Wearable tech at CES 2014: Expect the unexpected

The weird, wild world of wearables is bound for a lot of chaos in Las Vegas. What will it all add up to? That's anyone's guess.

Pebble, Samsung Galaxy Gear, Fitbit Force: what's next? Sarah Tew/CNET

Wearable tech often feels like either a wide-open horse race or the Star Wars cantina of consumer electronics, and at January's CES in Las Vegas things should get a whole lot crazier. After a year in 2013 where tons of gadgets emerged but none dominated, expect a lot more players into a multifaceted landscape that's still not all that well-defined.

What is wearable tech, for instance? We give it that name because these gadgets are generally small and body-worn: watches, wristbands, clip-on devices, or glasses. They have sensors and possibly screens. They connect with other devices, or phones, or Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth, or receive information from other smart gadgets. They might be health-related, or they might not.

This is what I expect based on what we've seen in 2013.

The Adidas miCoach Smart Run has a continuous heart rate monitor, a rarity among wearables. CNET

Fitness Tech Evolved
Fitbit , Nike , Withings , and Jawbone -- to name just four -- have been actively updating their software and wearable bands recently, adding Bluetooth 4.0 for longer battery life and continuous connectivity. There may be newer announcements from these companies, but I'd expect new players to enter the fold, too.

Expect fitness trackers everywhere at CES 2014: they're cheap and easy to make, and might suddenly turn into the disposable MP3 player of this year. They may not all be good, but that's never stopped a vendor at CES.

Fitness ecosystems may get smarter, more socially connected. Fitbit, Jawbone and Nike have done a good job at being social, but expect others to try to improve on the equation.

More connected devices and added sensor technology could expand the horizons of health tech. Wearable heart-rate monitors like the Mio-powered Adidas miCoach Smart Run and Basis Band are already out there, but other gadgets are bound to introduce sensors that go beyond mere pedometer-based tracking.

Avegant Virtual Retinal Display
The Avegant Virtual Retinal Display. Expect more like this. Sarah Tew/CNET

Google Glass-alikes: the second wave
Now that Google Glass has paved the way, smart glasses, visors and augmented-reality goggles should be in force throughout CES. Some technologies we've already seen, like Avegant's Virtual Retinal Display goggles and the Vuzix M100 smart glasses , may emerge with new software, apps, or hardware surprises. The Oculus Rift, which is more of a VR headset than a true wearable mobile accessory, will be back, backed with new funding and promises of Android support.

Omate TrueSmart: a sign of Android watches to come? Sarah Tew/CNET

Smart Watches 2.0
The Pebble, Samsung Galaxy Gear , Qualcomm Toq and second Sony smartwatch arrived in 2013 to legitimize smart watches, but everything still feels half-baked. What comes next? Maybe 2014 is the magic year when Apple, Google and Microsoft define the territory further, and Samsung and Sony refine their watches one more time. But, Apple, Google and Microsoft won't be at CES. Instead, expect a lot of wild-card watch makers promising better software, displays, or features. Expect start-ups, crowd-funded prototypes, and some entries from less expected big tech companies. Hopefully, someone will do a better job of building an all-around smarter watch that's actually useful. Crazy all-in-one do-every Android watches like the Omate TrueSmart might be lurking around the show floor.

The Jawbone Up supports IFTTT to tap into various ecosystems: could this be the start of a trend? Josh Miller/CNET

The Internet of Things Invades Wearables
Call it "smart home," or connected devices: the Internet of Things has lingered as a catchphrase for a while, promising a universe of little devices and appliances that communicate with each other and form a seamless network. Not many wearable gadgets have promised being able to connect to your home thermostat or your lighting system, but that type of use case could be pushed a lot harder at CES. A smartwatch could be a dashboard for information about everything in your home, not just notifications on your watch. The Jawbone Up app already taps into IFTTT to do some potential interconnected things. Will more wearables take this route?

Will there be weird objects like the Hapifork? Are these even "wearable tech?" Sarah Tew/CNET

The Wild Cards: expect odd surprises
Wearable tech is an odd-duck world striving to be surprising. Fringe tech is bound to emerge that threatens to defy categories. Remember last year's Hapifork smart fork ? I expect at least a few products that make you scratch your head and wonder if someone's playing a prank. Smart hat? Smart shoe? Smart cufflinks? I'm willing to place my bet on at least one of those coming true just as an opportunity to snag social traffic.

 

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