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Wearable Tech

Connected, invisible and everywhere: Wearables at CES aimed to blend in

Sure, there's wearable tech all over the place in Las Vegas. But it's getting harder to realize it's there.

Withings Activité Pop. Sarah Tew/CNET

LAS VEGAS -- "Hey, you're not wearing anything smart on your wrist."

That's what a Mophie spokesperson said to me, and I explained that wasn't true: I had the Withings Activité on my wrist. It looks like a regular watch. It feels like a regular watch. And it's smart-connected via Bluetooth underneath.

The new, more affordable Withings Activité Pop made a splash at this show for its regular-watch looks. So did the new Martian-powered Guess watches. But the funny thing is, these smartwatches just want to look normal. They're not aiming to scream out with a big, bright screen.

As the Apple Watch approaches and an inevitable flood of next-gen Android Wear and Samsung Gear watches make their way to market in just a few months, the rest of the industry seems ready to get subtle. The big thing in 2015 just might be something small.

The crystal Misfit Swarovski Shine. Scott Stein/CNET

Misfit's Swarovski Shine solar-powered fitness jewellery looks like Swarovski jewellery. A crystal-studded necklace, a crystal pendant. You'd never know someone was wearing a smart device just from looking at it.

Japanese glasses-maker Jins has a pair of posture-sensing, fatigue-measuring glasses, and they look just like regular glasses.

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This is happening in smart home appliances, too: subtly connected coffee makers, sous-vide machines, slow-cookers, refrigerators, lamps. Cars companies are working on building in smartwatch compatibility.

Some companies like HTC are already planning a more holistic move into many types of products beyond wearables and companies like Withings are already doing it. And Misfit, a wearable company, is now making smart light bulbs .

What did I see at CES? Not much that individually wowed me, but a lot of indication that people were holding the future close to their chest. Especially when it comes to smartwatches.

The Garmin Fenix 3 fitness watch. Dan Graziano/CNET

There were tons of fitness smartwatches and bands , but the rest of the smartwatch scene seems, for the most part, to be in a state of pause. "Wait for Mobile World Congress," was a common catch-cry. Of course, word is that's when the Apple Watch will debut, too.

And, to add to that, there's lesser-known but increasingly important Baselworld show in Switzerland. Traditional watch manufacturers gather there, but a lot of smartwatch and wearable companies are increasingly in attendance. If we're going to see our next slightly-smart regular watch emerge, it'll be there.

The Sony Smart Eyeglass Attach!, one of several lurking glasses. Screencapture by Lori Grunin/CNET

Glasses -- AR, VR, and everything in between -- are still lurking at CES, tucked away here and there. Oculus Rift , in its latest impressive iteration, was at the Gaming pavilion. Vuzix was tucked in the back of a hall near TVs. Head-mounted displays like the Avegant Glyph were over at the Sands, in TechWest. Epson had new software for its Moverio BT augmented glasses. Sony had a few odd SmartEyeglass prototypes in a corner. Samsung's Gear VR was just released in limited supply over the holidays, but new software is cropping up weekly. Google Glass may have felt like a failure, but wearable glasses aren't going anywhere. They're hibernating, evolving.

As Palmer Luckey said at CNET's Next Big Thing forum, augmented reality and virtual reality will eventually be the same thing. The technology -- displays, cameras, optics, hardware, and the software it connects to -- isn't here yet. There isn't even a CES pavilion for VR. But, next year, that'll probably change in a big way. 2016 might be the real Year of VR.

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As connected devices proliferate, wearables will have more of a purpose. And as Android Wear and Apple Watch push new apps and connections with phones, the ecosystems may finally start to glue together. Manufacturers aren't just waiting for Apple Watch, they're waiting for Google, and the rest of the industry, to make a splash all at once. Meanwhile, the idea of a "wearable" is just another euphemism for "connected." Companies are positioning themselves for the big transition. And that transition -- "connected" -- is the real underlying theme of this year's CES.