Promotions for the latest International CES show have started to get a little out of hand. I'm wondering how many cynics (like myself) are becoming numbed to the annual onslaught of best-greatest-fastest-biggest gadgets, gizmos and tech that only seems to get bigger every year. I think you'll hear a lot about three key areas of consumer technology this year, but the average mortal will only be able to afford one of them.
The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) has already conducted a CES Unveiled event in New York City in November to announce its 2014 CES Innovation Design and Engineering Awards, so there's going to be no dramatic surprises there. In addition, there's a set of over fifty 30 second teaser clips for show product announcements available yesterday, December 11, on the International CES website.
Out of the seven main topics being highlighted in the latest CES press release, I'm willing to put my money on 3D printing, Ultra HDTV and wearable tech as the highest on my list. Sure, there will be electric and driverless cars and robotics and digital health and fitness and sensor tech, but they've all been featured before -- the thrill is gone.
At risk of over abusing cliché phrases, 3D printing is a transformative technology. It will create new business opportunities akin to the desktop publishing revolution, rippling through businesses of all sizes. It won't be clear for another decade what business models will win and lose, but there will be new home businesses doing boutique design, faster development time and just-in-time manufacturing for engineering firms, and 3D "copy" centers chains.
Various 3D printing announcements at CES will build momentum and interest in the field. We are far from the "everyone should have one" laser printer-age, but lower cost devices, more manufacturers jumping into the game and more people experimenting with 3D printers will continue to lay the groundwork for a "critical mass" moment where the tech is considered mainstream.
Ultra HDTV will be pumped because TV manufacturers need the next big thing, HDTV has run its course, and 3D TV didn't catch on. Last year, I saw some beautiful Ultra HDTV sets -- true works of art and beauty, but I -- and most consumers -- aren't going to drop $5,000 to $40,000 for a 65 inch Ultra HDTV that has very little broadcast content available. Hardware pricing needs to drop while content creators start buying hardware and building video libraries.
But keep your TVs and 3D printers. Wearable tech should be the big boom this year in terms of units sold, with smart watches and activity wristband monitors being rolled out by every big name consumer electronics brand and wanna-be Kickstarter garage start-up at CES. The most important thing about wearable tech is affordability, with typical prices in the range of $100 to $300 for a smartwatch to complement a smart phone. You don't have to be 3D design-inclined to utilize it or have $20,000 burning a hole in your pocket, so it can be an impulse buy.
A successful wave of smartwatches may stimulate a taste for Google Glass-family offerings in 2015. A year from now, prices should be lower, there will be multiple vendors on the market and there should be plenty of apps available.
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