A version of this article originally appeared at Living on the Cheap.
The 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show was monstrous, gathering nearly everything related to technology across many facilities in Las Vegas. I wandered from booth to booth in the Las Vegas and Venetian convention centers to get a feel for what was going to make news this year in mobile tech and how it will affect how you use your phone.
With more than 3,200 manufacturers launching 20,000 new products, CES 2014 was a smorgasbord of technology-driven overload. Picture a convention in which Audi is showing off its new in-car navigation package next to a booth selling screen cleaners for iPads, and you’ll have a good sense of the breadth of companies represented. While this year’s show was dominated by 4K video displays and “The Internet of Everything,” there were plenty of interesting things that ranged from accessories to must-have devices.
These are what I saw as the biggest and most prevalent trends at the show.
You could not walk 10 feet without seeing a smart watch, connected glasses, a fitness band or even pajamas with built-in speakers. This was easily the most obvious and talked about trend as businesses try to cash in on you connecting to your smart phone everywhere you are.
Smart watches were on display from companies including Samsung, Sony, Martian, Qualcomm, Pebble, Garmin and Casio. Each product tries to balance the battery vs. capability equation. While they have different approaches, almost all tether to your phone via Bluetooth to give you updates without having to pick up your phone.
Tech-enabled glasses from companies like Google, Epson and XOEye have a range of capabilities from heads-up displays to allowing you to use your eyes as a pointing interface. These products have a broader range of functions than smart watches. The XOEye product is aimed at industrial applications. The company’s demo video showed an engineer in Michigan working on a piece of equipment: Seeing everything from his view point was intriguing. The amount of technology that these companies manage to cram into very small packages is unreal.
This is sort of a sub-category of wearable tech, but with a very specific aim. Wristbands and sports watches with pulse and temperature sensors link up to your phone to help you track and maximize your workout, whether you are a casual jogger or a competitive triathlete.
The profusion of products in this category is overwhelming. One thing I found particularly interesting: GPS companies like Garmin and Magellan have made a real impact in this market. They are looking to diversify their business as more and more of our tech-assisted tasks are redirected to our smartphones.
As we depend more on our smartphones, it’s clear that their limiting factor is how long the batteries last. For years now, hundreds of companies at CES have shown off batteries in every imaginable size and form to allow you to charge your phone or tablet wherever and whenever.
This year was no exception, but an interesting twist is how many companies are integrating solar technology into battery or charging solutions. Companies like Enerplex and Secur showed whole ranges of stand-alone panels and batteries with integrated panels to let you get off the grid, but still charge your phone.
The technology is still facing some efficiency challenges. In some cases, charging a dead battery from a four-inch by three-inch panel could take more than a day of sunlight. Smarter companies are trying to pair the size of their battery to the effective area of the solar panel. Eight hours seems to be the magic number. I can picture a time where every car dashboard will have some kind of solar device either installed or placed on it to store a little extra juice so you can make that one last tweet. Your Cricket phone doesn’t do you a bit of good if its battery is dead!
Bluetooth 4.0 has brought the ability to make very low power devices that can run for months or years on internal batteries. This is a boon for those of us who are a little absent minded. “I lose stuff” devices ran the gamut from buttons to keychain fobs that are designed to nag you when you walk off without something and help you find where you last put it down. All of these products have a smartphone app that lets you track where you last had your keys/tablet/toddler and a system for getting that precious misplaced item back safely where it belongs.
My favorite is probably the Blue Nio widget, which gives you a great suite of applications for your iOS or Android phone.
The “Internet of Everything” was one of the themes of CES 2014. Applications for the home was a huge category.
Before now, a technology company had to partner with a security company like ADT or a backbone company like AT and T or Comcast to connect everything in your house. Through this connection, you could pick up your phone and open your garage door or turn your lights off remotely. This meant more monthly fees — but it also meant that your cable company could lock and unlock your doors.
The interesting thing this year was the huge number of companies that are splitting these functions into smaller categories. If all you really want is a connected door lock, then you can buy that and hook it up to your own network without a recurring monthly fee. This means that you could email a limited-use key to the babysitter so she could let herself into the house before your kids get home from school and then turn it off when you discover that she has a rap sheet a mile long.
You also have a host of choices for security cameras to see at what is going on in your house while you are not there. Picture getting a text message that a sensor has gone off in your house and grabbing your phone to look at that video feed. It could be a student home from college a day early, or it could be a burglar helping themselves to your silver.
This kind of a la carte functionality means that you have a lot more choices about what you want to implement without having do everything all at once. That is the kind of choice that I really like. Companies like Simplicikey, Danalock and Okidokeys were alongside industry stalwarts like Kwikset. This kind of competition means that consumers are the winners.
You can benefit from any of these technologies. They open up your options, extend your battery, make you healthier and let you in when you forgot your keys — all things that make your life a little better!