With the 2014 edition of the Consumer Electronics Show rapidly approaching, we’re taking a look back at last year’s most promising debutants and how they’ve fared in the months since hitting the CES spotlight. There have been some welcome surprises and a few unfortunate disappointments, though the usual circus of spurious vaporware has failed to materialize.
Hosted in Las Vegas in the first weeks of January every year, CES is America’s grandest exposition of cool new technology, tantalizing prototypes, and quirky sideshow gadgets. Somewhat atypically, 2013 saw more hits than misses, with the unlikeliest of devices finding their way to market, ranging from the whimsical Hapifork to the dual-screened YotaPhone.
Revelation of the year:
Pebble, the scrappy startup that took CES by storm, has outdone even the lofty expectations it inspired during the Las Vegas show. In January, it was just one of many small outfits entering the emergent smartwatch wars, but today the Pebble has distinguished itself as the best device in its category and the company is motoring ahead with plans for its own app store.
The Pebble is simple in both design and functionality, focusing on doing a few things very well. Over the course of the year the tactic has won over critics and consumers alike, and the arrival of more reputable and feature-rich alternatives like the Samsung Galaxy Gear and Sony SmartWatch 2 did little to curb enthusiasm for the Pebble.
Disappointment of the year:
Taking a literally unhinged approach to the laptop-tablet hybrid, the Helix was Lenovo’s answer to the question of what the perfect Windows 8 device should look and act like. The 11.6-inch 1080p display detaches from the keyboard to become an autonomous tablet, but can be quickly snapped back in to gain extra power, endurance, and versatility in the form of a thin and light laptop. With an integrated stylus and an endless variety of positions and orientations, the Helix promised much, but failed to deliver. The ThinkPad Helix will always be notable as the harbinger of the Intel-fueled 2-in-1 mania that’s now sweeping laptop makers, but its unrefined design and extravagant price also earn it the ignoble title of undisputed letdown champion for CES 2013.
See you at the Apple Store:
Always keen to think and act different, Apple hasn’t exhibited at CES since 1992. That doesn’t mean the Cupertino company isn’t paying attention to the show, however, as demonstrated by the Mio Alpha heart-rate monitor. The wrist-worn fitness tracker came to CES following a successful Kickstarter campaign and used the Vegas gathering as the launchpad to a full retail launch. It can now be found in Apple’s accessory store as well as on Amazon.
See you never:
LG Smart Activity Tracker
The Alpha watch completed the ideal trajectory from CES long shot to a mass distribution device, but others weren’t so lucky. LG’s Smart Activity Tracker earned some notoriety during the January exhibition when it debuted looking like a mildly redesigned Nike+ Fuelband, but that infamy might be why it never made it beyond the show floor. The planned summer release never materialized and with fresh competition from Fitbit, Adidas, and a second-gen Fuelband, you can expect LG’s next wearable device to be something quite different from the unreleased Tracker.
Big doesn’t mean clever:
85-inch Ultra HD TVs
Samsung, LG, and Toshiba might well have discovered the point at which TVs become too big for home theaters with their 85-inch televisions. These vast and beautiful displays were unmissable at CES, however their price and enormous dimensions have meant they’re more often seen on trade-show floors than in regular humans’ living rooms. Not even the Ultra HD resolution nor Samsung’s quirky easel stand have managed to turn these outsized televisions into a mass consumer product.
Today’s future, yesterday:
Samsung flexible OLED prototype
For all its hype and exaggeration, CES is still capable of opening a real window to the future of consumer technology. In 2013, it played host to Samsung’s prototype of a curved-display smartphone that seemed like just another example of wistful engineering — serving to show off the company’s technical expertise rather than foreshadowing a new trend. Though that prototype remains sealed within Samsung’s labs, the company has already delivered on the curved phone promise with its Galaxy Round, closely followed by LG and its alternatively bent G Flex. What’s more, a recent patent filing from Samsung shows that the original CES 2013 debutant — with its uniquely convex curvature — may still turn into a real product given the time and the consumer interest.
The future still to come:
The closest thing to experiencing The Matrix in the real world, Oculus Rift stole the show and our hearts during CES 2013. The virtual reality headset that thawed all the built-up prejudice against VR headgear reached the Nevada desert in decidedly prototype form, so it’s no surprise that you can’t yet find it on a shelf at your local Best Buy. It’s still been a busy year for its developers, however, with fresh investment, developer engagement, and even Valve’s vocal support building up to what is hoped will be an unprecedented gaming experiences in our very near future. Look for more from the Rift makers at this year’s show.
Smells like teen vapor:
Teenage Engineering OD-11
It wouldn’t be fair to describe the OD-11 Cloud Speaker as vaporware, but it’s coming mighty close to that unwanted title, still not having shipped a full year after its announcement. Originally planned for a summer release, this high-end wireless speaker only reached the preorder stage in September and will remain there until a projected delivery date in March or April next year. And that’s only for the United States and Sweden. Teenage Engineering has built a great reputation on the basis of its OP-1 synthesizer, however, and all will be forgiven if the excitement that was stirred up in 2013’s show is finally realized in 2014.