At CES, 'Internet of Things' showcases the connected life
Everywhere you look at CES, it seems there's nothing that can't be connected to the Internet: Tennis rackets, coffee makers, watches, jewelry, baby clothing, pet accessories, oven ranges and infinitely more appliances and household goods are all getting high-tech upgrades.
It's called the "Internet of Things."
To Shawn DuBravac, chief economist of the Consumer Electronics Association, which organizes the International Consumer Electronics Show, the important consideration is not whether a product can be digitized, but whether it should be. The question, he said, is ultimately "Does it make sense?"
Historically, crowds have flocked to the annual show to find out "what's technologically possible, what's technologically feasible," DuBravac said. "But we're now shifting, and no longer is the focus on what technologically can be done, it's what is technologically meaningful."
With so many competing Internet-connected products vying for attention at the massive event - more than 150,000 people are expected to attend Tuesday through Friday - many will ultimately fail. CES has become a place to "try to differentiate the winners from the losers," DuBravac said. "As we digitize and connect and sensorize an increasing swath of our experience, CES becomes that pruning ground."
It's hard to know where to start trimming. There are 900 Internet of Things exhibitors at CES, the largest-ever showcase of such products and services.
Market research firm IDC predicts that the worldwide market for Internet of Things solutions will grow from $1.9 trillion in 2013 to $7.1 trillion in 2020, although estimates from other firms vary widely.
So you get things at CES like the Wi-Fi kettle, which allows tea drinkers to "start boiling your kettle from anywhere in the house" by using your smartphone, according to its manufacturer, a British company called Smarter.
"For us, it was really the excitement of being part of this growing thing that is the Internet of Things," said Isabella Lane, Smarter's managing director. "Everybody wants to be part of it."
The $129 product had some observers scoffing that starting your tea water via smartphone app solves a problem that doesn't exist. The kettle, and a $199 Wi-Fi coffee maker, will be released in the U.S. in March.
"The idea behind it was born out of sheer laziness, just because we make a lot of tea in our house and we're always bugging each other to put the kettle on," Lane said at a tech products showcase event Sunday.
At a separate booth nearby, Los Angeles-based Dacor was touting its new Discovery IQ range. Cooks can pre-heat their ovens remotely, look up and add recipes to their personalized databases and learn how to cook the perfect meal.
And countless exhibitors were showing off smartwatches and fitness trackers.
The Internet of Things has become so important to the tech industry that Samsung co-CEO Boo-Keun Yoon made it the focus of his Monday evening keynote at the Venetian, telling hundreds of attendees, "It's not science fiction anymore; it's science fact."
The South Korean electronics giant is tackling small wearables such as fitness trackers as well as large-scale home appliances. These days, it's especially interested in improving the smart home experience. Last August, Samsung bought SmartThings, an open home automation platform.
Samsung has been pushing for an open ecosystem so devices work together and companies can collaborate across industries. To that end, Yoon announced that Samsung's Internet of Things devices and components will be open.
By 2017, he predicted, 90 percent of the company's devices will be Internet-connected.
Yoon also addressed the skepticism around the trend, saying the Internet of Things had to logically fit into people's lifestyles.
"We have to prove it's worth it in real life," he said. "We have to show consumers what's in it for them. ... It has the potential to transform our economy, our society and how we live our lives."
Tech analysts said the Internet-connected products with staying power will not only provide information but also recommend new behavior. Products also benefit when they can adapt to events that have yet to happen. For instance, a new sprinkler system that connects to the Internet to find out when the next storm is on its way, and adjusts its watering output accordingly.
One of the leading Internet of Things companies is Nest, which Google bought a year ago for $3.2 billion. Best known for its "smart" thermostat, Nest is working to connect all kinds of household appliances and electronics together for convenience, and to monitor usage and save energy. At CES, Nest announced collaborations with a dozen companies for its "Works With Nest" developer platform, including an expansion of an existing deal with Whirlpool.
Companies and deep thinkers continue to contemplate privacy, security and social aspects of a world where people and innumerable "things" are in constant contact. But for the next few days, the focus is on the cool - and silly.
-Google unveiled Google Cast for audio, a service that streams music to home audio players via smartphones.
The audio service uses the same technology behind Chromecast, a small device that plugs into televisions and enables people to access YouTube, Netflix and other digital video services. With Cast, people use their phones to send music to home speakers.
The service works only with speakers equipped with Cast, which are slated to launch in the U.S. in the spring from brands including Sony and LG. Music can be streamed from Google Play Music, iHeartRadio, NPR One, Pandora, Rdio and more. Spotify is notably missing from the list.
-Samsung unveiled its newest television, the SUHD, which is 2.5 times brighter than and boasts 64 times the color expression of conventional TVs.
-Sony introduced new TVs, including an LCD set only 0.2-inch thick. Sony CEO Kaz Hirai spoke about transforming living spaces to mix fashion and function, showing off a lamp that's also a multidirectional speaker. "It fills up your room with music while obviously lighting up your daily life," Hirai said.
-Consumer electronics makers and Hollywood studios announced that they were teaming up to support and streamline new video entertainment technologies.
Companies that are part of the UHD Alliance - including DirecTV, Dolby, Netflix, Panasonic, Sharp, the Walt Disney Studios, 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros. Entertainment - say the coalition is designed to help consumers benefit from a seamless and high-quality Ultra HD ecosystem. Going forward, premium Ultra HD content and devices will be clearly identified so consumers can easily recognize them in stores.
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