CES 2014: Four mega-trends for the professionals

CES 2014: Four mega-trends for the professionals

Summary: Trends matter at CES. While there may not be major product announcements, trends will emerge to shape 2014. Here's what to watch in business tech.

Image: Jason Hiner/TechRepublic

Sure, the Consumer Electronics Show may have consumer in its name, but you can find plenty of tech with business implications at CES, especially now that workers are driving so much of tech adoption in today's business culture.

While most of the biggest product announcements are no longer made at CES, the show still gives us an excellent opportunity to take the temperature of emerging technologies and to get a feel for the most important vibes in the tech industry for the year ahead.

I've gotten lots of updates from technology vendors on what they're planning to talk show off at CES 2014. As a result, here are the four biggest trends that will define this year's International CES, for the professionals who pay attention to this stuff.

Let's count them down.

1. Wearables

Google Glass generated more buzz than any other tech product in 2013 and the expectations for an Apple iWatch is shaping up to make it the most hotly-anticipated product of 2014. Make no mistake, other companies have been watching the hype and they've decided that wearable technology is what's next for the tech industry.

Many of the tech behemoths are dabbling in it, and plenty of startups are betting the company on it. At CES we're going to see glasses, watches, wearable cameras, and more fitness trackers than you can fit safely one body. Some of these wearable devices will already have business uses in mind and others will be co-opted by individual workers and entrepreneurs anyway.

Remember that the main premise of wearables is sliding more smoothly into your daily life so that you don't have to be constantly whipping out your smartphone. The products that get the technology out of the way in the smoothest and most attractive ways will win. There's going to be lots of silly-looking stuff. Don't get distracted by it and underestimate the potential of this category in 2014. But, also don't forget that these are all primarily smartphone accessories.

DON'T MISS: Google Glass Corporate Policy template from Tech Pro Research

2. The Internet of Things

In terms of the raw numbers of business use cases, the Internet of Things will make the biggest showing at CES 2014. There are going to be connected cars, connected appliances, connected homes, and connected lifestyles. That last bit basically gets to Cisco's definition of this as "The Internet of Everything."

It's all about sensors and big data and using information to drive automation. Most of this stuff isn't very flashy, but it's going to lower the friction of putting information to work and allowing important tasks to fade into the background and stop cluttering up your time.

3. Contextual computing

You may not have heard of this one. That's because I made up the name. I'm not trying to be clever — I had to call it something. I'm talking about the stuff that Robert Scoble and Shel Israel focused on in their book The Age of Context. Om Malik referred to it as "predictive computing" in his recent article in Fast Company.

It's the stuff that Google Now does. It collects uncomfortable amounts of data about you and then uses it in ways that are just useful enough to make you forget about the discomfort. It takes your history and your preferences and your location and triangulates it to present information to you right as you need it, or even before you realize you might need or want it.

Is this starting to sound familiar, kind of like the Internet of Things we just talked about? Yes, these are concentric circles. It's also related to wearables because context is one of the things that makes wearables infinitely more useful for alerts and glanceable information.

4. Consumerization of business tech

The final trend to watch is a dot dot dot. It's a continuation from last year and it will be continued again next year. It's all about the bottom-up movement of workers selecting their own tools to become more efficient and productive rather than being stuck with the outdated tools handed out by their companies.

At least that used to be the case. Increasingly, it's about workers helping companies decide which tools make the most sense to support, or simply forcing companies to support a much broader set of tools.

This used to be primarily a smartphone and tablet story, but it's also becoming a computer story as well and CES is a great showcase for the latest mobile and computer hardware. Since the line has almost completely blurred between home and work devices, that means that many of the devices on display at CES will also be the next devices that corporate workers are using to get their work done every day.

More coverage

TechRepublic and ZDNet will be covering CES from every angle that matters for business professionals, so check back on our special feature page, CES 2014: What the Professionals Need to Know for the latest analysis, interviews with executives, and perspective on the larger trends.

Topics: CES 2014: What the Professionals Need to Know, Emerging Tech, Tech Industry

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  • The problem with CES and its coverage...

    I have been in the computing business for over 30 years. When I started, I was programming either on punch cards or storing my programs on cassette tapes connected to 8080 or Z80-based machines. We have come a long way since I wrote my first FORTRAN program on an IBM 370/158. But one thing that hasn't changed is the tech press writing about tech for tech's sake.

    Isn't it about time the tech press and the tech industry learns that technology is not the answer. It's the means to the answer. It is what helps solves the problem. Technology because it's cool does not drive markets. It does not make lives easier. It does not win over the general public. Technology that exists for technology's sake is, by and large, irrelevant.

    Take Google Glass and the entire "wearable" category. What problems are being solved? What's in it for me, my neighbor, my parents, or my colleagues? What do I do with it besides being an annoying lout?

    To put "wearables" as #1 on this list is the ultimate in Geek chutzpah. It shows that you do not know anything about the world beside the technology, which is very sad for you and those who take this stuff seriously.

    Please stop hyping the hype and get to something realistic. Something that is going to impact me or my business. Wearables just don't solve the problems I face for me to open my wallet and purchase them!
    • A bit short sighted aren't you?

      Wearables are good for many things -

      medical monitoring, reminding, event recording... I've even worn a heart monitor to try and catch problems early.

