But the show -- which will take place next week -- is still, undeniably, a major showcase for industry trends. One look at the floor space alone can tell you what trends are up, down, played out or on the rise.
That's truer than ever this year, said John Curran, managing director for Accenture’s communications, media, and technology group. Novelty and moonshot prototypes may get all the glory on the show floor, but he predicts the biggest innovations will come from "continuations of story lines we've seen over the past few years." Here's what you can expect from the big Las Vegas show this year.
Expect to hear a lot more about the "Internet of Things," or the industry phrase for the growing number of appliances, accessories, and other objects that are able to connect to the Internet in some way. This has been a trend for several years -- particularly as chipmakers such as Intel, Cisco, Acer and Dell have tried to drive the push to connect everything from toasters, refrigerators and cars to the Internet.
With the widespread consumer adoption of connected devices that aren't phones, tablets or computers, Curran said he expects to see a lot of interesting partnerships announced as more people catch on to the idea.
Plenty of tech firms have jumped into the smart devices space. Meanwhile traditional appliances and accessories makers are trying to increase the intelligence of their products on their own. With a few exceptions, though, that hasn't been great for consumers. Often, tech companies come up with products that have a lot of neat tech features but don't look good or perform well on a day-to-day basis. On the other end, some accessory and appliance makers have ended up with well-designed appliances that don't live up to their high-tech potential. (Wearables, we're looking at you.)
But with both the traditional and disruptive ends of the spectrum now more in tune with what people want, Curran expects that we'll see some great partnerships come out at CES.
"Expect to see some interesting and unexpected announcements and collaborations," Curran said. "There are more traditional consumer categories coming into the world of connected devices -- things like clinical health care, home security and automation, even consumer drones. That creates for some interesting dynamics, types of participants coming to the show."
Even bigger phones
Not a fan of the recent shift to larger phones? We have bad news for you. The phone-tablet hybrid -- or "phablet," if you must use the industry's inelegant term -- isn't going anywhere.
As difficult as the trend is for the structural integrity of our pockets, it does make a lot of sense. People simply don't use their phones exclusively -- or even mostly -- for phone calls anymore. Therefore, smartphones have evolved as purpose-built devices for Web browsing, watching and shooting video, snapping and sharing pictures and typing e-mails, texts or app-based messages. That's particularly true in markets outside of the United States, where people are less likely to buy a phone and a tablet. So, looking at the trend lines, it's not hard to see why phone manufacturers are enamored with the big screens.
"What we saw last year was that 5- to 7-inch screen size started to pop and come to the fore," Curran said. "We think that trend is going to continue and grow center-stage over the more traditional products that have been highlighted" at the show. In other words, smartphones and tablets, which have been the stars of the show for the past several years. Now that this in-betweener category is coming into its own -- heck, even Apple jumped into the fray this year -- Curran said that we can also expect to see companies play around a little more with different features to stand out from the pack.
No, really: 4K is happening.
Last year, the shiny television technology was the "4K" display, so named because these super-high definition screens can support horizontal resolution of roughly 4,000 pixels. In plain terms, though, these are televisions with a ridiculously clear picture.
The TV industry has been pushing this idea for the past few years, but they have been faced with hurdles in getting consumers to buy them because there wasn't anything to watch on these uber-crisp monitors. But this year, the price of the average 4K television has also dropped as companies get better at making them. And, crucially, there is a lot of 4K video around that people actually watch -- thanks, in part, to support from streaming sites such as Netflix.
The way televisions hook into the rest of a consumer's tech devices will also become critically important, Curran said. "You’ll continue to see a lot of focus on streaming world; the other focus is on how you get the content here, and on how these TVs become part of the Internet of Things ecosystem," he said.
The smart scale will see you now
There's little doubt that the fitness market is a huge opportunity for the tech world right now, whether it's through step counters, sleep trackers or heart-rate monitors. But Curran expects that we'll see the field grow from simply focusing on fitness to users' general health -- a process that means your doctor may soon be analyzing more data about your day-to-day life.
"We'll see a greater merging of the clinical side of health care," Curran said, mentioning devices such as glucose monitors and thermometers, which have a more direct line to your doctor. In the past, these systems have been very expensive -- in part because that data needs to be very protected -- but the costs are coming down here, too.
There's also the fact that people are already used to the idea of wearing monitors to keep track of their fitness and of wearables in general, meaning that it's easier to sell the idea of monitoring to patients now. There may even be a focus on making these clinical tools more fashionable, to make it seem even cooler to appeal to patients, Curran said.
Lock it down
As we open all these doors into the networks, there's also likely to be a greater emphasis on keeping all that information safe. The word "cybersecurity" may conjure images of hackers, faces lit only by computer screens, wreaking havoc on the networks of governments or major companies. But, now that nearly everyone is a techie of sorts, cybersecurity is a very personal thing.
Big breaches this year have started to raise normal people's awareness for protecting their data, rather than just leaving it up to to the big companies. This year, CES is launching a whole section of the floor dedicated solely to "personal privacy and cybersecurity," to accommodate that boom in interest -- a smart move to keep security fears from scaring people away from smart devices.
On the road and plugged in
Last but not least, the connected car will be bigger than ever this year at CES, which has evolved into a major auto show.
Headed into 2015, there was a little bit less buzz around the idea of self-driving cars, which made a huge splash last year. But, again, this year seems to be more about iteration and going mainstream than it is about whiz-bang concepts.
With the high-tech features of the past -- auto-parking, braking assistance, smart dashboards -- now standard in more than just luxury cars, auto makers will be looking to push the possibilities of the smart car even further. Curran predicts that we'll see a lot more practical features such as integration with mapping software, or other devices. He also expects to see more focus on providing logistical, everyday services in cars, such as programs that can remind you where you parked last or even integrate with wallet services to pay for your tolls and drive-through meals.