Will there be breakaway hits or trends from this year's Consumer Electronics Show, which opens next week in Las Vegas? Rumors and expectations are floating around as to what, if any, technologies or products will follow in the footsteps of Nintendo's Wii, high-definition television or Samsung's Galaxy Note in successfully launching at CES.
Of course, there have been many, many, many more products that failed despite big CES premieres, including netbooks, 3D TV and Palm's WebOS. With these Vegas odds in mind, let's preview the trends that seem most promising.
Expect to see many new ways in which you can use your mobile device -- a smartphone or a tablet -- in conjunction with other devices in your home or business, such as your TV, appliance or building heating system. LG plans to show a TV that syncs with your smartphone, for instance, and Google has been working with various TV manufacturers to offer the ability to turn an Android device into a remote control.
The age of smart, connected things that aren't computers, phones or TVs has been promised for decades now, and CES throughout that time has shown countless variations on that theme. The question is whether this is the year when some of them actually come together in networks, standards, ease of use and pricing.
Cars, for example, will make a big effort to present themselves as wired living rooms on wheels, with new intelligence, apps, and interaction with mobile devices and services being shown by the likes of Ford, Lexus and Subaru.
There will also be renewed efforts to offer networked household appliances, light fixtures and anything else that uses electricity in your home. Given the rise of the open source Android operating system as the leading mobile platform, the power of inexpensive mobile devices, the availability of cheap sensors, and such recent developments as Microsoft buying R2 Studios, maker of a product to control home systems remotely via a mobile device, perhaps this is the year the smart home actually takes hold.
The TV industry, long a backbone of the show, will try once again to sell the generation after HD TV. After several years of futilely trying to convince attendees and consumers that wearing 3D glasses to watch a small amount of 3D content was the Next Big Thing, the emphasis is expected this year to shift to product lines in the two competing, super-high-def technologies, 4K and OLED.
4K offers four times the resolution of that old HD TV you have, but there isn't much content in the format. OLED is the same resolution as HD, so the content is still relevant, and it offers blacks and a dynamic range that are off the charts. But, while both technologies regularly knock off the figurative socks of observers, so do the current price tags, which start at $10,000 and, for the larger units, go north of $25,000.
Health Gadgets, Gestures
Another trend that could break out this year -- new generations of gestural and eye-tracking control of computers and mobile devices. Swedish company Tobii Technology will be showing its gaze tracker, and a highly precise, in-the-air, inexpensive gestural controller and software will be demoed by Leap Motion. Microsoft's video-game gestural controller Kinect has established itself as a big hit, and some are expecting these technologies to become the next wave.
Current Analysis' Avi Greengart, who will make his annual pilgrimage to this device extravaganza, said he isn't expecting many big new developments in mobile technologies, given the contemporary emphasis on Mobile World Congress launches in February and the absence this year of HTC, Motorola and other mobile giants at CES.
He said that post-touch technologies could have some specific benefits, such as for disabled users or as supplementary ways to interact, but that they didn't appear poised to become a big wave.
Greengart is expecting to see "lots of mobile automotive tech, lots of mobile health gadgets," and lots of ways for TVs to "work with your phone or tablet," such as the ability to view the same content on a mobile device as on a TV. There has been some chatter about this year finally being the year when wearable computing makes a dent in public consciousness, but if it does, Greengart said that would be "a pleasant surprise."