Prologue to CES 2014

January 7, 2014

I have been attending and reporting on the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) now for five years running, and one of the benefits of having done it for a few years is that you get a feel for the ebbs and flows of the trends in consumer electronics.

The first year I attended, in 2010, was the year of the netbook, with low-power and low-cost laptops around every corner. It was also the era of huge push toward HD televisions and displays, and was maybe the turning point for standard-definition video and its demise. It wasn't long after that netbooks got taken out back and put out of their misery by Apple with the announcement of the iPad. That year also saw the last best push of eInk readers that aren't named Kindle, as everyone rushed to compete with Amazon in the e-reader space.

With the iPad announcement and its subsequent release as the first tablet that really mattered, 2011 was destined to be the Year of the Tablet. As it turned out, so was 2012; cheaper, better, faster, and more capable tablets became a mainstay of the exhibit floor, along with a massive amount of infrastructure and support products for them. But netbooks and eInk readers quickly faded into the background of popularity. In 2012, there was an uptake of a new type of "netbook" in the form of the Chromebook from Google and a continued march of smartphones that pushed out entire markets of other products, GPS and pocket cameras among the hardest hit.

Last year, 2013, was the year of Ultra-HD or 4K displays as potential displays. Nearly every manufacturer of televisions, as well as monitors and even a tablets, was promoting that they had more pixels than anyone at the time really knew what to do with. One company even had an 8K display it was showing off, with footage shot by the only camera in the world capable of shooting at that high a resolution. Last year was also the year of self-tracking, with dozens and dozens of companies springing up in the new movement-tracking category, led by Fitbit, but other major players like Nike and Jawbone weren't letting them quietly win the category.

A look at 2014

It's quite a story that I've seen over the years. From traditional computing devices that, while cheap, still relied on a screen, keyboard, and mouse for their interactivity, all the way to devices that users wear and passively interact with users all day. This general move is what I think we're going to see this year, and I have three predictions as to what will be the most interesting things coming out of CES 2014.

The first is the inevitable progression of display resolution. This is going to be the year we we see the first affordable 4K displays coming to market, and as a result we'll see more and more content being produced in that format. The 4K video format is four times the resolution of what we in the US call "high-definition" video (1080p), and as such, it demands incredible amounts of computing power and bandwidth to render properly. But it's here, it's not going anywhere, and libraries should keep their eyes on this because it will, over the next few years, affect everything we do with regards to video: From the monitors we buy and the computers (or other things) that run them to the bandwidth that we consume on behalf of our patrons. The number of things touched by the next jump in video resolution will surprise us, I think.

The second trend I expect to see is a massive increase of wearable computing products. Fitness trackers are only the first tentative explorations into giving people small computers that are functional but passive, gathering data and then putting it into a form that is actionable for the user. We are going to see an explosion of these types of devices over the next few years, and exactly how they get integrated into our lives and used by our patrons remains to be seen. I have a few guesses, but I'm going to see what pops up on the exhibit floor and see if those are borne out by actual product.

The last trend I expect to see is probably the newest and will take the longest to play out, but I think this is the year we will see a lot of press talking about the 'internet of things.' This handy phrase just means "things that talk to each other/other things," but the outcome of such a seemingly simple idea is profound and world changing. There are a host of different core technologies combining to make this work, but they are slowly coalescing around a few technologies (Bluetooth LE as the primary). Objects that aren't normally thought of as "smart" will start reporting data and information as they go through the day. Think: Plants that text you when they need water, books that tell you when they are shelved incorrectly, keys that can't be lost, and lots more will come from the internet of things, but much like wearable computing, the most revolutionary ones are likely not even on the radar yet.

As I go through events and exhibits at CES 2014, I'm going to be paying special attention to these predictions, as well as reading technologies, new advances in 3D printing and other maker technologies, and looking for other ways that libraries may find better and more efficient ways to work and provide services to our patrons.

Way back in 2010 I wrote that Experiences Determine Expectations, which I used as shorthand for the idea that patrons come to expect certain types of services to be mediated by technology as they use those technologies in their everyday lives. CES is where we get a glimpse of what those everyday-life technologies are going to be, a few years before they really matter. In this day and age, we need all the warning we can get.

JASON GRIFFEY is head of library information technology at University of Tennessee, Chattanooga. Read his blog, Pattern Recognition, at Follow him on Twitter: @griffey.


CES 2014 Unveiled

A walk through the official media event