The 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) just unveiled a multitude of new gadgets, devices, and technologies designed to thrill and inspire the consuming populace. And as always, TechRepublic covered the news from that event from head to toe and start to finish.

The show underscored several obvious trends to follow in 2017, including more promises of augmented and virtual reality devices, better and more useful personal digital assistants, and new ways to take advantage of the Internet of Things (IoT) like smart devices, smart cars, and smart homes.

Microsoft is right on top of these trends with new developer tools, new applications, bot interfaces, and even some new hardware. But Microsoft, and all of the companies manufacturing devices or developing the software that drives them, seems to be stuck in a bit of a rut. Along with consumers, they all seem to be waiting for something to kick us into gear.

SEE: CES 2017 Special Coverage (CNET) | CES 2017 (TechRepublic) | CES 2017: The Big Trends for Business (ZDNet)

Microsoft at CES

When it comes to PCs running Windows 10 at CES 2017, Microsoft depended on its third-party partners to do the heavy lifting. Dell, Samsung, MSI, HP, Acer, and more announced new desktop, all-in-one, and notebook computers at this year’s event. As you might suspect, the overwhelming theme is gaming and virtual reality. Could 2017 actually be the year we see augmented and/or virtual reality become a tangible thing? I am still skeptical–I say it is still too soon for this technology to go mainstream.

SEE: Microsoft unveils connected car strategy at CES 2017: “Cloud will do the heavy lifting”

However, the key software for Microsoft at CES 2017 might not be consumer-friendly at all. Developer tools for the Universal Windows Platform may be much more important to the company than any upcoming computers or devices.

Smart cars, smart homes, smart personal digital assistants all require software to run, and Microsoft wants to provide all the tools developers need to create whatever applications are essential to the “smart revolution.” Smart devices also require access to cloud services, which can be supplied by Azure. Microsoft is counting on this need for cloud services regardless of the device or technology.

On the other hand, the personal digital assistant seems to be hitting its stride with consumers and may be 2017’s technology trend to watch. Anecdotal evidence suggests that more “mainstream” users have added the services of Google Home or Amazon Echo to their homes. Of course, with Windows 10 you get the services of Cortana built in. When technical novices enter the digital assistant picture, you know you’ve gone mainstream.

The need for a catalyst

But most of these new technologies, smart devices, and interconnected gizmos seem to be in a holding pattern the past few years. Virtual reality, for example, has been on the cusp of going mainstream for years now. Consumers seem to be waiting for a catalyst–the “killer” app or device that suddenly makes it okay for anyone and everyone to take the leap into a new technology.

The hard part for Microsoft, and any other company manufacturing devices or developing applications highlighted on the show floor of CES 2017, is figuring out what that catalyst will be. Microsoft’s approach of creating development tools, operating system frameworks, and intelligent cloud systems that can support any IoT project may prove to be the most lucrative. Whatever this catalyst is and whenever it comes to fruition, Microsoft should be poised to take advantage.

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Your thoughts

Do you have either (or both) Google Home or Amazon Echo devices in your home? Do you like them? Do you recommend them? Share your thoughts and opinions with your peers in the discussion thread below.