Three over-the-horizon trends at CES

4 January 2013 by Steve Blum
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Cuanza River, Angola. Open source opens markets.

Everything about CES keeps growing, except the number of big players out on the show floor. Every year, there are fewer mega-booths and seemingly more small companies and start-ups taking 10×10 spaces or tinier ones in group exhibits. Plus side displays in mega-booths set up by big technology partners like Qualcomm or Intel.

That’s a good thing. It’s more work to find the truly new and interesting stuff, but there’s more of it. I’ll be looking for signs that three key trends are about to take off in 2013.

Wearable computing. More details are in yesterday’s post, but the other side of the coin will be machine-to-machine (M2M) connectivity in personal electronics. If the promise of 50 billion connected devices by 2020 will be kept – and I think it will – always-on gizmos you always carry will account for a big share.

Mobile operating systems. Two major Linux announcements have been made. Samsung will make Tizen devices and Ubuntu is building for mobile. Factor in Samsung’s support for its own Bada OS, and a counterweight to Android is emerging.

Android is also a Linux platform (and Apple’s iOS is a Unix-derived cousin). With more Linux flavors in the mix, there’s more incentives to build software development tools and application architectures that can be easily moved across platforms. That means growing competition for Android but also greater gravitational pull to attract developers, manufacturers and carriers into the Linux family. Bad news for RIM and Microsoft, good news for the garage start-ups.

Convergence of the maker movement and developing world entrepreneurs. With 3D printing technologies and a new enthusiasm for crafting physical products, the maker movement is pushing small batch, highly customized products into consumer markets. Much of the technology is open source and relatively inexpensive.

The focus is on boutique items in rich countries. But in the developing world, it’s an opportunity for shadetree Henry Fords to launch national-scale manufacturing ventures. Some are certain to break out into international sales, and those are the guys I’ll be looking for next week.