Cab rides as mobile offices. Low-battery warnings. Mountains of business cards. Estimating the time it will take to traverse a convention hall—or grab a coffee. Let's face it: there's really no better test for the future of on-the-go productivity than the Consumer Electronics Show itself.
While it's true that the Internet of Things and wearable technology in particular may represent the Next Big Thing in computing, the fundamental problem hasn't changed: how to take data, assimilate it, and apply it to make our lives more productive. Simply put, information needs to be constantly available, close at hand, and contextual.
Viewed through that lens, only a few of the products and technologies announced at the show truly make sense. In fact, three of the five productivity trends I found at CES involve bringing the information you need inside contexts they've never really been before.
1.) Google bringing Android to cars
Neither the Windows nor the iOS ecosystem provide the range of contextual information that Android's Google Now does. So bringing Android to Audi, General Motors, Honda, and Hyundai by the end of the year implies that not only will your car know when and where your next appointment lies, but exactly how long it will take to get there.
If you know the power of Google and Google Now—tracking flight times and delays, the ability to set time- and location-based reminders, dictating email, sending texts—you'll understand that this is an intermediary step to the self-driving car. Because basically, once a car can drive itself, it will become either an extension of your office, your living room, or both.
Sadly, I'd expect to see the car companies repeat the same mistakes as some wireless carriers, adding bloatware or a custom UI that will slow down the system. Ceding the dashboard to Google will be a devil's bargain for an automaker: the Google UI is what the customer wants and will be most familiar with, but it represents a dangerous concession that may diminish the carmaker's relationship with the customer over the long run.
2.) Standalone, voice-driven smartwatches
In my mind, the sleeper hit of the show was the Omate TrueSmart smartwatch, powered by Nuance. I lobbied to include it among our PCWorld Best of Show awards for CES 2014, but lost because not only did Nuance show off the watch at the Hard Rock Hotel, well away from the show, but other editors were paranoid that we'd be awarding a smartwatch that might fail under pressure.
Hooey, on both counts. But let me briefly recap why this is the wave of the future: voice-controlled smartwatches with all-day battery life and their own SIMs will eventually eliminate the need to tote a phone around, as unbelievable as that sounds today. Yes, the TrueSmart is somewhat thick and clunky. But that will slim down over time, as chips from ARM and Intel continue to shrink and add functionality, and battery density improves. A smartwatch represents the epitome of glanceable information, such as the location of one's next appointment. And the ability to set reminders and search for answers with voice alone is an incredible tool.
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