The 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show opened this week at the Las Vegas Convention Center. More than 3,200 exhibitors will present both retailers and the media with the latest in consumer technology.
NPR technology correspondent Steve Henn joins Here & Now’s Meghna Chakrabarti to discuss what items are already selling and what the next major technological breakthrough will be.
MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI, HOST:
From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Meghna Chakrabarti. It's HERE AND NOW.
We've been keeping an eye on the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas this week, where some of the most cutting-edge innovations in technology are on display. And beyond the flashy gadgets and things like Internet-enabled underwear - yes, that's for real - the electronic show does actually gives us a glimpse into where innovation is headed.
NPR technology correspondent Steve Henn is there, and he joins us now from the show floor. Hi, there, Steve.
STEVE HENN, BYLINE: Hi. How are you?
CHAKRABARTI: I'm doing well. So, Steve, one thing we've been hearing a lot about are cars, and connected cars, at this year's show. In fact, I saw that the L.A. Times wrote that the hottest gadget this year at the CES is your car.
HENN: That's right. You know, there's a big push on - in the consumer electronics industry to transform your car into sort of a smartphone on wheels. And there are a couple of things that have happened just in the last, you know, few months and - or - and have been announced at the show that seem to signal that we might be at a tipping point, here.
So, cars have been connected with things like OnStar, using mobile technology, for 15 years, but the connection speeds are getting much faster. Audi has announced that it has a high-speed connection going into a car that it will start selling this year. GM announced the same. The other interesting thing is that big software development companies are trying to create common standards that will allow app developers to build apps really designed for driving, as opposed for your smartphone.
CHAKRABARTI: Right. So let me ask you about the - those - the connectivity question there. Because, as you mentioned, Audi and GM, I think AT&T is providing the connections there for both of those companies. But I'm wondering: Wireless technology changes so very quickly, at least faster than cars are developed. So by the time these things...
CHAKRABARTI: ...actually make it on to the road, are they running around with obsolete technology?
HENN: Yeah. I think that's been a problem in the past. And beyond that, after you've driven for a few years, they are going to be running around with obsolete technology. So, you know, the industry is trying to figure out a couple of different approaches to this. There's some interest in figuring out whether or not there could be modules that you plug in so your - the smart, you know, infotainment of your system can be updated. But the other thing that they're doing is trying to create software systems that are upgradable over the air, so you can basically upload in your operating system, and then create standard technologies that they can all work with over time.
But this creates a whole host of problems, right? You know, the way we connect our smartphones to the Internet today is, as you said, a totally different technology than just a few years ago. So there are going to be challenges for this, you know, going forward for quite some time. I think the other big challenge that I'm fascinated by is security. I mean, you connect things to the net this way, and you can attack them through the net this way.
HENN: So that's going to be something to watch going forward, too.
CHAKRABARTI: A major issue, in fact. Interesting, that you pointed that out. Now - I mean, so there's all these big issues that you just mentioned. But the headlines seemed to be grabbed by things like Internet-enabled underwear, which I did mention, and...
CHAKRABARTI: ...an Internet-connected toothbrush and smart fork, et cetera.
CHAKRABARTI: I mean - but this...
CHAKRABARTI: ...really aren't technologies - some of them will never make it to consumers. Others take a while to really, you know, take off. What should we be...
HENN: Or completely fizzle. Right.
CHAKRABARTI: Or completely fizzle. What should we really be watching out for, coming out of the CES?
HENN: Well, I think, you know, technology enthusiasts and people in the industry come here to check out those things, and they're fun to talk about and see. But I think what really happens here, often, is that themes become really clear. One of them right now is the Internet's connected to everything. And so the big, smart tech firms like Apple approach the show and look for technologies that they can acquire or build into their products that will give them a way to sort of make those broad, chaotic visions real over time. And I think that's why this show is so much fun.
CHAKRABARTI: NPR technology correspondent Steve Henn, speaking to us from the floor of the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas. Steve, great to talk to you. Thank you.
HENN: Oh, thanks for having me. Take care.
CHAKRABARTI: You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.