Top 6 Tech Product Trends of CES 2011

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by Lori Cunningham

Editors Note:  Big thanks to the hub at NBC who offered me a nice seat, great hospitality, and a fast connection to blog while at the show.   A special shout out to  Gia, Anthony, and Melissa!

Of the six top tech product trends I reported on from last year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), only two made it on the list again for this year, namely Internet enabled TV’s and car technology.  Though it’s true that the other product trends are still popular this year, most of these trendsetters lost some of their steam.  Without a doubt, new tablets were being introduced at every corner, with an estimated introduction of over 50 tablets!  For a view of some of these tablets, see PC World‘s article.  Nonetheless, because of the popularity of the tablet forerunners, especially the iPad and even the Samsung Galaxy Tab, tablet introductions seemed more lackluster than blockbuster so I did not add them to my list of top product trends.  With no further ado, here are the top 6 Product Trends of 2011:

1.)  Even Smarter TV’s – If you were impressed with last year’s TV’s, you’re gonna love the new ones hitting the market this Spring.  The new Smart TV’s include FULL access to the Internet!  You no longer need a separate Google TV set top box to obtain full access.  Apps continue to dominate the Smart TV’s with manufacturers creating more tiered apps…free, paid services, and pay for app markets.  LG even put motion sensors into their remote controls…just point your remote to the TV and a hand appears.  Similar to the Wii, you move the remote and the hand follows on the screen.  Slick! 

2.)  The Smartphone in Control – this is a trend that has been evolving the past couple of years but it is exploding with more devices working seamlessly with smartphones so you can control them.  Most if not all the major TV manufacturers allow you to control their TV’s with an app you can download on your smartphone.  Controlling your TV with your smartphone gives you full touch screen capability with a nice graphical interface.  Using your smartphone eliminates the need for a keyboard in your family room to search for content on your Smart TV.   Other items controllable by your phone include stereo receivers, cars, home control…lights, garage doors, door locks, and even the ability to roll a ball around!

3.)  Apps Everywhere – The apps phenomenon has unleashed itself from the smart phone, Blue-ray players, and TV’s and they are popping up everywhere – in cars, appliances, eReaders, stereo receivers, cameras, printers,etc.  The beauty of apps is that regardless of where you are using your app (smartphone, in the car, on your camera, etc.) your profile information will be accessed “from the cloud” so you can continue on right where you left off.  For example, your que on Netflix can be accessed and added to from anywhere or anything that has the Netflix app available.  Same with listening to and adding your thumbs up or down on your Pandora account.  Companies realize that it’s the content that matters, not the device.  They are designing their apps to work on most devices, Apple, Android, Blackberry, Windows, or otherwise. 

4.)  The Connected Car –  the car is increasingly becoming connected as more evolved technology is being integrated into the car.  Some manufacturers like Ford, are offering their my Ford Touch technology as standard in a number of their new cars in 2011 and beyond.  Current technology in the car such as navigation,voice commands, apps (Pandora, Slacker, etc.), integrated phone support (playing songs from your smartphone, dialing through speakerphone, etc.) are reaching new levels according to leading car tech manufacturers.  Audi has introduced radar detection that identifies front or rear impending accidents and initiates safety mechanisms earlier to minimize injury.  Lane wandering technology alerts users of crossing over lanes through steering wheel vibration.  The window shield is the new monitor providing important driver information so the driver doesn’t need to take their eyes off the road.  My Ford Touch has introduced amazing new features in their new My Ford Touch mobile app that helps new owners of the soon-to-be released all-electric Ford Focus to remotely monitor and control charge levels, locate charging stations, map out travel plans, etc.  Expect to see more announcements of car apps to help you review fluid levels, tire pressure, gas consumption, car location, etc.

5.)  Green Energy – energy savings continues to be a trend for electronic devices.  A number of announcements were made about electronics cars.  Power strips and chargers galore touted their green benefits over traditional charging devices.  Devices with LCD screens promised to show consumers how much electricity was used from the item plugged into them to better educate consumers on their electricity consumption.  New smart appliances recommend times of the day that are best for washing clothes or dishes based on the lowest cost of energy.  You may have heard about the Smart Grid before.  The Smart Grid delivers the electricity as we use today to homeowners using two-way digital communication giving the ability to save energy and reduce costs by controlling appliances in homes.  Homeowners will have a smart meter which interacts with the Smart Grid to delay certain appliance cycles or events (such as washing or drying clothes) dependent upon lower energy use times.  Not all electricity companies have employed the Smart Grid on their energy grids yet, but they are working on it, as prodded along from many US government agencies.

6.)  Smart Appliances – we’ve been hearing about smart appliances for years and although some refrigerators today have LCD screens on them, their functionality is limited.  2011 marks the major introduction of smart (Internet-enabled) appliances by most appliance manufacturers.  LCD screens on refrigerators show homeowners the latest weather, recipes, notes from family members, calendars (some even connect to your online  Google calendar), and more.  No need for wires, today’s connected appliances use WiFi networks to connect to the Internet.  Many manufacturers are offering remote operation of appliances via an app on the homeowner’s smartphone.  Even more interesting is the feature that allows customer service professionals to access your smart appliances via the Internet to possibly fix the appliance remotely.  One last widely touted feature is the ability to provide real-time energy usage data to help the homeowner make educated decisions as to when to run the washer, dryer, dishwasher, or oven…dependent upon 2-way information available from the homeowner’s electricity provider (ala SmartGrid).  For the most part, manufacturers such as LG, Whirlpool, GE, Kenmore, and others currently offer just one smart appliance per category to gauge initial consumer interest.

Note that much of the technology introduced during the show and summarized here are not yet available on the market.  Manufacturers are still finalizing their features and you’ll start to see products out in the market anywhere from late Q1 up until mid Q4.  Stay tuned for more of the WellConnectedMom’s mom tech highlights on Great Mom Tech Products, party scenes from CES, and pictures from the showroom floor.  See Reporting Straight from the Consumer Electronics Show to get an idea of some of the press meetings and learn more about Verizon’s announcement about the iPhone 4G.

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