CES 2014 Preview: Windows 8.1 PCs Meet Gadgets & Apps

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CES 2014 will see the traditional deluge of new PCs and mobile devices. Yet the computer trade show extravaganza keeps diversifying into other types of connected “things,” many of which are enabled by sensors and manageable through software apps, CEA officials said, at an annual CES preview event this week in New York City. Indeed, at a mini-expo that followed, vendors gave sneak peeks at devices ranging from a basketball to a handheld gadget for measuring the muscle and fat content of your upper arm, for example.

Consumer electronics spending for this year’s holiday season will rise only 2.6%, noted Gary Shapiro, the CEA’s president and CEO, during a talk at the CES Unveiled New York City event. Research by the CEA on CE holiday gift wish lists, first released last month, shows that adults are most likely to want a new tablet computer, notebook PC, TV, smartphone, or video game console, in that order. Wish lists for teens revolve around the same standard product fare, except that teens are targeting MP3 players rather than TVs.

This kind of data “combats the issue that consumers have everything they need,” Shapiro said.

What Do Showgoers Really Want?

Yet also at the event, Shawn DuBravac, the CEA’s chief economist and research director made a first-time announcement of new stats indicating that CES showgoers are avidly interested in viewing emerging technologies like 3D printing, robotics, and digital wristwatches at the big show, set for January 7 to 10, 2014 in Las Vegas.

Sales of CES floor space are running at about the same pace this year as last year, and — for logistical reasons around handling huge throngs of people — the CEA really doesn’t want attendance levels to rise to more than around 150,000, anyway, Shapiro maintained. The industry group is focusing on luring more “CXOs” and other “industry influencers” to the halls of CES, he suggested

Hordes of shiny new Microsoft Windows 8.1 PCs and Apple iOS 7 tablets are sure to be on hand at CES, and computer makers have been pre-briefing journalists about the new products in other venues. However, the CEA officials made no mention in their prepared remarks about either of the new operating systems. Then again, Microsoft will be absent from the show for yet another year, and Apple has never been present.

Karen Chupka, the CEA’s senior VP of events and conferences senior VP, played up newly added tech zones that reflect consumers’ purported interest in topics other than traditional computing devices. For example, the new zones include Wrist Revolution, Hi-Res Audio Experience, 3D Printing, and Eureka Park – NEXT, which will highlight technologies popping up at start-up firms.

Trends to ‘Mass Customization’ and ‘Multidimensional Screen Expansion’

DuBravac pointed to industry trends that include sensor enablement, the increasing march of mobile and wireless technologies, and what he called “mass customization,” “multidimensional screen expansion,” and “curation and context.” More than 50 percent of consumers will use mobile devices to help them do their holiday shopping this year, the analyst contended.

“Mass customization” is appearing in everything from 3D printing to Motorola’s personalizable Moto X smartphone and sneakers that can be customized by shoelace color, DuBravac said. In the trend to “curation and context,” cloud services are gathering and organizing information, some of it obtained by sensors.

In “multidimensional screen expansion,” tablets are taking up the niche for smaller screens left behind as notebook PC screens grow more capacious and TV screen sizes extend toward the stratosphere.

Keynote: The ‘Internet of Everything’

CEA President Shapiro announced that Cisco Chairman John Chambers and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer will join the roster of previously announced CES 2014 keynoters.

Chambers’ talk, by the way, will address — what else? — Cisco’s vision for the “Internet of Everything.”

In another announcement, which drew some cheers from the assembled press, Shapiro announced that Fleetwood Mac will be the featured act at the annual Monster-sponsored music concert at CES.

Earlier in the day, the CEA presented a round of sessions about Ultra HDTV, the latest technology craze pervading TV-land. At the product expo which followed, big manufacturers such as Lenovo and LG demo’d showed off previously annnounced hardware products which have since won “Innovation Awards” from the CEA.

Sensors & Apps

In another corner of the room, however, a small company named InfoMotion Sports Technologies Inc. attracted crowds and cameras by demoing a basketball connected through Bluetooth to an app running on a tablet. The app displays info, picked up through sensors on the ball, which is aimed at helping players to better their games.

A company rep told NotebookReview that InfoMotion used to produce a much higher-end basketball — priced anywhere from $2,500 to $5,000 — which linked to a PC software program over WiFi. The current consumer version of the basketball, though, costs a mere $2.95.

In an interview with NotebookReview during the event, the CEA’s DuBravac pointed out that many of the other “things” on display will also be accompanied by either software apps or cloud services, much as has already happened with “connected” TVs.

“This is a holistic experience for the consumer. The app becomes the [human] interface,” the analyst observed.

Skulpt is another vendor that will be displaying a sensor-driven, app-enabled device at CES. Skulpt’s handheld device uses sensors, collecting thousands of data points, to evaluate how current flows through individual muscle groups to measure their quality and fat percentage.

When the product hits availability in April, he said, Skulpt will also release a web browser-enabled app for PCs along with Android and iOS apps for smartphones and tablets. The product can be pre-ordered starting today.

Yet not all of the new “things” at CES will feature sensors and/or apps. Not all are Internet-connected, either, although many connect to other devices in some way or other.

ShutterBall, for example, demo’d its Bluetooth-enabled handheld remote shutter for smartphone cameras.

Athletic Caps & Solar Generators

Reebok showed off Checklight, a sensor-driven athletic cap aimed at protecting student athletes from concussions. When a light on the back of the hat is green, this means that the device is on and functioning. If the light turns red or yellow, ooaches and parents can see from the bleachers that a “significant impact” has occurred. “But there is no app,” said a Reebok spokesperson.

Aspect Solar presented its line-up of SunSocket Sun-Tracking Solar Generators, for use in remote locations where electrical outlets can’t be found. Sensors on the generators automaticallly track the sun to maximize power all day long. The newest and smallest of the three generator models — weighing in at less than a pound and outfitted with two USB ports for connecting to PCs — will ship a couple of weeks from now, NotebookReview was told. “We don’t have an app,” according to a company rep.

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