What we learned at CES 2014

big trends to watch for at ces 2015 2014 review

We came. We saw. We shocked the bejeezus out of ourselves with a weird iPhone stun gun case. All in all, CES 2014 was a massive success – the year that the tech world’s biggest trade show shed its dead weight and started to look lively again – which answers one of our big questions about the show. Just as we expected, this year’s CES offered a healthy dose of innovation and straight-up awesomeness. And the whole team here at Digital Trends is more pumped than we’ve been in a long time about the year in tech to come.

But there’s some business to attend to before we get ahead of ourselves: Prior to CES 2014, I identified five questions about the future of tech that I hoped the show would answer. With the image of Las Vegas literally fading out of view beneath my flight out of this sordid town, here’s a rundown of what I found.

Will wearable tech be something people want to wear?

It’s getting there, slowly.

Razer_NabuThe rise of the wearable tech category at CES 2014 came as no surprise. There were a staggering number of wearables announced this year – some of them great, some just ridiculous. And, overall, the category still has a long way to go before breaking out of its niche.

Pebble’s classy new line of smartwatches and Razer’s fitness band represent perhaps the best in wearable tech at the moment. But you’re still not going to be able to ditch your smartphone for something you wear on your wrist. So keep watching this space as the year goes on. It’s going to get very crowded very fast. 

Will 4K break out of its luxury niche?

Definitely.

We suspected 4K Ultra HD technology would dominate CES 2014 – and we were right. Televisions, monitors, cameras, content streams, big business deals, and sheer excitement in the industry are fueling the 4K Ultra HD ecosystem even more quickly and fiercely than we imagined.

There were a staggering number of wearables announced this year – some of them great, some just ridiculous.

While giants like Samsung and LG are truly pushing the technology forward, it may be Vizio – a company traditionally branded as ‘budget’ – that does the most to land 4K Ultra HD in our homes. We were blown away by its 4K offerings this year. And amazingly enough, its 4K Ultra HD lineup will start at just $1,000 for a 50-inch display.

Everything that needs to happen for far superior video and displays to wash over our leisure time is happening. High five!

Does 3D printing have what it takes to go mainstream?

It’s headed that way, but not quite there.

Let’s be honest: The most general use for 3D printers is using them to create nifty plastic toys. That’s a sad way to think of a technology that many believe will one day revolutionize the world in countless ways. But now that we have that little caveat out of the way, let me just say this: 3D printing is really getting exciting.

MakerBot-hedThis is mostly thanks to MakerBot, which announced three new 3D printers at CES 2014 – one of which, the Replicator Mini, won Digital Trends’ coveted Best in Show award. But it’s not just MakerBot’s smaller, less expensive, easier-to-use Replicator that is pushing 3D printing closer and closer to our living rooms; it’s the company’s entire ecosystem. The Thingiverse database of downloadable, printable designs; mobile and desktop apps; and straight-up well-designed products that make us want to blow the next $1,375 we can free up to start printing whatever our minds can create.

So, will every house in America have a 3D printer by next year’s CES? Not a chance. But devices like the Replicator Mini are the reason why they will sometime soon.

Can the dream of a connected home become a reality?

Sure, but manufacturers are still figuring out what to do with it.

Some of the products we saw, like Sleep Number’s X12 mattress, which uses sensors to give you the perfect night sleep, are just no-brainers – clear improvements over ‘dumb’ matresses that don’t lift a finger to make your rest better. Sadly, it costs $8,000. You also have devices like PointGrab’s gesture-controlled PointSwitch that fill in the nuts and bolts of this always-connected future, or the bevy of “smart” light bulbs that are genuine improvements over earlier iterations.

On the flip side? Internet-connected refrigerators and washing machines you can send text messages to. We’ve been seeing some version of these devices for years and years. And they still seem a bit … unnecessary. Just because you can connect something to the Internet doesn’t mean you should, or that it will make the average person’s life any better.

We want the Internet of Things and the connected home to usher in the amazing future of living we’ve dreamed about. But the industry needs to start thinking long and hard about what’s actually an improvement, and what’s just novelty.

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