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What's New From Google and GM at the Consumer Electronics Show


Google and General Motors are among the companies worth watching.

You definitely aren't missing a thing by not attending the latest Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this week in Las Vegas. It is, put plainly, 10,000 dog-and-pony shows staged all at the same time in front of an audience of 150,000, and it will be positively the last performance on any stage for many or most of the products shown. But there are a few things you should keep an eye out for as an investor, because they have implications for big stocks, including Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and General Motors (NYSE:GM).

Each CES produces a vast number of products that go nowhere at all in the end, and a few that will show up in stores later this year, and fewer still that will become certifiable trends in consumer technology.

Google and General Motors are not two brand names that are often seen together, but they are linked now as part of an initiative that might be called Computers on Wheels.

So far, that initiative appears to be one of this show's early contenders for real market appeal, along with The Connected Home and Wearable Tech.

Computers on Wheels

The companies involved call it the Open Automotive Alliance.

Google stole the show on Monday with the announcement of an alliance with chipmaker Nvidia (NASDAQ:NVDA) and automakers including General Motors, Honda (NYSE:HMC), and Volkswagen's (OTCMKTS:VLKAY) Audi division that has the goal of bringing smarter and easier-to-use technology to cars.

The alliance will create customized, built-in applications that accomplish tasks that many consumers already have but need another device to use-like a smartphone for navigation services or a tablet to entertain the kids in the backseat.

This is not a brand-new idea. But the wide acceptance of the Android brand -- and near-universal familiarity with Google search services -- might make such apps more desirable and less intimidating to buyers.

There are about a billion people around the world using Android devices now. If this alliance is smart about design, that's a billion consumers who can use this gizmo without a learning curve.

The Connected Home

The Connected Home theme -- also known as "The Internet of Things," which sounds like a Toy Story sequel -- is not a new idea, either, but it's one whose time for broad adoption may have come.

This is made possible by the proliferation of tiny, low-cost sensors that can connect wirelessly to an Internet app that is designed to facilitate a single task.

It might be a thingy to turn the lights or the clothes dryer on or off. Or an app that monitors your home's energy use. Or one that alerts you when the cake is baked.

It's impossible to predict what the breakout gadget will be, and very likely it will be something we never knew we needed, created by a young company nobody ever heard of.

Wearable Tech

Here's yet another cool concept in search of a must-have application.

The smartwatch was out there in many major brands for the holidays, but there's no indication so far that masses of people are eager to strap on a device that alerts them when another device has a new message.

Google Glass has captured the attention of hard-core geeks, but it makes some regular folks giggle, never a good thing in a product that is, in part, a fashion accessory.

But nobody's giving up on Wearable Tech, at least not this year.

South Korean appliance maker LG (NYSE:LPL) is going small, or at least more targeted, in its approach. It is now showing smart fitness wear, in both wrist bands and headphones that track the time, speed, distance, and calorie burn of the wearer's activity.

The impetus for the technology, by the way, is the same as that of The Connected Home -- the availability of those tiny, inexpensive sensors, called microelectromechanical systems, or MEMS.

Beyond Jumbo TVs

Now that everybody has a huge, high-definition television, the only innovation left for now is an even huger, higher-definition television.

LG and Samsung (OTCMKTS:SSNLF) are obliging with curved-screen models that are more than 100 inches across. (The curved screen is a glare-reducer.)

These home-movie behemoths are expected to be priced in the $10,000 range.

More relevant for the real-world mass market, smaller affordable models with that "Ultra HD" or "4K" label, in the range of about $1,000, are expected to show up this year, too.

The "4K" or "ultra" label suggests four times the image sharpness of the current standard.

Manufacturers are clearly hoping that they are the next step up for early adopters. They can hope, but programming worthy of the pixel count is rare, and much of the real quality difference is said to be beyond the range of human vision.

Which brings us to a memory of CES failures past: The 3-D television that was heavily touted in the past couple of years is, apparently, history. The product just never caught on with the home-viewing public.

Not all that surprising considering the low quantity and quality of programming that is available.

See also:

Tech Companies Crash the Connected Home, Make a Mess
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