Science·Analysis

CES roundup: Technology's winners and losers in Las Vegas

Las Vegas made its name as the city where high-rollers win and lose fortunes, but this week the most interesting betting wasn't in the casinos - it was on the CES show floor.

This week's really interesting bets in Vegas were placed by exhibitors at Consumer Electronics Show

Las Vegas made its name as the place where high-rollers win and lose fortunes, but this week the most interesting betting action wasn't in the casinos - it was on the CES show floor at the city's convention centre.

Every year, thousands of companies big and small descend on the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in hopes of attracting attention to their upcoming products and becoming the next big thing in technology.

This year's CES International featured more than 3,600 exhibitors from 140 countries announcing 20,000 products. Many of those who rolled the dice with the introduction of new gadgets and services will ultimately fail to catch the public's attention, but a few will hit it big.

Here are my picks for some of the winners and losers of this year's show.

Hitting the jackpot

Netflix: The video streaming company is continuing to build momentum - even Sony executives at their company's CES press conference on Monday referred to Netflix as one of the most powerful and influential forces in television right now.

A visitor at CES 2015 in Las Vegas checks out the Netflix booth. (Peter Nowak/CBC)

Having amassed more than 50 million customers worldwide,Netflix is increasing its clout in everything from programming negotiations to design standards for televisions.

That second point stands to benefit consumers, as the company will introduce its "Netflix Recommended" program for smart TVs in 2015. TV manufacturers will have to submit their products for testing, and those that pass Netflix's standards will get the company's stamp of approval. Those that don't aren't likely to sell well, at least among the Netflix faithful.

In that way, Netflix will soon force smart TVs to become smarter and easier to use, with faster load times of apps, fewer dropped streams and smoother controls.

Withings: The French company earned kudos from numerous CES analysts and judges for its upcoming Activite Pop fitness tracker.

The Activite Pop step tracker has a battery that lasts up to eight months. (Peter Nowak/CBC)
Resembling an old-fashioned watch with three hands - hour, minute and step counter - it's impossible at a glance to identify the Pop as a high-tech gadget, which is the sort of blending-in that wearables need to do as a whole in order to gain mainstream acceptance.

Like the similar Shine from California-based startup Misfit, the Pop uses a watch battery and doesn't require daily recharging. It's also smaller than many smartwatches because it doesn't have an LCD screen, and therefore needs no bulky battery to support it.

Withings' device, which is expected to start selling for around $150 in the spring, is a good example of a mature wearable - one that has improved on the mistakes of its forebears.

SCiO: After raising nearly $3 million on Kickstarter this past summer, Israel-based Consumer Physics drew big crowds with its SCiO at CES.

The SCiO, a miniaturized spectrophotometer, is shown scanning an apple and sending the data to a smartphone. (Courtesy Consumer Physics Inc.)

The matchbook-sized device is a miniaturized spectrophotometer that allows users to see the chemical components of foods and pills. It can be used to decipher the ingredients of a food item, as well as its caloric and sugar content, and it can spot fake pills.

The $250 US device is expected to ship in July and could have a major impact on how its users eat.

Knowing exactly what's in food and medications could also cast light on all manner of possible hidden shortcuts or misrepresentations being made by producers.

Crapping out

Belty: Every exhibitor at CES is trying to attract attention, but sometimes the interest they generate can be of the negative kind. France's Emotia generated a lot of buzz - and mockery - around its motorized "smart" belt, Belty.

Designed to adjust itself throughout the course of a day - perhaps loosening after a big meal - Belty is a prime example of a convenience trend taken too far.

It's the sort of wearable - an item that doesn't solve a real problem - that gives wearables as a whole a bad name.

Connected toothbrushes: A veritable flood of connected toothbrushes washed over CES this year, with big companies such as Procter & Gamble and small ones such as San Francisco-based Vigilant showing off their Bluetooth-enabled products.

The Vigilant is one of a number of smart toothbrushes unveiled at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show that track your oral hygiene habits and try to provide motivation to improve it. (Peter Nowak/CBC)

The toothbrushes connect to smartphones and some make a game of brushing, awarding virtual badges and trophies to users for various accomplishments.

Such devices are likely to meet the same fate as many fitness tracking devices: Some early popularity, only to end up sitting in a drawer unused, mainly because they require the same thing: willpower.

Tracking devices are entirely dependent on their owners going through the extra effort to use them. 

With some of the connected brushes costing up to $200, this trend has all the makings of an expensive and ultimately short-lived novelty.

i.am.Puls: There are good wearables, such as the Activite Pop fitness tracker mentioned earlier ... and then there is the i.am.Puls, from Black Eyed Peas singer Will.i.am.

The I.amPULS is backed by Black Eyed Peas singer Will.i.am. (Courtesy i.amPULS)

The device, which resembles a thick plastic wristband, is an example of everything wearable shouldn't be.

It's big and bulky and heavy. In a word, ugly.

Worse still, it requires its own Subscriber Identity Module to make calls and use data. While that means it doesn't need to be tethered to a phone to work, it also requires a separate wireless plan. As if one cellphone bill wasn't bad enough.

Corrections

  • This story originally described SCiO's new device as a mass spectrometer, based on information from a company representative. SCiO's chief executive office has since clarified to CBC News that the device is a spectrophotometer.
    Jan 10, 2015 10:27 AM ET

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Peter Nowak

Technology

Peter Nowak is a Toronto-based technology reporter and author of Humans 3.0: The Upgrading of the Species.

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