Part of the fun of the annual International CES tech show is seeing all the prototypes and concepts that will never see the light of day, but do contain the grains of ideas that will show up in products down the line. But there are also plenty of products for the more practical among us, who want to see tech innovations that will help us now, or at least in the near future. Here's a rundown of products that actually seemed useful -- and set to hit store shelves soon -- at this year's CES.
Vysk: Our smartphone cases can often be viewed as an extension of ourselves, thanks to the range of patterns, forms and features they can have. With the Vysk case, though, one thing will be clear: this is the phone of someone who doesn't want to share. The privacy-focused smartphone case company makes a line of cases made for the everyday consumer as well as for professionals who seriously want to keep their information to themselves. All cases have sliders that can obscure your phones cameras when they're not in use. The mid-tier ($40) version is a charging case, while the soon-to-be released top-tier ($230) version shuts down your phone's microphones and routes all calls through its data app.
Vysk also makes software for iOS devices that promises to encrypt photos and messages -- in the latter case, as long as both sides of the conversation has the software.
SlingTV: Okay, so SlingTV isn't a gadget per se, but it is something new introduced at CES, and something that a lot of people would probably have interest in. Dish's new service costs $20 per month, with no contract, and gets you live television from major channels such as ESPN, TBS, HGTV, the Food Network and the Disney Channel. And it's available on a wide range of platforms.
Is it the cable killer? Not for everyone, particularly for those who want channels that the company's not offering. But it's certainly an interesting product, and the fee is still cheaper than most people's cable bills -- even when combined with the monthly subscription fees for Hulu and Netflix.
ReSound LiNX hearing aid: This little -- and I mean little -- hearing aid may seem like a niche product, but the problem of hearing loss is more widely spread than you might think. According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, around 20 percent of adults in the U.S. report some hearing loss; that number jumps to one in three over the age of 65.
This device hooks up with your smartphone, and its accompanying app lets users set up audio profiles for specific places, such as restaurants. It will also pull in audio from your smartphone or even your television, so that you can go easy on the volume button. And, if you ever lose it, there's also a useful little tracker feature on the app.
Dart laptop charger: One big pain of hauling your laptop -- any laptop -- around is carrying around the charger. In many cases, even sleek laptops are accompanied by big brick chargers, which take up a lot of space in a carry-on, and are not exactly portable. I, personally, have had many square-shaped bruises from toting heavy chargers in my time.
The charger is an MIT project that went to Kickstarter, and supports most major PC laptops and the plugs for multiple countries. It also comes in pretty colors -- something you can't normally say of chargers. The Dart laptop charger is up for pre-order for $90, and is set to ship this summer.
Vectu Nano: The smallest of Aspenta's line of GPS trackers, the Vectu Nano is a little device that lets users track their belongings, vehicles or even their family members all around the world. Aspenta is a U.S.-based telecommunications company with networks in 190 countries across the world, meaning you have a wide area for tracking. And the $79 Nano can fit in your palm or your pocket, for unobtrusive tracking. For the Nano, a service plan costs just $24 per year.
Representatives at the booth suggested that it could be particularly good for parents who have children studying abroad. In other words, if Liam Neeson had one of these, the whole "Taken" franchise would have been a lot shorter.
3D Systems ChefJet: Really? A chocolate printer makes a list of useful gadgets? Okay, I admit that this isn't exactly great for home use, but one could really see how it would be useful for caterers and other food professionals who want to add a little something extra to their offerings. The company also make sugar printers which, according to the chef at the 3D Systems booth, can print multiple designs simultaneously.
For the average consumer, that could mean being able to send in custom designs for cake-toppers and favors without having to pay a premium price to your caterer. That's pretty cool, right?
Bragi's The Dash: We've all probably gotten tied up in headphone cords at one point or another, whether you're traveling, running or just trying to get a moment to yourself. Bragi's "The Dash" headphones are the companies solution to that problem -- a pair of wireless Bluetooth-connected earbuds that double as fitness trackers.
The headphones aren't for everyone. They are pricey, and not yet out -- order now, and they should ship in April 2015. But as a consumer product, they're certainly useful and hopefully a forecast of things to come. As soon as we figure out a way not to lose them.
Intel Compute Stick: With the Intel Compute Stick in hand, nearly any television can become a PC. The $149 device, which was being shown off at the Intel booth, is more or less a complete computer that can plug into your television's HDMI port to make it into a Windows 8.1 or Linux computer. And it does all that for $149, and is about the size of a pack of gum.
It's a pretty respectable computer. The Windows version has 2 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage; the Linux version has 1 GB of RAM and 8 GB of storage. It also has a full-sized USB port, a micro USB port, and Bluetooth and WiFi capability. It got a little lost in all of the crazy announcements Intel made this show, but is -- in a practical way -- much cooler than a mood-sensing spider dress.
Withings Activite Pop: This smartwatch is remarkable for not looking like a smartwatch -- a definite point in its favor as the tech world tries its hand at becoming fashionable. It's not a fancy accessory by either tech or fashion standards, but it does have an accelerometer that can count your steps, and Bluetooth connectivity, even if it doesn't have a touchscreen.
The device costs $150, and is available in blue, grey or beige. It was available through Best Buy's Web site, but appears to be sold out. It will see a wider release in March.
94Fifty Smart Basketball: Not quite getting that layup? The $180 94Fifty Smart Basketball will tell you exactly what you're getting wrong and how to correct it over time. This piece of smart sports equipment from InfoMotion Sports Technologies was named as one of the show's Best of Innovations Awards honorees, thanks to its sensor-laden basketball and companion software that gives users information on the speed, angle and timing of their shots.
This, too, may be more interesting because of what it forecasts in its space than what's actually available on the market now. There were other examples of smart sports equipment already on display at CES, including a smart tennis sensor from Sony that tracks your swings.
Honorable mention - JuiceBoxx: Sometimes solving the little problems is as important as solving the big ones. JuiceBoxx is only useful for Apple laptop users, which is why I decided not to put it on the list at large. But this charger case is useful if you've ever had problems with the cords of your MacBook charger fraying at the joints -- a common problem for Apple fans.
The product, the brain child of two students from The Ohio State University, comes in classic candy iMac colors, and has raised more than $31,000 on Kickstarter. It's expected to ship next month.