#DigitalSkeptic: What to Look for at CES in 2014
NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- It looks like the loonies are loose yet again in consumer electronics.
Is it me, or has this barest of bull equity markets and the tepid demand for initial public offerings brought out the lunatic fringe in consumer tech? It seems like forever ago, but it was just last month that real upside loomed in the consumer gadget. There were legit, value-creating advancements in major platforms such as the Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft's Xbox One. And clever startups were making progress. I liked Carvana's new spin on selling used cars and Medium Machinery's fresh take on desktop manufacturing.
Sadly, that Indian summer of good new ideas is over. At least based on my pre-trip discussions and reading ahead of the 2014 International CES in Las Vegas next week, the rare respite of common tech sense has been lost in a frenzy of dubious new ideas. Beneath the hype for mega-trends such as the connected car, wearable devices and cheaper high-resolution TVs lie some out-there ideas -- including appliances that send text messages and robots that fly paper airplanes.
And it's not like this past holiday shopping season was truly huge. "The final online shopping week saw considerably softer sales than anticipated, including zero billion-dollar spending days," said Gian Fulgoni, chairman at comScore, the Reston, Va. digital data tracking service.
That means the truly dubious trends lurking at the 2014 International CES will have plenty of weakness to fester in. Here's what to watch for -- and plan for -- so investors can make it to 2015.
1. The smart home stays dumb
Hip startups such as Palo Alto, Calif.-based Nest Labs and Brooklyn's own Canary have without question brought much-needed fresh blood into one of great zombie zones of tech: the so-called smart home. Though the kiddies won't remember this, we tech geezers saw firsthand how giants such as Westinghouse, GE and Microsoft got lit up over the past 40 years trying to connect home thermostats, control systems and video cameras over various networks. So it is with real cringing that we watch the similarly monstrous Cisco, Samsung and Lowe's jump into these dangerous waters without a clear sense of the upside. Even scarier, the smart-home market is now populated with several race-to-the-bottom startups such as Alarm.com and Pie Network. And low-cost, global gadget makers such as Archos have effectively commoditized still-undeveloped products such as dirt-cheap connected thermostats, video controllers and tablet interfaces. What's I found truly telling was that two Nest representatives flatly refused to comment on the actual number of homes their devices serve -- implying to me that most homes remain very much dumb ones.
What to plan for: The Smart Home in 2014 will be like the 3D TV way back in the year 2000: a great idea that goes nowhere.