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CES is fresh again, and it’s the little guys that are jolting it back to life

why ces just got superamazeballs all over again

Photo credit: Digital Trends/Greg Mombert

Something you probably know: Every tech company in the world is showing off either a TV or an iPhone case at the 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week. (Really, there’s an awful lot of TVs here.)

Something you probably don’t know: There’s so much else going on at the show that I start hyperventilating whenever I think about it.

CES is a playground for tech enthusiasts like you and me, a first glimpse at the trends that will shape the gear and gadgets we love over the next days, weeks, and months. But in past years the show has gotten … well, boring. Giant wall of stunning, high-resolution displays? Check. Celebrity endorsements of gadgets they probably can’t use and almost certainly don’t own? Check. The “next big thing” being unveiled over and over and over? Check. And check. And check.

Last year, the show took a turn, however, as eloquently detailed by former Time tech guy Harry McCracken. In response to pundits who called the show “increasingly irrelevant” and “a relic in the desert,” he wrote in praise of CES that “I’ve come to enjoy the event for the messy, over-the-top, Vegas-sized all-you-can eat technological buffet that it is.”

Here’s hoping Harry has a healthy appetite.

The 2015 CES hasn’t even officially begun yet, and the show is already buoyed by an undercurrent of excitement, a buzz fueled by crazy innovation and inspiration. The tremendous number of companies touting connected gear means every little doorbell, every coffee pot and lampshade, is suddenly unexpectedly interesting.

“The ‘Internet of Things’ is the hottest topic in tech right now,” explains Karen Chupka, a senior vice president with the Consumer Electronics Association. “It’s all about the opportunity to connect everyday items like cars, home security systems and kitchen appliances to networked devices like PCs and smartphones for greater control and management of our everyday lives.”

The trend is propelled by the wide availability of super cheap sensors, which make it easy for new companies to take ordinary stuff you wouldn’t think twice about and take ’em online. Blossom just announced a smart sprinkler system. Dado Labs is partnering with Char-Broil – let’s just assume it’s a barbeque grill with a smartphone app. Oomi. Medissimo. Et cetera (the words, not the company).

Blossom Smart Watering System

Blossom Smart Watering System

What, you haven’t heard of those guys? Most people haven’t. That’s part of what’s so great this year. While the big brands like LG and Samsung continue to innovate — and I really love the idea of LG’s newest washing machine, which has a wee little baby washing machine hidden underneath it — there are a slew of new companies and start-ups with ideas and fresh thoughts. CES 2015 is shaping up to be the biggest ever, Jeff Joseph, a senior vice president with the CEA, told me. The group behind the show expects between 150,000 and 160,000 attendees, and more than 3,600 exhibitors – a staggering number when you think about it.

There’s other stuff too: Here’s a company with a brainwave sensor to reduce sleepy driver syndrome. Here’s a platform for connecting your lightbulbs. Here’s one ring to control them all.

Many are smaller companies, showing off their wares at the Eureka Park area of the show. Last year there were 220 such companies. This year, there will be 375 – nearly double.

That’s also one of the things that’s a pain in the ass about CES. Literally, a pain in the ass — walking 2.2 million square feet of show floor will leave anyone’s calves and glutes aching. But it’s worth it. This show is gonna be great.