CES 2014 – Innovation in abundance but when is the market for these products going to catch fire?

From 3D food printers to bendable TVs thousands of visitors descended this week on the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to get the chance to catch a glimpse of some of the products that they may, or may not, be using in the months and years ahead. Wearable electronics – whether smart watches or head-mounted cameras – appeared to be the biggest fad with hundreds of companies using the event to demonstrate the latest in wearable devices. Among some of the kit on show were: CSR’s Bluetooth necklace, LG”s Heart Rate Earphones, Sony”s Action Cam, Vuzix”s M100 and the Sony SmartBand and Core.

The Bluetooth necklace from CSR is part of a range of smart jewellery in which the electronics are integrated into the jewellery and the necklace allows users to be alerted to new notifications on their smartphones.

Also on display were a broad range of smart watches including Samsung’s Galaxy Gear and the Pebble; the Wellograph, a smartwatch with a heart monitor that also tracks your movements and the Runphone which uses a sweatband to track your performance when running.

Despite the broad range of wearable electronics on display there’s yet to be a significant take up in the market. And that market is getting ever more crowded with a host of new products.

According to CCS Insight more than $100m has been invested in wearables through crowdfunding sites alone, and they believe this provides some real evidence that there is huge potential for these products.

Analysts argue that health and wellbeing will be important factors in driving the take-up of wearable devices.

The 3D food printers, mentioned earlier, have been designed to make chocolate and sugar-based confectionery shaped in ways that would be extremely difficult to produce using more traditional methods. The Chefjet is limited to monochrome creations, but a larger Chefjet Pro can create multicoloured objects. The machine’s US manufacturer, 3D Systems, conceded that the cost of the products would mean that sales would be limited.

Alongside wearable technology ultra-high-definition (UHD) televisions took centre stage – again.

After past years focusing on 3D TV, Google TV, and “smart” TV this year’s CES has been focused on 4K TV, which promises to offer four times the resolution of HDTV.

Unlikely to be available to mainstream broadcasters – the focus, at least over the next five years, will be on internet based TV services – 4K TV is set to be used to stream new programmes and even the World Cup final, although the number of broadcasters able to transmit it is still unclear. As Netflix’s boss explained the problem for 4K TV will be finding sufficient content.

TV makers, LG and Samsung, showed off a broad range of curved screens. Samsung demonstrated an 85in LCD set which starts off flat but with the touch of a button curves in from the shorter sides.

Curved screens are not universally popular with a growing band of critics arguing that it lacks practicality and is likely to be very expensive.

Alongside Samsung LG also offered a curved TV suggesting that these types of products would offer users an “unrivalled immersive picture” experience.

The technology on display is intended to allow users to determine how bent the screens should be by taking into account how many people would be watching and how far away they would be sitting. The screens have been designed to offer flexibility and can be left flat against the wall when not in use.

However, none of the products will ship in high-enough volume in 2014 to rescue the traditional consumer electronics (CE) device from a decline in revenue this year, according to market analysts IHS.

According to IHS worldwide CE manufacturing revenue will fall to $250.0 billion in 2014, down 2 percent from $255.7 billion in 2013, marking the fourth consecutive year of decline for the CE market.

The traditional CE market consists of a range of devices, including televisions, set-top boxes, digital still cameras, video game consoles and Blu-ray players and has been coming under increasing pressure from wireless devices.

“While exciting new technologies such as UHD and wearable devices are being shown at CES, it will take a few years until these products attain enough of a volume to drive the growth of the overall CE market,” said Jordan Selburn, senior principal analyst, consumer devices, for IHS. “Until these products enter the mainstream, traditional CE revenue will continue to dwindle.”

Global market shipments of wearable devices for infotainment applications will grow to 130.7 million units in 2018, up from 51.2 million in 2013. The infotainment segment consists of products including Bluetooth headsets, head-up displays, imaging products, smart glasses and smart watches.

Another returning theme at CES is the “connected home”. LG demonstrated its “internet fridge” with its US head of appliance brand marketing, David VanderWall, announcing that you would be able to “text the fridge to find out what you need to buy”. Washing machines will also be able to answer texts too, according to VanderWall. “For the first time you”ll be able to text your washing machine “What are you doing?” and it”ll let you know how it”s getting on.”

Samsung launched a system to link together a household”s various gadgets, appliances, and utility controls. Android based its Smart Home service could be used to turn off a home”s lights and TV if the owner said “going out” into a smartwatch app.

Samsung said the service would initially be limited to its own products, but added it planned to support third parties” devices in time.

Neil Tyler, Editor, CIE

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