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The Best Thing I Saw at CES Was a Thermometer

This year’s gadget show isn’t all that different from last year’s, but there’s still some cool stuff out there.
January 7, 2016

Wandering the show floor at CES in Las Vegas this week, I’ve found that many of the best gadgets on display are those that may not change the world or open up a whole new consumer-electronics category, but are simply using technology in ways that are clever and helpful.

At this year’s underwhelming CES, Withing’s smart thermometer stands out.

One neat startup I spotted called Aipoly built a free object-recognition iPhone app for the visually impaired that doesn’t require Internet access to function. I also checked out Presence, an outdoor security camera from French smart-home company Netatmo that can automatically detect people, cars, and animals, recording little clips of just these things when it spots them (they show up on a timeline in a smartphone app) and letting you choose which of these things you’d like to trigger a bright light at night.

The coolest thing I saw while roaming the show, though? That would be the $100 Withings Thermo, a smart, excellently designed digital thermometer from French health-related gadget maker Withings. To use it, you hold it up to your temple and press a button; its infrared sensors capture your temperature within a couple seconds and show you the result on its LED display. It communicates the data via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth to a smartphone app, letting you keep an eye on your temperature (and those of others in your family) over time and add notes like medications given or symptoms noticed at the time each temp was taken. It’s slated to come out by the end of March, and while it’s not earth-shattering, it’s a good idea that could make life easier when you’re sick.

So was that it? Well, sort of. The fact is, there isn’t much that truly stands out as a big deal at CES this year. Walking around the show has felt a lot like it did the same time last year.

There are still lots of drones and wearable gadgets. Companies working on a range of virtual-reality hardware and software are there again, too—Facebook-owned Oculus, of course, is again at the show, along with companies making things like consumer-geared, live-action virtual-reality cameras and different kinds of tracking technologies—though the technology doesn’t have as big a presence as I would have expected.

After a while, I had to conclude that we’re in an in-between phase, where categories like drones, virtual reality, and wearables are growing and advancing, but still have a long way to go. I’m not the only one who feels this way. And while it doesn’t make for mind-blowing expectations about where the tech world is going in the next year, it’s okay. It may just take a few years for these categories to mature before they really wow us.

As a tech journalist and a consumer who is interested in knowing about the latest and greatest gadgets (neat things in general, and in wearables and virtual-reality in particular), I tend to get impatient. I want cutting-edge technology in a way that can sometimes feel insatiable. But it’s important to remember that progress can take time, and, really, I don’t mind waiting for things like a smart watch that is exceptionally clever, great looking, and has more than a week of battery life, or a powerful virtual-reality headset that isn’t clunky and doesn’t need to be tethered to a computer for me to use it.

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