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Wearable tech at CES 2017: Expect a quiet year

CNET logo CNET 02-01-2017 Dan Graziano

Sarah Tew/CNET: <p style="margin-bottom:1em;padding:0px 0.2em;font-size:13px;">Will we see new Fitbit news at CES? We'll find out soon. Sarah Tew/CNET</p>© Provided by CNET

Will we see new Fitbit news at CES? We'll find out soon. Sarah Tew/CNET

For the past couple of years, the annual CES trade show in Las Vegas was a hotbed of new wearables. CES 2016 saw the Fitbit Blaze debut at the show, along with plenty of smart clothing concepts. CES 2015 had plenty of fitness trackers, too.

CES 2017? Not so much. 

In the mobile space -- including wearable tech -- CES has begun to take a backseat to the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona (only about eight weeks later) and company-specific events, such as Apple and Google's annual developer conferences.

In the wearable market, we aren't expecting any major announcements. There are several reasons: A late flood of watches and fitness trackers that arrived in the summer and fall means that companies have just begun their product cycles. Meanwhile, smartwatch sales are tanking, and we are seeing more companies pull back on releasing new products. If there is anything noteworthy, it will likely focus on health and fitness, but it probably won't have the mass appeal of an Apple Watch or a Fitbit.

But that doesn't mean there won't be plenty of companies trying to make a splash. 

What's on deck from the major players

Two of the biggest names in tech -- Apple and Google -- don't even attend the show, at least not officially. While we will likely see hundreds of Apple Watch apps and accessories, there will be no new products from the iPhone-maker, which shouldn't come as much of a surprise.

Google has already indicated that its delayed Android Wear 2.0 software will finally hit in 2017. But we don't expect any high-profile new hardware -- including those two new flagship smartwatches -- to be unveiled in Las Vegas.

Samsung has a big presence on the show floor, but we aren't expecting any new wearables. The company will likely focus on other product categories (TVs, appliances, smart home), while promoting existing products, such as the Gear Fit 2 and Gear S3.

Fitbit had a big 2016. The company refreshed nearly its entire portfolio over the course of the year with the release of the Blaze, Alta, Charge and Charge 2 fitness trackers. We aren't expecting much from Fitbit, although there is a slight chance we could see an update to the company's GPS sportwatch, the Fitbit Surge, which was released over two years ago.

Garmin is one of the few companies to actually see shipments and market share increase this year, mainly in part due to its focus on niche sports watches. As for new products at the show? There is a good chance we see something. Garmin has a history of announcing new watches at CES. We saw the Fenix 3 multisport watch in 2015, followed by the Fenix 3 HR in 2016. Perhaps 2017 will be the year of the Fenix 4 or another Fenix 3 variant? 

There could be some cool concepts

Smartwatches and fitness trackers are stuck in a rut. Innovation has slowed down, battery life hasn't improved, and too many of these devices are still dependent on a phone, but CES is always a chance to show off some interesting products.

A handful of companies usually dazzle us with futuristic product concepts, many of which focus on health and fitness. In 2016, Samsung showed off smart clothing and Intel wowed me with its Radar Pace smart sunglasses, which were eventually released this past October.

What could we see in 2017? I'm predicting three things: voice assistants in watches, more personalized coaching as well as feedback and longer-lasting battery tech. We've seen examples of these trends in products like the Alexa-compatible Martian mVoice watch and Matrix Powerwatch, which -- according to the company -- never has to be charged and runs off of your own body heat. 

Expect vaporware -- but hope for a surprise

CES has become a show about startups and crowdfunded ideas -- and prototypes. On all these fronts, expect a few odd ideas and a lot of vaporware. There will be hundreds of Chinese knockoffs that we will never hear from again. And remember that even more established companies can miss deadlines. Last CES, I was really excited about the Mio Slice fitness tracker, but it's December and I am still waiting for it to hit the market.

That said, there's still plenty of room for a surprise or two. Just like my colleague Claire Reilly, I'd love to be totally wowed by a new wearable.

Make it happen, CES.

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