Gadgets

Consumer electronics industry is heading toward world of wearables and sensors

Above: Shawn Dubravac of CEA

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

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The consumer electronics industry is expanding beyond its traditional borders as consumers start to adopt technologies that make use of ubiquitous computing power, sensors, and wearable product designs.

Shawn Dubravac, chief economist of the Consumer Electronics Association, made this observation of the industry at the first press event at the 2014 International CES, the big tech trade show in Las Vegas this week.

Among the trends he sees taking hold are mass customization, thanks to technologies like 3D printing. The 3D printing companies like Maker Bot have their own space at the show now, 7,000 square feet of exhibits, and it’s sold out. He believes about 99,000 3D printers will ship in 2014.

Consumers are also embracing lots of new screens in their lives. As an example, tablets didn’t exist as a big market in 2009. But now, in the U.S., Dubravac said that tablet ownership is expected to exceed 50 percent of households once the numbers from the holiday season are tallied up.

He also said that wearables and the spread of mobile devices are making more new technologies possible. And many of these new devices are autonomous, or able to do smart things on their via robotics or artificial intelligence.

Dubravac said that mobile devices are expected to outnumber computing devices sold to date sometime in 2014 or 2015.

Sensors such as accelerometers are now as cheap as 50 cents per axis measured, Dubravac said.

“We start to waste them,” he said. “Computing goes from a position of scarcity to one of abundance. We would never use computing power to render a graphical user interface in the 1960s because it was scarce. Today, it is in abundance.”

We’re starting to get innovations from hybrids of different technologies. You can make a car smarter by making use of sensors in a car to sense dangerous situations and then tie it to the control of the car through existing technologies such as cruise control. You can use “park assist” technologies to help you with parallel parking, so that you can take your hands off the wheel as your car parks itself, Dubravac said.

He noted that eye-tracking technology from Tobii enables companies to push technology closer to the human interface, allowing us to control devices directly with our eye movements.

He said innovations in radio technologies are also making all of the change possible, as it can be combined with sensors to gives smarts to devices that are far away from homes or businesses.

Dubravac said he expects a few products to be plentiful at the show. The UltraHD 4K TVs, which have four times as many pixels as high-definition 1080p TVs, will sell 485,000 units in 2014 in the U.S.. He thinks that will grow to 3 million a year by 2017. By comparison, 60,000 units were sold in 2013, a slow rate because of the high prices for the devices.

“It’s very positive you see the experimentation happening in the market,” he said. “We are still very early on in how it will roll out.”

Similarly, smart watches will sell 1.5 million units in 2014, growing to 4 million units a year in 2017.

He said that fitness bands are a good example of devices that use radio connectivity to tap more computing power in a smartphone or tablet, which in turn can tap the cloud for more computing power. This kind of design helps leverage the computing power that small gadgets can have access to, Dubravac said.

Dubravac’s slides are available here.

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