CES 2015: The Internet of Things, All the Time

Every January, tens of thousands of journalists, tech executives, developers, startup kids, hardware freaks, and gamers descend on Las Vegas for the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which fills the gargantuan convention center.

While tech pundits have spent the past several years debating whether CES can maintain its relevancy (with more than a few predicting its eventual demise), the show remains a valuable way of seeing what tech companies think will prove a big hit with consumers and businesses in the coming year. One year it was smartphones, for example; the next, tablets; somewhere in there, hardware makers seemed convinced that 3D was the way of the future.

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This year, the driving category seems to be The Internet of Things. Door locks, thermostats, appliances, light switches, automobiles—all seem to be fair game for digital-age upgrades. That’s in addition to the activity trackers, Internet-enabled televisions, next-generation games, and apps of all kinds that some 3,500 companies will spend the next week actively pushing on the convention-center floor.

(The sheer size of CES makes it extraordinarily difficult for smaller companies to stand out; more than one startup over the years has devoted too much vital capital to buying a booth at the show, only to watch in dismay as their efforts went totally ignored by the press and attendees. So here’s a piece of advice for startups from your humble correspondent, who has watched too many companies go down this road over the years: Making a potentially company-breaking bet on CES coverage is never a good idea.)

Just because the Internet of Things seems poised to dominate CES doesn’t mean that the industry and consumers will automatically embrace the technology over the next twelve months, at least in the way these companies might expect. During a CES keynote in 2010, Microsoft and HP unveiled a sleek tablet that ran Windows, but none of the companies pushing tablet technology at the show went on to dominate that submarket—that honor went to Apple’s iPad. In similar fashion, tech companies over multiple editions of CES pushed 3D technology in phones and tablets, which never seemed to seize the popular imagination outside of movie theaters.

That doesn’t mean the Internet of Things won’t become the Next Big Thing. But it might evolve in ways that nobody at CES anticipates—and the company that takes the spoils might not even be present at this year’s show.

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