What’s hot this year at the Consumer Electronics Show

Frank Gorman of Gorman & Williams is back in Las Vegas for the annual Consumer Electronics Show. And, just like last year, he’s graciously offered to write a few dispatches about his trip.

The following is an overview of CES, which concludes Friday. Gorman co-wrote this with Mike Yang, counsel to Micro Focus and a former colleague who is also attending CES. (The views expressed below are Yang’s, not those of Micro Focus.)

For attendees, traveling light with comfortable shoes is a must. Over 2,500 companies are showing products and services throughout 1.8 million net square feet of exhibitor space. There are 15 miles of aisles to walk with lots to see and touch.

Propelling most of the innovations are products from a company that is not a CES exhibitor: Apple. The iPhone and the iPad, and to a lesser extent their progeny from other manufacturers, are being used for applications across the board. Companies showing iPad and iPhone-compatible accessories abound, and compatibility with these “smart” devices appears to be a key selling point.

CES also has a variety of educational conferences, covering topics from privacy concerns to copyright infringement to the “spectrum crunch” threatening the expansion of the wireless economy. There are keynote speakers from leading tech companies, such as YouTube and Qualcomm , who assess their industries and predict the future. Steve Ballmer was the kickoff keynote speaker, even though Microsoft announced last month that it will not be back to CES next year.

Here are a few of the product areas that are generating excitement at CES this year:

Automobiles

Six auto manufactures are displaying electronic technologies in their new models — Ford, Audi, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Chrysler and Hyundai. (OnStar, a GM subsidiary, has a booth for its service as well, though GM is not showing any of its vehicles.) They are incorporating into the dashboard electronic access to navigation, music, news and information by syncing with the driver’s smartphone with systems supporting both Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating systems.

Fitness and Health

Twenty or more exhibitors are demonstrating monitoring devices a person wears to track heart rate, calories, cholesterol and many other indicators of fitness and health. This data can be wirelessly transferred to a phone, tablet or PC, but what use is made of the information depends on the individual. Transmitting this health data still presents technological and practical challenges.

Apps for Everything

Companies are creating apps and teaming up with platform providers to make it easier for consumers to access their services. For instance, NPR is using Ford’s advanced smartphone control interface (“SyncAppLink”) to provide an in-car app dedicated to on-demand news and information. There are apps that enable all sorts of media consumption, including ones that launch video exercise routines. Apps, whether for iOS, Android or other operating systems, are everywhere at CES this year.

Gaming

Smartphones, tablets, 3D displays and Internet-connected televisions are providing new platforms for gaming. No longer will gamers be limited to Xbox, Playstation, and Wii consoles. The greater dedicated processing power of the consoles assures their viability for now, but the long-term future of gaming consoles in uncertain.

Home Appliances

Controlling home appliances for energy savings and convenience has arrived with the ubiquity of Wi-Fi connections and the introduction of connected appliances. This year, companies such as LG, Samsung and Haier are promoting numerous appliances and their sophisticated control technologies. In addition, manufacturers such as Whirlpool are offering appliances that know how to operate more efficiently to save energy.

Beneath the surface at CES are issues that will prove challenging in the short and long term. First among these is the availability of wireless spectrum, a finite resource. The increasing need for wireless connectivity requires greater spectrum. Engineers have developed, and are continuing to develop, more efficient ways to use the existing spectrum to allow more users and more wireless use.

Making more of the spectrum available for wireless services, however, is tied up by legislation in Congress that would regulate the FCC’s management of the spectrum. The FCC would like to conduct voluntary incentive auctions that would free up more spectrum and provide billions of revenue to the federal government, but Congress wants to set ground rules.

Hopefully, a tug of war between licensed broadcasters and unlicensed, users such as Google, or between congressional Democrats and Republicans, will not impede the effort to provide more broadband.

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