I’ve been to the Consumer Electronics Show more times than I’d like to admit. And while it’s considered a showcase of technology to come in the next year, it’s a horrible experience. You’re basically cooped up inside a windowless casino where the blackjack tables have been swapped out for iPad case vendors. 99.9% of what you see isn’t worth breathing that stale, filtered air still laced with traces of tobacco and broken dreams.
Yet there are always some jackpots if you dig deeply enough, a small handful of ideas that aren’t just interesting products, but serve as signposts pointing to the future of How Things Will Be.
Here are our favorite ideas at CES 2014—consider it your cheat sheet to tomorrow.
Just when we all thought virtual reality was left in the last millennium, a garage inventor pieced together a few cellphone displays in a ski mask. Tens of millions of dollars in venture capital later, it’s one of the hottest products at this year's CES, where the company showed off an improved version of the headset that not only provided immersive, 3-D panoramas of virtual scenes, but also has an added external camera to track your body, somewhat like Microsoft’s Kinect. The result is that the Rift is now smart enough to tell, not just if you’re turning your head left or right, but if you’re leaning your body in to peek around a corner. [Read more]
Takeaway: At last, virtual reality will actually happen.
I generally shudder when a hard drive manufacturer reaches out about their designer series product of the year, which is generally just a rectangular hard drive packaged in a larger rectangle with a slightly less than half-assed finish. But the Lacie Sphere reimagines the ubiquitous external hard drive as a spherical sculpture worthy of an M.C. Escher print. [Read more]
Takeaway: Electronics can be art for the price of a metal ball.
WebOS was supposed to be the operating system that armed Palm to compete with the iPhone. And while the company delivered in terms of quality, its critically acclaimed phones still flopped. WebOS was sold to HP, and then HP sold it to LG. Now, WebOS has risen again in LG’s new line of smart televisions, where it may redefine the genre of just what a smart television means thanks to snappy multitasking, beautiful menus, and voice and gesture controls. But my favorite part is their parallelogram navigation bar. In a world full of boxy interfaces, LGs looks to be moving the conversation forward—literally. [Read more]
Takeaway: Having a killer user interface will soon be the price of entry in formerly dumb products.
Today, most wearables look like fitness accessories. But the June, produced by Netatmo, and designed by Louis Vuitton and Harry Winston collaborator Camille Toupet, is a jewel you wear on your wrist. Its photolvotaic cell syncs to your iPhone via Bluetooth, to recommend sunglasses, a hat, or a specific sunscreen based upon how much sun you’re getting. Whether you like the aesthetic of the large gem or not, the June is a precursor to a more fashionable era of wearables to come. [Read more]
Takeaway: Wearables are going to enter the fashion era soon.
The NBA may have installed cameras in every professional basketball stadium to track the every move of players across the court, but there’s so much more data that could be collected on the game. Enter the 94Fifty basketball, which is fitted with sensors to teach you more about your shooting. All information is shared via an accompanying iPhone app, but to turn the ball on? You just start dribbling. [Read more]
Takeaway: Putting a sensor in any stupid product might actually be a very smart idea.
If there’s one big trend at CES this year, it’s sensors in everything, pushing the quantified self to new extremes. Besides the fact that there are a LOT of fitness bands out there now, some manufacturers, like a company called Withings, are going beyond data collection to actually use that data to make your life better. [Read more]
Takeaway: Sensors will stop informing and start intervening.
Case in point that sensors are now shaping behavior? The Aura, by Withings, is an alarm clock that uses a combination of blue and orange LEDs to hack your circadian rhythm normally set by the sun, waking you and lulling you to sleep. A sensor in your bed tracks your sleep activity, so the system wakes you at just the right moment. [Read more]
Takeaway: Everybody needs their eight hours.
We may not have liked Polaroid’s Instagram camera, but the C3 was worth a second look. It’s a 1.3-inch, waterproof cube that shoots 120-degrees of high-definition video. We like its charm, a stackable soft cube that can be tossed in a bag and used improvisationally. [Read more]
Takeaway: Gadgets aren’t dead, nor is Polaroid’s relevance in the digital era.
Companies like Microsoft imagine a projector in every room, but how could this idea ever be cost-efficient? The Keecker, by former Google project manager Pierre Lebeau, is like a personal R2D2 that rolls around your dwelling to place a screen wherever you’d like. Maybe that still sounds infeasible—but imagine a 2.0 Keecker that mixes a tiny projector with a flying drone. A guy can dream, right? [Read more]
Takeaway: Robots with niche uses could actually be a thing.
In 2012, Sony bought a game streaming company called Gaikai. This week, we learned why. PlayStation Now is a service that will stream PS3 and PS4 games to Sony gaming consoles and Bravia televisions, much like an interactive version of YouTube. This is exciting because it portends a future in which we’ll no longer need to buy expensive hardware to render and store high-end interactive entertainment locally—or when you could play a PlayStation game on anything. [Read more]
Takeaway: The future of electronic entertainment could be driven by cheap, lightweight products.
Twine was an incredible, programmable sensor that you could place anywhere in your life to track things like, is your laundry done or your basement leaking? Mother, though she may look simple, is actually an incredibly smart sensor network that pushes far past the idea of Twine. The Mother base unit comes with four sensors you can stick anywhere you want—like in your pocket where it can be a pedometer, or on your coffee maker where it can track your consumption/bean supply—to track day-to-day activity, and notify you via email, text, or even a phone call when something of note has happened. The extra smart piece is that, while platforms like Twine require the user to code a logic behind each unique activity, Mother will come with preset, preprogrammed activities. So programming a sensor for a specific task is as easy as clicking an option on the computer. [Read more]
Takeaway: The Internet of Things is becoming more consumer-friendly.
Curved televisions have been a huge trend at CES this year. And while, yes, that seems boring unto itself, such curvy screens will drive a whole new wave of innovation across products that, today, have nothing to do with your television. [Read more]
Takeaway: Sharp corners are about to die.