The year’s largest consumer electronics trade show kicks off in Las Vegas next week. The event is likely to see the debut of hundreds of new gadgets and devices — some of them more promising than others, and almost all of them breathlessly heralded as the latest in one groundbreaking new trend or another. To help you out, we’ve sorted through what we think are the big claims and judged their chances.
More powerful Android smartphones. This one’s a no-brainer. Samsung, one of the biggest smartphone makers in the world, has just released a new chip that could potentially load devices with up to 4GB of RAM. That’s as much as many laptops on the market carry today. Smartphones have long been described as pocket computers. But this would make the comparison more apt than ever. While 4GB might seem like overkill for what smartphones need to do, the spread of devices with the chip would encourage developers to create new applications that can take advantage of the added capabilities. It could also spur other manufacturers to action.
Larger Apple devices. Apple seems like it’s gotten over its initial reluctance to design new form factors for its mobile devices. Recent rumors suggest the company may be planning a 12.9-inch iPad this year, as well as a 4.8-inch iPhone 6 — a size bump of one-third and one-fifth, respectively. The iPads in particular will be aimed increasingly at the educational sector, though the rollout of in-school iPads recently in Los Angeles was marred when hundreds of students bypassed security controls so that they could access things that, you know, actually make tablets fun.
Google Glass will become (slightly) cooler. We’ve all heard the criticisms about Google Glass: It’s a barrier between you and the world; it looks weird; only entitled, wealthy jerks will use it. But if Google manages to reform Glass’ foreign-ness, it would go a long way toward soothing people’s negative reactions and encouraging them to give the device a chance. And 2014 could be the year that happens. Warby Parker, the upscale eyeglasses designer, is already a year into talks to whip up designer frames for Glass; presumably they’ll have some prototypes to show us this year. While that won’t do much to tamp down the critique that Glass is for rich people, putting Glass in a more familiar form could create the space it needs. Meanwhile, Google has expanded the number of developers with access to Glass, and added to what they can do with the developers’ kit, suggesting that more (and possibly more useful) applications are on the way.
The battle for the living room is about to intensify. The Xbox One was hailed last year as a bid for the future of entertainment. Now that it’s out in the wild, content makers and delivery services all have a platform on which to develop the next generation of TV. With the return of “House of Cards” this month and the promise of films debuting on its service, Netflix is poised to grow even larger in 2014 — even as new services, such as Intel’s OnCue, potentially threaten cable. Meanwhile, rumors about a merger between Time Warner Cable and Comcast may come to a head this year at the Federal Communications Commission.
Wearable technology won’t truly take off this year. People talk about wearable tech as the next big product category, but I’m a little skeptical, particularly given the reaction so far to Google Glass. Don’t get me wrong: There are going to be a lot of new products coming out this year that try to capitalize on the hype. But as they like to say in Silicon Valley, it’s early days yet. Considering how far even Glass still needs to go to become a popular, mainstream product, any iWatches or smart bracelets that are merely ideational at this point have a much longer path ahead of them. First, they need to overcome the “That looks so weird!” factor. Then, they have to prove that beyond surface-level impressions, the devices are actually capable of doing useful things.
Looking even further ahead, I’d argue that most of the technological benefits consumers will see in the next few years will come to them indirectly. Self-driving cars are going to make driving much, much safer — but the technology is probably going to affect commercial trucking first, before it comes to consumer vehicles. By the same token, airborne drones are going to upend shipping — but mostly behind the scenes at first, as freight firms move goods between facilities with giant unmanned airliners.The Post’s Hayley Tsukayama gives of a preview of what to look out for at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show International in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Sandi Moynihan & Hayley Tsukayama / The Washington Post)