Little was big this year at CES.
Usually, it's 100-inch TVs that own the top-story headlines. Those are nothing but concept cars destined to never come to market, but they make for pretty pictures and the media takes the bait every year. Curved TVs were the concept cars of this year's 2014 show, but they honestly don't make any sense unless you sit right in the middle of the TV and since hardly anyone ever does that, you can write this off as a gimmicky little fad.
It was the smaller stuff that triggered the imagination of most of the attendees. Wearable computing and the Internet of Things dominated the show. Keep in mind that it's still very early days and so the usefulness of those products varies widely. There are going to be a lot of beta and 1.0 products with promise that won't be worth using quite yet.
But, there were products at this year's CES — including some that went under the radar — that will be worth watching for business professionals in 2014. Here's our top four.
1. Galaxy Note Pro 12.2
Professionals have flocked to Galaxy Note phablets since Samsung released its first 5.3-inch model in 2011. The extra screen real estate, the ability to multitask, and the refined S Pen input have all been elements that have attracted workers to these devices. The latest Note 3 (now sporting a 5.7-inch screen) sold a brisk 10 million units during its first two months on the market last fall, establishing the product as a powerhouse in the mobile space.
Now, Samsung is thinking bigger with the Note. After releasing a 10.1-inch Galaxy Note in 2012 and an 8.0-inch model in 2013, Samsung announced the Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 at CES 2014. It features a 2560x1600 screen, a premium leather-like finish, bundled software aimed at workers, and Samsung's new "Magazine UX" interface with interactive widgets. Price and availability weren't announced at CES but we expect this one to be available in the coming months at a price tag north of $500 US.
I expected this tablet to feel big and unwieldy, but it only weighs 1.6 pounds and doesn't feel much larger than the iPad Air. However, it's new multitasking UI is going to fire up business users that want a tablet to get work done. That's why it topped this list. Take a look at this CNET video to see it in action.
2. LG 34-inch UltraWide Multitasking Monitor
While not nearly as flashy as a curved TV or a slick tablet or a new wearable device, the LG 34-inch UltraWide Multitasking Monitor could potentially jump-start productivity more than any other product at CES 2014 since it's something a professional could use all day every day. With its 21:9 aspect ratio this thing is wide enough to replace a dual monitor setup in many cases. It's also a lot smarter.
It comes with software that allows you to automatically split the screen in nine different ways, including a 4-screen split. You can even split the screen, connect two PCs or other devices at once, and have one run on the left side of the screen and one run on the right side. LG already sells its 29-inch version of this monitor for $599 so we should expect the new 34-inch to be a few hundred dollars more but less than a grand. It works with both PCs and Macs.
LG wasn't the only company putting out relevant products for the dyed-in-the-wool computer user. Lenovo also announced a gorgeous 28-inch 4K monitor for $799.
3. Hewlett-Packard's Android PCs
HP's headliner at CES was the announcement that it's putting Android on PCs. It's a slightly odd and surprising move given that Google has discouraged this kind of thing and has pushed PC vendors toward Chromebooks (and there were plenty of new Chrome-powered computers on display at CES, including Toshiba and LG enthusiastically entering that market).
However, HP makes the case that Android's robust app ecosystem and the fact that it's already been readied for the enterprise because of BYOD makes it more of a sure thing for businesses. The company released five different models and sees these ranging from video conferencing systems to kiosks to standard productivity devices for knowledge workers. The base prices range from $399 to $899 and the first models go on sale March 6.
4. Pebble Steel smartwatch
There's no question in my mind that the most generally useful of all the wearable devices at CES 2014 was the Pebble smartwatch. The famous Kickstarter project that raised over $10 million in 2012, released its 2.0 product at CES 2014, the Pebble Steel. It also announced that its appstore for the Pebble will launch at the end of January and they've already signed up key partners such as ESPN, Mercedes-Benz, Pandora, Yelp, Foursquare, GoPro, and iControl that will extend the functionality of the smartwatch. However, even its core functionality provides lots of value with its alerts and glanceable information.
The new Pebble Steel features the same software as the original Pebble but sports a major design and materials upgrade, going from mostly plastic and nylon to metal and leather. The Pebble Steel comes in brushed steel or matte black, has a much smaller bezel, and comes with both a metal band and a leather band. It looks like something you'd see a professional wearing, and not just a tech geek.
My two complaints with the Pebble Steel are that it has such a masculine feel that it may limit its audience and the e-ink display looks very 8-bit and retro. The display issue is primarily to preserve battery life. Unlike the Samsung and Sony smartwatches — which tend to last a day or two at best — the Pebble lasts about a week on a charge.
Still, all in all, the Pebble outpaces its larger rivals in the usability and usefulness of its product. However, at CES, Pebble CEO Eric Migicovsky told me that the products from the big tech companies aren't the primary competitors to Pebble. The biggest challenge is people no longer wanting to wear watches.
Jason Hiner has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about how technology is changing the way we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.