The annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is the event that's supposed to set the tone in technology for the oncoming year.
Things have changed in recent years though. Technology has become less about whiz-bang gadgets and more about the Internet-powered apps and services we use. Twitter. Instagram. Snapchat. Dropbox. And so on. You don't really need 2 million square feet in the Las Vegas Convention Center to show off a bunch of apps.
Last year, Microsoft famously pulled out of CES, and it was the first time in recent memory that its CEO (either Bill Gates or Steve Ballmer) didn't deliver the opening keynote. Instead, we got a very bizarre presentation from then-Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs that included a cameo by Big Bird and a lip syncing Adam Levine.
Also missing last year? We didn't get a single blockbuster product announcement from one of the major tech companies. Instead, companies like Samsung, HTC, and Nokia waited to hold their own events to announce new flagship products later in the year.
So what did happen at CES last year if there weren't any big breakthrough products? There was still a lot going on. But one of the problems with CES in recent years is it hasn't been a good indicator of what the next year in tech would look like. In fact, most of the big themes of CES 2013 were either barely mentioned again following the show or turned out to be major duds.
Let's take a look back at some of the biggest themes of CES 2013 and see where we are now.4K TVs
4K TVs, also known as Ultra HD TVs, were the biggest storyline of CES 2013. These sets represent the next evolution in picture quality because they have nearly double the amount of pixels as normal HD sets today. The downside? They're very expensive. 4K TVs can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Samsung just announced a 110-inch set that'll go for about $150,000. Plus, you can't take advantage of a 4K TV set unless the video was shot at that resolution. Today, most content is still shot in normal HD.
Even though 4K TVs are a few years away from being affordable, every tech company from Samsung to Panasonic made a big push in the space at last year's CES. Sharp even one-upped its competitors with a prototype 8K TV set.
We'll probably see more of the same at this year's CES, but don't expect to have one of these sets in your home for another few years.Smart TVs
As a piggyback to the whole 4K thing, many of the new sets introduced at CES last year were Internet-connected Smart TVs. That doesn't just mean they came with a bunch of built-in streaming apps like Netflix, Pandora, and HBO GO. They also had new interfaces and recommendation engines to help you find new stuff to watch.
Samsung probably had the most advanced Smart TVs with built in cameras and motion/voice controls. Still, you could tell it was the early days of such technology. It's clunky and not entirely accurate. TV may be ripe for disruption, but no one has nailed it yet.
That's not going to stop tech companies from trying again though. Samsung has already said it plans to update its Smart TV line with new software improvements. LG is reportedly going to show off a TV powered by WebOS, the mobile operating system Palm developed before HP bought the company. WebOS is now an open source operating system just like Google's Android, so it can run on just about any device.Smart Appliances
From washing machines that send you a notification when your laundry is finished to refrigerators with built-in Evernote integration, tech companies tried really hard to make "smart" everything happen last year.
While you probably didn't buy a smartfridge last year, these appliances did touch on a growing trend in tech called "The Internet of Things." That refers to connecting everyday objects like lights and thermostats to the Internet so they can operate more efficiently and let you have a deeper level of control. There are already a bunch of companies developing stuff in the space like SmartThings, Nest, and even Cisco. Expect to see even more "smart" stuff at CES this year.BlackBerry 10
While BlackBerry didn't have an official presence at CES 2013, it did show off its new mobile operating system BlackBerry 10 to a bunch of journalists behind closed doors. At the time, BlackBerry 10 was just a few weeks from launch. It was the product that was supposed to save the company.
But the BlackBerry 10 hype was short-lived. BlackBerry had a tough time selling its new BB10-powered phones like the BlackBerry Z10 and Q10. Last fall, the company failed to go private in a $4.7 billion offer from private equity firm Fairfax Financial. Instead, its CEO Thorsten Heins resigned. Several other top executives have also left the company. BlackBerry is now run by an interim CEO named John S. Chen who plans to make a bigger push in enterprise and emerging markets like Indonesia. The BlackBerry we knew a year ago is all but dead.Intel Mobile
Intel is a giant in traditional desktop computing, but has struggled in recent years to adapt to the smartphone/tablet revolution. At last year's CES, Intel spent a lot of time talking about the mobile processors it planned to put in cheaper smartphones in emerging markets.
The problem? Intel's mobile chips weren't going to start shipping until the end of 2013, nearly a full year after they were announced. It's still unclear how many manufacturers chose those Intel chips over the more traditional ARM processors used in most mobile devices. And that's not a good sign. Traditional PC sales are tanking. While Intel makes really good processors for laptops and desktops, its mobile plans remain fuzzy. (However, there has been a bigger push lately in those two-in-one laptop/tablet hybrids running Windows 8.)
Intel's new CEO Brian Krzanich will give the opening CES 2014 keynote on Monday night, so we're expecting to learn more about how Intel plans to tackle mobile.Wearable Gadgets
If CES is supposed to be an indicator of what the next hot thing in tech is, then 2013's show almost completely missed the trend of wearable gadgets like Google's face-computer Google Glass, fitness trackers like the FitBit Force, and smart watches like the Samsung Galaxy Gear. One notable exception: the Pebble smart watch. Pebble began as Kickstarter project in 2012 and formally launched at CES in 2013. It's probably the best device in the category you can buy today, although the competition is pretty dim right now.
Early CES 2014 rumors suggest that we'll see a ton of new wearables from companies like LG, Archos, and a bunch of hardware startups trying to make their name in the space. Expect wearables to be the big theme of this year's show. Still, don't be surprised if these gadgets are half-baked like Samsung's Galaxy Gear was. The space is still too young and we have yet to see a product that truly breaks through.
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