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.
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.
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.
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.