For decades, the International CES has kicked off each year by unveiling the next generation of consumer electronics innovations—a massive and impressively well-attended event that has continued to grow, overwhelming all but the most savvy visitors. As the International CES’s official partner for Apple-related products, iLounge collaborates with CEA on the annual iLounge Pavilion, which hosts more new Apple accessory debuts than any other event in the world.
Starting this week, our editorial team will be arriving in Las Vegas for the 2014 International CES, home to the largest iLounge Pavilion in history, and we’d like to offer a broad preview of the major Apple-focused trends you can expect to learn more about at this year’s show. Most are intriguing, though iterative, while a couple are unsurprisingly a bit sad. Regardless, there’s going to be a lot of news coming out of the show, and our team has set up a CES mini-site to handle all of the announcements and details you’ll care about. Here are the big trends we’re expecting this year.
1. The Growth of Bluetooth 4. One of the biggest Apple-related themes we’re expecting to see at CES is wider use of the Bluetooth 4 wireless standard that first appeared two years ago (!) but has been trickling slowly into accessories throughout 2013. We’ve already reviewed handfuls of Bluetooth 4 speakers, earphones, fitness sensors, styluses, and wearable accessories, but we’re expecting to see a lot more of them at this year’s CES.
Why does this matter to Apple users? Bluetooth 4 accessories can consume far less power than their Bluetooth 2 and 3 predecessors, enabling Apple’s devices and the accessories to run for much longer periods of time between recharges. A switch from Bluetooth 2 to Bluetooth 4 more than tripled the battery life of Nike’s FuelBand SE, for example, and heart rate monitors can now get up to six months of run time on a single battery. Bluetooth 4 also enables much faster pairing, as well as app-specific pairing without the need to visit iOS’s Bluetooth settings menu. Digital styluses and wearable accessories have become a lot better thanks to Bluetooth 4, and we’re hoping to see more of them at CES.
2. Little Lightning Innovation. Apple’s high Lightning connector licensing fees and related development restrictions have stymied the growth of sequels to 30-pin Dock Connector accessories. We expect very little in the way of true Lightning innovation at the show, as many major developers have cut back on Apple-specific docking accessories in favor of Bluetooth or USB solutions due to Apple’s policies.
This isn’t to say that there won’t be new Lightning products on display — just that they’re most likely to be iterative, from smaller developers, and offered alongside universal connectivity options. Expect a number of new Lightning cables, batteries, and simple docks to show up, but be overshadowed by non-Lightning options.
3. iOS Game Controllers and Toys. Although the first round of iOS-specific game controllers were released just in time for the holiday shopping season, we’re expecting to see a new round of controllers debut at CES. Good news: expect interesting new form factors and in some cases new features relative to existing options. Bad news: don’t expect better pricing, as the controllers will continue to cost twice as much as superior third-party options available for other game consoles.
On a related note, we’re really looking forward to seeing new iOS-compatible toys at the 2014 CES. There are definitely going to be a few seriously cool announcements, with some toys that clearly go further than the best designs we’ve seen in prior years. As with audio and charging accessories, however, we expect that the toys will largely be device-agnostic, so Apple fans won’t be the only people who can have fun with them.
4. Health Accessories. We’re expecting to see a bunch of new iOS-ready health and fitness accessories debut at CES this year. The major themes will be “things you might never have expected to track with your iOS device,” and surprising form factors. Exciting? Well, that depends on whether this category of accessories matters to you; at the right price points and with the right features, some of these products make a lot of sense. As developers continue to integrate tracked data from multiple types of devices into umbrella apps, and add more tracking into individual devices, they’ll become more exciting.
5. Wearables. Just as was the case last year, we’re expecting a bunch of new watches and other wearable, non-fitness accessories to debut at the 2014 CES. Most will be powered by Bluetooth 4, and if early whispers are any indication, very few of them will be worth buying — they will substantially be sequels to or variants upon prior-generation releases. The two things that we’re expecting to see improved in these accessories this year are battery life and much better support for iOS notifications. These are relatively easy changes to make to prior-generation “smartwatches.”
We’re hoping to be surprised by more groundbreaking announcements from real companies at the show; there has been more activity in this category than we would have expected one year ago. Unfortunately, a lot of the most exciting-sounding wearable developments have been from small startups with little chance of getting their products to market in the forms or timeframes promised.
6. More Accurate Spare Batteries. iPads, iPhones, and Macs are capable of doing something iPods don’t do: providing granular power remaining indications as a percentage, so you know that 63% of your battery is left rather than “2 bars out of 4.” Similarly detailed measurements will be coming to quite a few companies’ external batteries this year, and we’re expecting that there will be a variety of different iterations on the theme.
7. The Crazy. Judging by some of the early things we’ve seen, you can also expect the standard quota of straight-out crazy product announcements this year — “appcessories” that no one ever expected and most likely wouldn’t be willing to pay for, and bizarre hybrids of two prior product categories into one item. It wouldn’t be CES without these sorts of announcements, would it?
Stay tuned to iLounge for coverage of the great, good, bad, and crazy at the 2014 International CES, coming very soon!