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CES 2014: 7 Key Trends to Watch

Last year's CES was a critical turning point for the world's largest tech event. Despite Microsoft exiting stage left, the show flourished, giving way to a combination of established players (LG, Samsung, Sony) and exciting new startups (Oculus, Pebble). So what's on tap for CES 2014? From a new wave of would-be Google Glass killers and monster-size tablets to smarter smartwatches, here's what to expect.

Big-Screen Tablets: Galaxy Note Pro?

It looks like Samsung isn't waiting for an iPad Pro to possibly become real. The company is rumored to be introducing a 12-inch Galaxy Note Pro tablet at CES 2014. The 13-inch Toshiba Excite 13 in 2012 was a flop, but that's because it had mediocre specs and didn't do anything special with its larger display. Samsung's TouchWiz software, on the other hand, allows for Multi Window multitasking and pen input. An LTE version of the Galaxy Note Pro has already been tipped for AT&T. We'll be interested to see what other vendors jump on the supersized slate bandwagon.

MORE: Top 10 Tablets Right Now

Fitness Trackers Take Over

Wearable fitness trackers and bands that keep tabs on how many steps you've taken, calories burned and hours slept are all the rage. In fact, everyone from Fitbit and Jawbone to Fitbug and Nike are fighting to help us become better "quantified selves." Don't be surprised if some of the smaller hotshot companies get scooped up by a much bigger brand. CES 2014 will bring new players to the table -- some expected, some out of left field. However, I suspect that many companies whose core competency isn't fitness are in for a rude awakening. Does anyone remember the Sylvania-branded netbook?

Wireless Power Finally Goes Mainstream (I kid!)

The holy grail of being able to walk into your house, drop your phone on the counter and have it start charging is getting closer to reality. But it’s still further away than I’d like. The Alliance for Wireless Power recently introduced a new consumer-facing brand called Rezence, which will compete head-to-head with Qi. Who will win? With Samsung and Qualcomm backing Rezence, and one major PC maker on the way, my money is on that technology. Here's the bad news. Although we'll likely see some charging pads and other compatible accessories at CES 2014, it will be some time before wireless charging becomes baked into more of the gadgets we buy, and especially the furniture, cars and other things we rest them on.

MORE: 12 Gadgets Ahead of Their Time

Attack of the Google Glass Alternatives

Although there are plenty of "Explorers" walking around with Google's heads-up display, it won't go on sale until next year. In the meantime, Vuzix, Meta, GlassUp and others are readying their own alternatives. Whether you dismiss these devices as geekwear or not, what's great about this emerging category is that companies are taking varying approaches. While Vuzix is going right after Google, some are focusing on augmented reality (MetaPro and Atheer), some enterprise (Epson) and others outdoor recreation (Recon). We won't all become cyborgs in 2014, but there will be a lot more of us.

MORE: Top Google Glass Alternatives

Smartwatches Up Their IQ

Pebble got the pre-CES festivities started by announcing that its popular smartwatch will be getting an official app store in early 2014. That's a critical step for a company that's competing not only with Samsung and Sony but will likely face off against an Apple iWatch by the end of the year. Expect to see new smartwatches at this year's show from brands big and small, including sequels and some first stabs at the category. In fact, there's a WristRevolution TechZone at CES 2014, which includes such smartwatch vendors as Neptune, Qualcomm (Toq), MetaWatch and Kronoz.

MORE: Top 5 Smartwatches to Watch

2-in-1 Ultrabooks, Take Two

It's no secret that there were plenty of stinkers in the first batch of 2-in-1 laptops that double as tablets. But that doesn't mean Intel and its partners are giving up. CES 2014 will see new models debut at lower prices and with more refined designs, making the combination feel much less awkward. With Lenovo, Sony, Samsung and others expected to have a big presence at the show, I expect much better things from this category as manufacturers learn from their first-gen foibles.

MORE: Best Windows 8.1 Tablet-Notebook Hybrids

Home, Sweet (Smart) Home

Aided by easy-to-use breakthroughs such as the Nest thermometer and tighter integration with our smartphones and tablets, the smart-home category is no longer just an excuse to poke fun of myriad incompatible standards. It's on the verge of a real renaissance. SimpliciKey, for instance, will be showing off upgrades to its wireless deadbolt at CES, which you can operate from your smartphone. And a new startup called Arrayent, which recently received $11.9 million in funding, is using the power of the cloud and virtualization to connect our appliances. Whirlpool, First Alert and Chamberlin/LiftMaster are among some of the big brands already on board.