The battle for your body is on at CES

Hundreds of products that clip, snap, strap and bolt onto your body have made their debut at the show
Intel's CEO shows a new line of wearable computers in his opening speech at CES Monday

Intel's CEO shows a new line of wearable computers in his opening speech at CES Monday

At this year's International CES, the most valuable real estate isn't the prime exhibit areas in the huge halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center. It's you.

Hundreds of products that clip, snap, strap and bolt onto your body have made their debut at the show this week as companies place bets that wearable gadgets will be the next big thing.

Their promise is alluring. Want to check your gait and make sure you're not putting too much pressure on your knee joints? There's a wearable for that. Want to make sure your kids don't stray off course on the way to school? There's a wearable for that. Want to monitor your skin's exposure to ultra-violet radiation? There's a wearable for that.

At CES, there seems to be a wearable for almost everything.

The frenzy of excitement by gadget makers was explained by Kaz Hirai, president and CEO of Sony.

"You have only two wrists and one head; you can't wear 10 different products," he told reporters on Tuesday. "Once you secure someone's wrist with a particular product, they'll usually stick with it. The barrier to entry is high, but once you secure it, it becomes [yours]."

Sony used CES to unveil a tiny gadget called Core, a wearable sensor that communicates via Bluetooth with an Android smartphone and feeds data into a "Lifelog." The application builds a profile of your day and can tell you how much sleep you got, how many steps you took, show you where you went and tell you what music you listened to.

Hirai noted something that's easily lost amid the cacophony of CES halls and the glitz of the new-product presentations.

"There's a lot of potential in this space, [but] the jury is still out on which applications will really compel consumers to go out and wear these products," he said.

Many of the products at CES will likely fade into obscurity and not change lives forever as their marketing slogans insist.

"2014 is the year of wearables, not so much for sales but because it will be the year for vendors to get stuff out and see what works," said Carolina Milanesi, a director at Kantor World Panel.

"They're trying to get consumers to go from thinking, 'That's nice but do I want to spend $300 on it?' to 'Wow, I really need that.' "

So far, the consumer response has been mixed. Fitness trackers have proved popular with those who work out, but the more expensive and flashy gadgets, like smartwatches, have yet to arouse widespread interest.

That will change this year, according to an October report by Juniper Research. The company forecasts that 2014 will be the breakthrough year for wearable devices, with the market generating over $1.5 billion.

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For all the attention on wearables at CES, perhaps the most influential company in the market is one that isn't in Las Vegas this week and hasn't even have a product.

A string of reports throughout 2013 suggested Apple will release a smartwatch. The power of the company to shift consumer tastes with its products has many anticipating the Apple smartwatch will be what kick starts the market.

"There's no question that Samsung, with the Galaxy Gear, wanted to get in there before Apple," Milanesi said, of one of 2013's highest profile gadget launches. Samsung is tipped to introduce a successor at next month's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

"But some vendors are sitting and waiting, because whatever Apple is going to do, they will change the market," Milanesi added.

If some of these wearables seem futuristic now, just wait to see what the future holds.

Intel unveiled a prototype Linux-based PC platform the size of an SD card called "Edison," and it wants it to become the high-tech engine at the core of future wearable devices.

One such gadget shown by Intel was a baby's onesie fitted with sensors that monitor its temperature, pulse and breathing. Edison sent the data to smart coffee cups that flash colored lights when the baby needs attention. If that wasn't clever enough, a smart milk bottle warmer begins to heat milk if the baby starts to cry.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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More about: Apple, Galaxy, Google, IDG, Intel, Juniper, Linux, Samsung, Sony
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