At the arrivals lounge in McCarran International Airport Airport in Las Vegas, the longest lines aren't at the baggage carousels or the taxi pickup station – they're at the Consumer Electronics Show badge desk.
Some 160,000 people are expected at America's party capital this week for the world's biggest electronics event. Even though it's not open to the general public, CES is perhaps the single most important technology industry gathering in the world. It is here that the biggest names in tech will bet on what software and hardware will dominate the market in 2015.
In recent years, however, it has become more and more difficult to tell one CES innovation from another. The smartwatch, the smart home, the smart car – all are beginning to overlap, creating a much broader category sometimes dubbed the Internet of Everything.
At this year's show, that new category is by far the dominant theme. Within it, there are perhaps four major categories where the tech industry's biggest (and smaller) names are focusing most of their attention.
Nothing has been hyped at this year's CES as much as the fully automated home. Broadly, the idea behind the automated home is that, in the near future, all the appliances and gadgets in the house – from thermostats to fridges to washing machines – will be connected to the Web. That means a user will be able to control them using any computer, such as a phone or tablet.
The biggest names at the show, including Samsung and LG, are betting big that the connected home is the next big market. Companies such as LG aren't just developing new connected devices, they are also spending millions on building the programming languages and platforms that allow myriad disparate devices to talk to each other (a potentially lucrative niche that companies such as BlackBerry also have their eyes on).
But on a smaller scale, countless other players are also trying to cash in on the connected home. A company called Swann is pitching a security system that can be accessed and monitored from a wireless device. Another company called Skybell has a doorbell that broadcasts video footage of whoever is at the door to the user's phone or tablet.
Whatever appliance is in your home today, chances are there's someone at CES trying to sell a Web-connected version of it.
The Connected Car
In recent years, car makers have become one of the biggest draws at CES. That's in part because the car has become one of the most powerful and underutilized computers most people own. Companies such as Ford have some of the biggest displays on the CES show floor.
The car companies have a slew of technologies on offer, including elaborate dashboard displays and entertainment and information consoles. Electric vehicles are also becoming a bigger part of the automotive offering at CES. A company called GenZe has a relatively low-maintenance electric vehicle at the show, while Renovo Motors is pushing a much more expensive electric supercar.
A host of companies whose traditional businesses have fallen on hard times – such as GPS-makers and cellphone companies – are also trying to get their technologies embedded in various vehicle models. Nokia, for example, is pitching its mapping subsidiary, called HERE, as a car navigation solution. Perhaps the best-known car digital system provider at the show, however, is QNX, the Canadian BlackBerry arm that designs dashboard and entertainment consoles for a huge number of car companies.
Fitness bands and health monitors have, in just the past couple of years, become one of the biggest product categories at CES. This year, however, the definition of what constitutes a health monitor has become far more expansive.
In addition to the usual slew of devices designed to measure heart rate and steps taken, a number of mostly small startups have come up with all manner of new monitors and use cases.
A headband called Muse is intended to monitor brain activity while a user completes a series of mental acuity challenges (the monitor alerts the user if their mind starts wandering, its creators claim). Another device called the iSwimband is supposed to tell when a wearer is drowning, and issue an alarm. A device called Mint is a breath-based monitor, and its creators say it can detect a user's hydration levels and oral health from analyzing a single breath.
Some other companies have taken monitoring a step further, and are trying to actively change a user's analytics. A firm called Thync is pushing a device it claims can alter a user's mood by sending "ultrasonic waveforms to signal neural pathways in the brain."
Rise of the Startups
For years, CES has been mostly about hardware. Even giants such as Microsoft – which used to hold the event's main keynote presentation – focused much of their energy on showing off new computers and tablets from hardware partners such as Toshiba and Hewlett-Packard.
But big companies such as Microsoft have greatly reduced their presence at CES recently (and other big names, such as Apple, Google and Facebook, don't show up at all, although products running on their platforms litter the show).
In their place, a huge onslaught of startups is taking up more and more space at the show. An entire sector of CES, called Eureka Park, is dedicated solely to startups. There's also a startup pitch competition at the show, where a dozen small companies will get a chance to woo potential investors.
But even the smallest startups aren't the smallest thing at CES. Increasingly, the show is also featuring companies that don't technically exist yet. This year, the funding giant Indiegogo is hosting a sprawling booth featuring some of the most promising campaigns on its site – including a campaign to fund a carbon-fibre drone and another for a headband-worn projector. Two of the campaigns featured by Indiegogo this year haven't even launched on the site yet.