By just about any measure, the International Consumer Electronics Show is big. The event, held in Las Vegas, attracts more than 150,000 visitors. It occupies 2 million square feet, the equivalent of about 35 football fields, of exhibition space. More than 3,500 companies come to show their wares.
But something has been lacking in recent years: big excitement. Companies have promoted largely unwelcome new versions of existing products, like 3-D television, or new devices with little consumer appeal, like clunky virtual-reality headsets.
This year, though, the International CES may be energized by a wave of new exhibitors chasing a top trend in consumer electronics: the Internet of Things. The term refers to the concept of a world full of connected devices controlled through a consumer-friendly hub, like a smartphone app.
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The new devices at the event, which opens to the news media Monday and to the public Tuesday, will include a Wi-Fi-connected ceiling fan controlled by a Nest Learning Thermostat and automated door locks, light switches and LED bulbs. Under Armour, the sports apparel company that has experimented with smart sports clothing, will exhibit at CES, as will the Girl Scouts of America, which is introducing a new digital app.
“This is the digital lifestyle not just coming into concept but into practical execution,” said John Curran, managing director of communications, media and technology at the consulting firm Accenture. “The Internet of Things is touching almost every aspect of your life, and it’s bringing in a host of new companies and new partnerships.”
Major tech companies that aren’t usually part of CES will play a part in the show, too, because of their relationship to the new generation of connected devices. Although Apple, for example, will not have any official presence at CES, expect companies to announce home automation devices that work with its HomeKit development platform. HomeKit lets companies build smart home gadgets that can be controlled with iPhones or iPads and can even work with Siri, Apple’s built-in assistant.
The stakes for the companies could be huge. IDC, a market research firm, predicts that the global market for Internet of Things devices and services will exceed $7 trillion by 2020, up from $1.9 trillion in 2013.
That sort of prediction and others like it have encouraged companies of nearly all types to seek a piece of the market.
In some cases, companies have joined in head-scratching collaborations, building devices that do not show an obvious need for an Internet connection, but that may find consumer interest anyway. For example, two separate wristbands on display – the Reemo and the Myo – will let their wearers control video games, phones and connected devices in the home using arm waves and gestures.
Other devices are targeting a niche consumer base. Tagg’s GPS-enabled pet trackers can report your pet’s location and the temperature there. Connected workout clothing from Hexoskin will let trainers monitor athletes from afar – even from other countries.
“These devices get new life breathed into them as they become connected,” Curran said. “Aesthetics and fashion become a core component. It’s either hanging in my house or I’m wearing it every day.”
The number of connected devices will generate another unusual discussion point for the International CES: security. Traditionally, the show’s focus on stand-alone gadgets has meant that security and privacy were not a big part of the event.
But security experts are highlighting what could become the year’s biggest security concern: All the new connected devices give hackers potential opportunities to break into home products such as security systems, monitoring cameras, smart TVs and even connected baby monitors.
The anti-virus and security company Bitdefender, for example, will show off its just announced Bitdefender box, which plugs into a home network and can protect connected devices from malicious software.
The show floor will also feature a personal privacy and security marketplace, with more than 70 companies listed as exhibitors.
Cars, too, will be increasingly connected at this year’s CES. In recent years, automakers like Ford, Audi and Lexus have used the show to flaunt new consumer technologies like advanced entertainment systems and even self-driving vehicles.
At this year’s show, Ford’s new chief executive, Mark Fields, and Dieter Zetsche, the head of Mercedes-Benz, will give keynote addresses focus on innovation in the auto industry, including advances in making cars smarter and eventually able to drive themselves.
And for the first time, Volkswagen will also exhibit on the show floor, said Gary Shapiro, the chief executive officer of the Consumer Electronics Association, the trade group responsible for the event.
“With all these connected devices, you get an entire spectrum of technology,” Shapiro said. “It’s a much more future-oriented show.”