By Paul Miller January 13, 2015

CES 2015 in a single gadget

Boring is beautiful

Last year, as a sort of quasi gift guide, I wrote down my thoughts on wearable devices. In a nutshell, a wearable device should augment the wearer as a person. It should improve or add to a human's senses and understanding, not present a human with another computer to manage and "compute" on. In this sense, products like Google Glass and the Apple Watch are worrisome if they focus too heavily on being computers. The solution to non-intrusive wearables is, naturally, another buzzword: "the internet of things."

CES this year was a coming out party for the internet of things, as Nilay Patel at The Verge explains:

Yes, there was a lot of garbage at CES Unveiled last night. There’s always a lot of garbage — it’s part of the show, the texture that makes the whole thing fun. But there were also a lot of super interesting new gadgets, more than I’ve seen in years. Why? Because the maturity of iOS and Android, the proliferation of cloud services, and the commodification of cheap sensors and wireless chips means that it’s easier than ever to make gadgets without having to reinvent the entire wheel every time.

Because of "the cloud," a gadget's interface and administration can be removed from the hardware itself and placed somewhere that makes more sense: like your smartphone or web browser. Nothing benefits more from this development than wearables.

Siemens easyTekSiemens easyTek

A prime example is the easyTek accessory for hearing aids unveiled by Siemens last week. easyTek adds a huge complement of abilities to a hearing aid's arsenal, allowing the wearer to tap in to Bluetooth, wireless microphones, and line-in audio. There's even a "spatial configurator" which lets you tune which direction you want to hear sound from. In another era, easyTek would be beyond complicated. In 2015, it's a simple puck on a lanyard you control with your smartphone.

Because of "the cloud," a gadget's interface and administration can be removed from the hardware itself and placed somewhere that makes more sense

easyTek's features are augmentative to another augmenter: Siemens hearing aids, which easyTek wirelessly beams its audio to. This is another angle on what Nilay was talking about with "not reinventing the wheel": not every gadget has to do it all. The "Swiss Army Knife" solution is rarely ideal when you want your gadget to be unobtrusive or near-invisible. You pull out easyTek when you want a better version of TV or public speaker or phone audio, and hide it away when you don't.

This is my favorite gadget from this year's CES because it represents my favorite trend of CES. I have enough gadgets already, but how could those gadgets be improved incrementally? Instead of a new TV to replace my old TV, what about something that makes it easier to hear my old TV? Instead of a new tablet to replace my old tablet, what about a mount that makes my old tablet into a VR display? Instead of buying a new car, why not just make my old car smarter?

Great, now I sound like an infomercial. Thanks a lot, CES. See you next year.

About Paul Miller

That guy who left the internet for a year