CES 2015: The 4 trends to watch for business professionals

In the tech industry, every new year starts with a bang at CES as vendors peddle new products, new visions, and new strategies. For CES 2015, here's what professionals need to watch.
Written by Jason Hiner, Editor in Chief
CES sign
Image: Jason Hiner/TechRepublic

The Consumer Electronics Show isn't just about consumers. In fact, it's always been about the tech industry itself. It's the January launch party for the year in tech. Even though companies rarely announce their biggest products at CES anymore, it's still an event where new concepts are unveiled, new strategies are championed, and growing trends emerge.

ZDNet and TechRepublic will have a team of journalists on the ground in Las Vegas for CES 2015, as well as a team of writers covering the event from afar. We'll be looking for all the developments that matter for business professionals and the enterprise, since consumerization of IT and BYOD have forever changed the expectations of employees, the way tech gets used business, and how companies purchase and deploy technology.

On Twitter, you can follow our journalists who are on the ground at CES to get the real-time look at what's going on: @billdetwiler, @rachelking, @lyndseygilpin, @teena_hammond, @jasonhiner

As you follow the developments from #CES2015, here are four big trends that business professionals should watch and the most important factors to keep in mind.

1. Will people actually wear wearables?

As TechRepublic's Teena Hammond reported in 2014, about half of users lose interest in wearables within a few short months after trying them. While there has been plenty of industry hype and lots of user interest in wearable technology, the adoption rates have yet to explode and we're still waiting for the products that really wow us (even the Apple Watch has as many drawbacks as plusses).

Expect wearables to blast out more new product announcements than any other category at CES 2015, but we're unlikely to see any huge news. It's more likely to be a flood of niche announcements from startups and new players in the wearable market. But if enough of them release useful products--and the odds are looking good there based on what I saw at CES Unveiled on Sunday--then 2015 could be the year that wearables go mainstream. That means companies are going to have to start looking more seriously at wearables that could help their business and also considering the impact of wearables on their BYOD policies.

Follow Teena Hammond for the latest on wearable tech.

2. Will 3D printing be ready for the masses?

3D printing was among the most popular categories with ZDNet and TechRepublic readers in 2014, so we know there's significant user interest in where this technology is headed. However, like wearables, 3D printing is high in hype, but a lot lower in user adoption. The affordable 3D printers are still too hard to manage, still too slow, and it's still too difficult to design your own stuff to print.

CES 2015 is going to see new players entering the 3D printing market, many new ecosystem players stepping in to help make things easier, and the big players like Stratasys/Makerbot and 3D Systems telling us why they are still the leaders. HP's announcements this fall about entering 3D printing market in 2016 loom large over the CES vendors, but a lot can happen in a year. Now it's up to other players to counter with a better story than HP's focus on making 3D scanning and design easier with a new kind of PC and drastically increasing the speed of 3D printing.

Also watch for 3D printing companies aiming their desktop products at small businesses rather than consumers. The industry is moving toward a vision of "service bureaus" (places like Home Depot and office supply stores) serving the 3D printing jobs of consumers rather than a 3D printer on every desk.

Follow Lyndsey Gilpin for the latest on 3D printing.

3. Can big data keep up with the Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things has emerged as one of the de facto leading trends of business technology during the past year. We've been on top of it since we first launched our special feature on IoT in January 2013. Even back then we started making the argument that IoT was mostly a big data story, because its real purpose is gathering data that can be turned into actionable insights to streamline and automate business processes. (If you apply that to the consumer--like a lot of companies are doing at CES--then it becomes about helping individuals use data to make better life decisions).

The thing to watch with IoT is which companies are the smartest about the ways they use the data. Look at the built in analytics that they provide, how comprehensive they are, and how well they boil down the most important data points. Also, look at how well they can connect with other systems that could use the data to do even more--better decision-making, more efficiencies, and the holy grail of business process automation.

4. Will innovation return to smartphones and tablets?

Smartphones and tablets led the buzz at CES and across the tech industry from about 2008 to 2013, but innovation has leveled off at the same time that smartphones and tablets have saturated the market--especially in the US. Samsung and Apple have had a lukewarm response to their recent products. Although the pair continue to be the most profitable mobile device makers in the world, they have struggled to lead in terms of introducing groundbreaking new features and innovations. Samsung is struggling more than Apple, which introduced Apple Pay in the fall and had robust sales in Q4, but clearly there's not as much to get excited about in this space. The more interesting story is around apps and the wearables and IoT devices that can connect to smartphones and tablets.

Don't expect any big developments from smartphone and tablets at CES 2015 either. Look for a lot of talk about phablets. These big, honking smartphone/tablet hybrids continue to lure in lots of professionals, and we'll see what else vendors can do to appeal to these power users with the phablets that they roll-out, talk-up, and show off at CES 2015. But again, the more important thing to watch is the software and connected devices that are making smartphones, tablets, and phablets more useful than ever.

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