Tech geeks and gadget lovers from around the world descended on Las Vegas this week for a chance to see the latest in technology and innovation at CES, the world's largest consumer electronics trade show.
There has been everything from man-seized drones to flexible TV screens on display — but much of what the technology crowds will see this year can be filed under the Internet of Things, the theme expected to again dominate the conversation at CES 2016.
The Internet of Things, or IoT for short, is a term used to describe the connection of everyday objects and devices to the Internet, making it possible for them to capture, send and receive data — think everything from your phone connecting to your car stereo, to your refrigerator placing an order for groceries when the milk runs low.
If you wear a fitness tracker like the FitBit or Apple Watch, own a smart TV, have a wireless home security camera system you can view on your smartphone, or can adjust your thermostat online or through an app, then you've already plunged into this spreading web of devices and data.
But where is this "Internet of Things" thing leading us? Are we any closer to the home of the future or to living in an electronically connected domestic bliss? Who wouldn't want a Rosie the robot, the ultimate helper around George Jetson's house?
Mark Zuckerberg apparently wants a digital assistant, too. Just this week, the Facebook founder announced plans in a Facebook post to create his own artificially intelligent, voice-controlled butler to help run his life at home and work. Alongside TVs and cameras, smart home devices that can help us in our increasingly busy everyday lives have very much become the star of the show at CES.
Shawn Dubravac, chief economist of the Consumer Technology Association, the trade group that puts on CES, said that gadget makers are not just doing tech for tech's sake, but they're giving more thought to how their products fit into our lives.
"We are shifting from what we could do technologically to what is technologically meaningful," he said in a press briefing at the start of CES.
Connected homes could make daily tasks easier, companies say. Imagine a thermostat that's linked to a garage-door opener that can recognize who is coming home and adjust the heat or A/C to that person's ideal temperature. And maybe the lights come on and audio system changes to that person's favorite after-work jazz album. From showerheads that track how much water is used to devices that let you control a gas fireplace from your phone, analysts say everyone in the tech world is getting in the IoT game.
"In many ways it's déjà vu of the 1990s and the dotcoms, when every business had to have a dotcom solution," said Craig Spiezle, executive director and president of the Online Trust Alliance (OTA). "About seven years ago, everyone was saying, 'What's your mobile strategy?' So in a sense, it's the flavor of the day now."
"But just because you can be connected, doesn't mean you should be connected. You know, someone was talking about a smart toilet — do I really need that? What is the real consumer value?" he said.
"I expect there's going to be a lot of fanfare on a lot of things and a lot of products that just don't get off the ground and make it to market," Spiezle said.
Already, nearly half of Americans (45 percent) either own some form of what's considered smart home technology or plan to invest in it in 2016, according to a survey by Coldwell Banker Real Estate.
While CES has long been a venue for promoting the latest in tech, sometimes that "next big thing" falls flat. In 2009, Netbooks were all the rage, and at CES 2010, 3-D screens were seen at the future, but never really went mainstream. That leaves some wondering if the Internet of Things is just another fad or if it really is the way of the future.
"I think it's here to stay," Spiezle said. "But I do think there's going to be a lot of collateral damage. There are going to be a lot of companies left by the roadside."