The five biggest trends from CES 2014

One word: "wearable"

It’s been an interesting week in the tech world, with all the new gadget and innovation announcements unveiled at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. On Friday it was announced that Montreal-based company PasswordBox won the award for Best Mobile App at CES 2014.

After all the CES digging we’ve done this week, we’ve found that some devices introduced at the show may prove to be quite useful, while others we can file into the useless category. The same goes for the most prominent trends that came out of CES 2014. A few popular concepts may have a greater impact, but others will likely be remembered as passing fads.

Here we’ve rounded up the most prevalent types of devices and innovations presented at CES this year, and, of course, our thoughts on whether they have potential:

1. Wearables

Pebble Steel smart watch

The Pebble Steel smartwatch, unveiled at CES 2014, just one of dozens of wearable tech items launched this week

Possibly the most popular word at CES 2014 was “wearable.” Tech companies want to strap computers to your body so bad. Whether it was a companion item for your phone, a sunburn sensor, or a posture-improving gadget, “you can wear it” was the uniting factor for dozens of products at this year’s show. While smart watches or other pieces of wearable technology are interesting concepts, the issue lies in getting a whole lot of people to see why they need these devices — and why on earth they’d be caught dead wearing them out in public.

Pebble has come up with the right solution—make it a good piece of tech, but also make it attractive—and introduced the Pebble Steel. Other announcements made at CES 2014 have pointed wearables in the right direction—the Netatmo June got it right, FitBit is teaming up with Tory Burch, and Intel has tapped fashion and celebrity favourites Opening Ceremony to design a line of wearable tech that will be carried at Barney’s. If companies can make people covet wearable technology, then there’s a potential market. But if it looks like a “gadget,” it will be a far smaller number of those who will actually spend the money on a smartwatch or other piece of wearable tech.

2. Fitness Gadgets

Fitbit Flex activity tracker bracelet

Fitbit Flex, a popular fitness tracker. It was joined by plenty more such gadgets this year.

Some of the companies who introduced personal fitness tech devices will share the same challenges as those in the wearable tech game. While a few sports-related devices were introduced for more professional athletic purposes, there were dozens of other companies that unveiled some kind of fitness band or health tracker. It’s difficult to see how these products will be differentiated enough to declare clear winners and losers in the personal fitness market, since nearly all of them seem to include step and calorie-counters, accelerometers, heart rate monitors, and sleep trackers.


Heapsylon’s “Sensoria” collection of smart fitness apparel

One system, called the Sensoria collection from the company Heapsylon, connects its fitness band (which goes around your ankle) to trackers in a line of socks, bras, and t-shirts that are all washable (photo at right). It’s an interesting variation on a theme, but again, it’s difficult to see how the FitBit, Basis Smartwatch, Sony Fitness Core, LG LifeBand and Razer Nabu (to name just a few), are all different from the Nike FuelBand. The market has been saturated before we even know how popular personal fitness tracking will really be, which leads us to believe that all this fitness tech will be more of a fad or niche market than something for mass consumer adoption.

3. 4K Televisions

Sony 4K Television

Sony’s W950B TV, part of its lineup of 4K televisions unveiled at CES 2014.

The ability to view movies and television in 4K (a resolution of 4,000 pixels) was all the rage at CES 2014. Both Sony and LG introduced 4K screens, and Netflix even announced that it would make the second season of House of Cards available to stream in 4K for early adopters. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings put in double time promoting the new technology by showing up at both the Sony and LG press conferences. As with any new type of television technology, 4K won’t be found in the average home for a while—many out there have yet to upgrade to HD—but it’s the latest and greatest TV screen to strive for. Of course, there’s so little 4K programming currently available it might be worth the wait.

4. Curved and Flexible Screens

Samsung curved TV

Samsung’s new curved television. Most viewers will be hard pressed to tell the difference from a flat TV.

LG and Samsung both made a couple of flexible screen announcements. First, there was the LG “G Flex”—a curved phone that flexes slightly so that it doesn’t break if you sit on it, and then a television screen that could be viewed as either flat or curved. Samsung also introduced a curved phone—interestingly, they decided to curve their screen along the vertical line, rather than LG’s horizontal curved design—and their own curved television screen as well. The question is whether this is all just for the novelty of creating a curved screen. LG and Samsung both claim that curving the screen creates a better viewing experience, but as The Guardian points out, curved screens in the cinema show movies that have been altered to take advantage of the curve. Unless you have a very large screen, and sit close to it, the benefits of the curve will likely be lost on you, which means this trend is more likely to end up in the “pointless” rather than the “potential” file.

5. 3D Printing (again)

Makerbot 2014 lineup of 3D printers

Makerbot launched a series of new 3D printers. The technology has struggled to gain traction but that hasn’t stopped companies from pushing the idea hard.

We thought 3D printing had already had its day in the newbie spotlight during CES 2013, several companies introduced new innovations at this year’s show that were intriguing enough to get lots of coverage from the tech reporters in Las Vegas. MakerBot introduced a machine that could print large items, as well as multiple creations at once, but it was 3D Systems who really made a push for the increasing accessibility of 3D printed items. The company’s ads argue that a 3D printer will soon become a normal appliance to have in the average home—it shows kids and parents printing off their own toys, household objects, and even shoes and jewelery to wear. 3D Systems also introduced the ChefJet and ChefJet Pro, two 3D printer models that use sugar and water to print chocolate and candy. While professionals might continue to find good uses for 3D printers, it’s still hard to imagine them becoming mass consumer items. Sure, you can print shoes on a 3D printer. But are they comfortable and stable, and do they even look good? (In my opinion, no.)