are revealing some new in-car technologies and this should be the year for the connected car, meaning in-car internet and other services. I don’t think this means you will be able to surf the internet,  but rather access services like Pandora, Spotify and other music services, not to mention better in-car GPS with more live fed data such as traffic flow, gas prices and more.   In addition, I expect to see a little more on the hyrbid and electric vehicles, but not as much as prior years.
I’m excited not only to see these latest trends and technologies, but also to attend some great events including the CEA Mark of Excellence Awards, which are the “Oscars” of our industry and of which we are honored to be past recipients.   I’ll attend the Leaders In Technology Dinner at the Wynn, honoring those who have pioneered major technology initiatives in the past 20 years and a few other cool events like the Women of CE.  Finally, I’ll be meeting up with many of the great people who make up our industry, from CEOs and owners of small and large companies, to manufacturers and some of the smartest folks in the industry.   CES 2014 should be a great event.   We’ll update you next month on what the hot items at the show were.  Stay tuned!

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