​CES 2015: In search of simplicity

A parade of technology products will be announced at CES 2015. What products thrive or dive will largely depend on simplicity, a trait sorely lacking from many vendors.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

CES 2015, an orgy of product announcements featuring the latest technology that'll allegedly change lives, kicks off this week in Las Vegas and virtual reality, 3D printing and wearables will be key topics. But the characteristic that will make or break these technologies will be simplicity.

Let's get real. The products launched at CES usually won't appear until March or April in many cases. Some years these products don't even make it to market (anyone remember all those e-readers a few years back?).

Also see: CNET's CES 2015 coverage

For this year's CES, the lens I'm going to use to evaluate these product prospects is going to be based on simplicity. How simple will it be to use these products? How over-engineered are these gadgets? Is there an easy app ecosystem built around newfangled virtual reality devices? Will simple wearable devices revolving around health be replaced by do-it-all smart watches?

If history is any indicator simplicity will be the determining factor of what CES products thrive or dive. Viewed through the simplicity lens, the sensors being highlighted at CES may be more important than the gadgets. After all, the real win for these technologies will be the networked effect of them. The body network will matter more than the individual components and gadgets that form it.

As CNET noted, CES will test the theory of do-everything wearable devices. Of course, every wearable device maker at CES will be in the shadow of the Apple Watch launch. The Apple Watch promises to do everything from apps to health tracking. Samsung, Motorola and a bevy of others have entries in the do-everything device sweepstakes.

I haven't seen anything from smart watch makers that indicates that do-it-all is the way to go. The simplicity from companies like Jawbone and Withings matters. Apple's success or failure with the Apple Watch will be a huge data point.

More: Jawbone sets up its enterprise health play with Groups | Wearables: An all-body network of marketing pitches?

This simplicity theme will also apply to virtual reality devices from the likes of Samsung and Oculus. At first glance, these massive goggles aren't screaming intuitive. In fact, there's a decent chance that virtual reality---like 3D printing---will be more useful in business before consumers catch on.

And naturally, there will be a bevy of automakers with new systems for in-cabin entertainment. Last year, Google aligned with a bevy of auto partners with the Open Automotive Alliance. It's not clear what this merry band of auto technology players really produced beyond two press releases. At the very least, simplicity has been lacking with auto tech and color me skeptical about Android's prospects to conquer ease of use.

In the end, the tech industry---consumer and business---is looking for something simple. Unfortunately, simplicity is the hardest thing to engineer. CES is likely to prove that point in 2015.

Editorial standards