Smart bed, ’emotional’ Honda and insightful shoes at CES

The LOUDR CJ98 is capable of generating 3,500W of powerful sound, instantly creating a lively, club-like atmosphere (CNW Group/LG Electronics Canada)

LAS VEGAS – The technology industry’s annual CES convention kicks off this week and is expected – as usual – to broadcast what the industry considers to be the top trends of the year.

Press previews started Tuesday for the event, which will be held Thursday through Sunday.Technology companies headed into the 50-year-old showfighting what has become a difficult narrative to shake: that there’s nothing new to show. It has been years since the show has turned out a really exciting gadget. That reflects broader criticism of an industry that seems to have no blockbuster follow-up to the smartphone.

The industry is still innovating, analysts say, but just in a different way. Consumers will see more services instead of gadgets coming out of this year’s show, with products that combine both hardware and software.

Take smart-home technology, for example. This area has been a highlight for several years, and analysts expect it will make some of the biggest splashes in this year’s show.

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Ahead of CES,Samsung touted a robot vacuum cleaner that will work with Amazon’s Alexa so you can clean up using just your voice. Whirlpool is touting a smart garbage can that can compost your trash in one day. Lightbulb company Sylvania announced a smart lightbulb that won’t require its own app to work but will instead integrate completely with Apple’s Siri and Home app. So you’ll be able to say “Hey, Siri, turn on my lights at 7 p.m.” and save some storage space on your phone.

This approach is good for companies in the long run, because it makes them more useful to their customers’ lives, analysts say. But it’s harder to sell in a flashy way.

“The specs are easier to point to and say, ‘it’s 20 percent faster,’ ” said Accenture analyst John Curran. “But the end-to-end innovation is perhaps more exciting in the long run, because they can transform how they’ve gotten things done and create some new experience that was never before possible.”

There still will be eye-popping gadgets of note, even if the top trends that analysts say to watch this year are much like those in years past: Internet-connected appliances, drones, robotics, artificial intelligence and wearable devices.

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LG previewed a levitating speaker that’s supposed to stay floating for up to 10 hours. Under Armour is showing off a new line of smart shoes, which will track your steps and offer insight on muscle fatigue. There are also new areas of the floor devoted exclusively to smart energy tech and sleep tech. Sleep Number has anew smart bed that continuously adjusts itself to make your sleep more comfortable.

A lot more car news is also expected to be coming out of the show, with many automakers showing off their latest ideas for ways to make our vehicles into rolling living rooms – complete with entertainment options, self-driving technology and Internet connections. Ford will use the show to debut its new autonomous driving system. There even will be a car by Honda that is supposed to understand our emotions and develop its own emotions.

The increased presence of automakers and other nontraditional tech companies illustrates how the show itself is growing, said Gary Shapiro, chief executive of the Consumer Technology Association – the trade group that hosts the convention each year. The CES is also highlighting more nontraditional companies, he said. For example, Carnival Cruise Line chief executive Arnold Donald will talk, in a keynote speech, about how his firm is using connected devices to run its ships like self-enclosed smart cities.

While there aren’t that many new types of products to talk about, there’s a lot of growth within categories people already know. Wearable technology exhibitors are up 100 percent, Shapiro said, while virtual reality, smart home, drones and robotics companies have upped their space on the show floor by more than 30 percent. And, he said, each of those types of technologies open the possibility for more accessories and other companies to build on their platforms for future gadgets down the line.