      And google glass can be good for many things:

      hand free navigation aids, assistant aids:
      written language translation,
      geo-location for those with deficits,
      facial recognition for facial blindness,
      reminder services, medical recording,
      identification of merchandise,
      hands free access to reference materials,
      crime scene analysis recording

      Just some of the things it could be used for.
    • Entertainment

      You speak of technology, like it is within the exclusive domain of business. Can't technology exist, at least in part, to entertain? Surely you can acknowledge that entertainment is also a important part of our human existence.
      Colin McFall
    • translations

      I was trying to watch a foreign language film which wasn't available with english subtitles. I went to the trouble of running the audio track thru a voice recognition app to get a transcript in english and had to try and follow the film using text transcript. Difficult and tedious but it help make sense of the dialogue.
      If I could have google glass with an app that translated the audio or text in real time and gave me english subtitles in the HUD...It would open the world of foreign language media.
      May seem like a gimmick today, but has groundbreaking potential for always-on technology like real time language translation.
      And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
    • I am not an early adopter...but...

      I was the very last person I know to get a cell phone and the last to get a smart phone, even though I am quite tech literate, as an electronic engineer and entrepreneur. They was distractions to me, wasting time on things that I really did not need to be aware of at the moment. I saw it lower productivity of everyone I knew.
      But, a real time translation or engineering diagrams would be a seriously beneficial aid to me.
      I am sure the concept would generate many personal reasons for getting one among those who need simultaneous data and visual interaction with their environment. If it works, sign me up.
    • Whats in it for me ...

      Dear sbarman

      I salute your impeccable credentials and presumably your long contribution to the IT industry. Being of somewhat humbler stock, I wont dwell upon mine.

      I must disa-gree with some of your observations about the evolution of technology solely as a means to solving problems, what you term as "whats in it for me". I would here cite Steve Jobs - “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” I still remember that when the MAC came out in 1984, there were many who said that fonts were of no use and the Courier font was more than sufficient. Subsequent history shows that things turned out differently and fonts on the MAC created giants such as Adobe, the desktop publishing industry and so on.

      Likewise, when the iPad came out in 2010, the press said that it was a "solution looking for a problem to solve". You know the rest.

      Yes, you are right, tech companies need to understand what problems they are trying to solve. But often, technology entails taking what Google terms as "moonshots". Some may take off, others may fall down with a thud.
  • What technology does??

    sbarman you make a good point about technology as a tool, a means to an end. But writing off wearables as just "Geek chutzpah" is a little narrow minded. I don't know you or your business and perhaps you are right that wearable will not be a useful tool to you or maybe you just haven't seen the potential uses yet. Wearable will find a use for some and be a fashion accessory for others. If the technology is useful then perhaps enough people will buy it to justify production or at least keep the idea alive. Look at tablets they have been around for 20+ years but until someone found a way to make it work well people could see the potential but not the usefulness until they came up with a usable OS with touch interface and low power consumption device.
  • One thing missed is the Android+Windows

    products being shown... Either as a dual boot, or one on top of the other.
    • Surprising

      This seems like a very under-reported development on ZDNet.
  • An emerging market opportunity ?

    I suspect that there is, or will be, an emerging market for a device that disables
    any form of Google Glass like devices. Something that can return a bit of the privacy that
    is being torn away from society. I'll bet that bars, eateries, movie theaters, even businesses that simply have restrooms, are, or will be, in the market for such a device.
    • Already exists...

      Or didn't you know about the cell phone blocking devices....
      • So you block everyones device

        because of one "glasshole"?
        • That was the point.

          It is a stupid thing to do.
  • contextual computing in that contect is contextual spying

    Enablement for the NSA.
  • Not really...

    Trends matter at CES.

    Not really, 99% of the stuff shown will never see the light of day. Waste of time to attend unless you need an excuse to get out of the office and your boss is dumb enough to let you go. Or you are desperate for something to write about. :-)
  • Users Selecting Their Own Tools...

    #4 is really old news. Perhaps older than younger folks can remember. This didn't just start and it's not a recent trend or fad. It started in the late 80s with the introduction of a local computing device. At that time IT was busy running the strictly mainframe or mini-computer data center and they didn't have time to concern themselves with new devices and tools that increased productivity. Lacking IT direction, departments purchased their own devices, their own software (Lotus 123) and even started networking their own devices (Novell). Perhaps it wasn't purely consumer-driven, since business departments were footing the bill, but it sure wasn't driven by IT. Suddenly IT was forced to formalize the offerings in an effort to contain costs. For a while, all was right in IT. However, once again IT hasn't had time to recognize the next evolution of computing. Instead of departments, individuals are now purchasing their own stuff to gain productivity. They are sharing documents with cloud drives and exchange information outside of IT. The potential difference this time is the consumer is footing at least some (most) of the bill. This makes it different than before since there may not be the same cost-control urgency. In order to deal themselves back into the game, IT will have to play a "security" or "business continuity" trump card. However, that might be tougher than before -- especially if folks are using cloud services that arguably may be as reliable as what they can offer. (Indeed, all that might be missing is a formal SLA for some of these services.) Security may be the lead trump card and might be just enough for IT to maintain it's current seat.
  • Corporate encroachment on employees' privacy

    4. Consumerization of business tech

    It's a mistake for employees to buy their own technological tools because this facilitates managements' spying on their employees even during off hours.

    Some bosses have over reacted by firing employees who dare write up a complaint on Facebook, on their own time, about the way they are treated at work.

    Instead of such petty and negative behaviour, such managers should view critiques as feedback, for them to improve themselves or their style of management.