Getting ready for CES 2014 and The Internet of Stuff

Why go to the International CES and endure the horrors of a ridiculously crowded Las Vegas in January and the near-certainty of catching the CES flu? Because, after reading through hundreds of pitches about The Internet of Things, I need to see this explosion of super-smart, connected technology for myself.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

A new report from Gartner predicts that The Internet of Things will encompass 26 billion units—not including PCs, tablets, and smartphones—by 2020.

CES 2014 and The Internet of Stuff

I believe it. In the runup to this year’s International CES, it feels like I’ve received about that many pitches for connected things. Some of the early wave of Things that will be on display in Las Vegas next month are essentially working prototypes, foreshadowing what will someday be polished products. For now, the potential outweighs the polish. Maybe the real Internet of Things is still a few years away. For now, with a nod to George Carlin, I’m calling it The Internet of Stuff.

I’ve lost count of the emails I’ve received inviting me to look at digital stuff that gathers data and shares it with people and with other connected stuff: new health and fitness devices, streaming audio and video gadgets, smart automotive accessories, and all sorts of things for the home. Not just the usual home automation hardware, which always seem to be a few years away from going mainstream, but also things like connected door locks and thermostats. Lowe’s—Home Depot’s archrival in the big-box hardware business—is going to be showing off its collection of contributions to The Internet of Stuff at CES.

Every year I wrestle with the decision of whether to endure the horrors of a ridiculously crowded Las Vegas in January, knowing that I’m almost certain to return with a cold or the flu. This time I decided to go because I want to see if I can make sense of the tech landscape if it’s all physically there in front of me. Lord knows it just feels like a big hot mess as I scroll through all these pitch emails.

For the longest time, CES was mostly about the living room: TVs and audio systems and VCRs and DVD players, with a smattering of mobile stuff, mostly car audio.

Then, after the demise of Comdex, CES briefly became a showcase for PCs, although that era started just as Apple was creating a parallel universe, outside of Las Vegas, organized around the iPhone and the iPad.

PCs are still well represented at CES, of course, even if (for the second year in a row) Microsoft won't be exhibiting or keynoting. There will still be giant walls of TVs and plenty of killer audio systems. But mobility and connectedness is where the real action is. Give me a few hours with Excel and I could probably prove it by calculating an Index that measures the percentage of pitches for headphones and smartphone cases. That index appears to be at an all time high for CES 2014. (Just last week I got pitches for a miltary-grade Kevlar smartphone case, and an iPhone 5 case that doubles as a 650,000-volt stun gun. There was also something about a drone that works inside offices. Yikes.)

Even if most of the products are destined to be dismissed as too early, there’s genuine value into getting hands-on with these things. At IFA in Berlin last September, I spent a half-hour or so with the Samsung Gear watch, which I had dismissed when I first read the press release. Seeing the product in action helped me understand both its audience and its potential in a way I couldn’t from that press release. (And I’m holding out for at least versions 3.0.)

What’s really of most interest, and where I hope to learn some interesting stuff, is the technology that goes into all these devices.

I expect to see and interact with a lot of new input stuff, especially voice and gestures. I want to see what’s coming from chipmakers like TI and Qualcomm and AMD.

And there should be some interesting security stories as well, especially as biometric identification and verification starts to appear as a feature in more and more devices.

It’s always interesting at CES to get a thorough tour of the booths of the big consumer electronics giants, like LG and Toshiba and Sony and Panasonic and especially Samsung, which have sprawling and sometimes overwhelming product lines. But you're just as likely to see a future hit product at one of the mini-tradeshows that are magnets for anyone with a press badge: ShowStoppers and Digital Experience. And there are plenty of opportunities for interesting, sometimes off-the-record conversations and demos away from the show floor behind closed doors.

The show officially runs from January 7-10, but there are plenty of press events in the days leading up to the show as well. I’m hoping this year that I can come home with a clearer picture of where the tech industry is headed instead of the CES flu. Wish me luck.

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