Remember connected refrigerators? Us neither. But 4G and tablet computing were definitely big.
By Kurt Wagner and JP Mangalindan
FORTUNE — Another year, another Consumer Electronics Show. At every CES, a series of devices become the ones to watch. Whether that excitement translates into genuine sales is another question entirely. As gadget makers prepare to unveil their latest in Las Vegas this week, we took a look at the technology that stole last year’s show to see how things turned out.
1. Car Technology — Bingo!
Last year many top automakers, including Ford F , GM GM , and Mercedes, were on hand to show off an array of new in-car software-based systems, so-called “infotainement” units. This is by no means a new idea; Bill Gates championed the concept at CES’ predecessor COMDEX years and years ago. (Current Microsoft MSFT technology powers Ford’s SYNC system.) The appeal of linking a smartphone to a car is obvious: built-in software system can help drivers do everything from stream music to navigate a new city. Finally, automakers seem to have wholeheartedly adopted the idea, evidenced by GM hiring 10,000 programmers and software experts in October. They’ll work on improving systems like Cadillac’s CUE.
2. Ultrabooks — Not so much
A direct response to Apple’s AAPL successful MacBook Air line, Intel’s Ultrabook initiative was intended to help Windows PC makers fight fire with fire. But like previous PC monikers — netbooks, for one — the definition of what qualified as an “ultrabook” quickly became blurred. “The term is only supposed to apply to devices with solid state storage and so many hardware makers ended up cheating, including spinning hard drives to get a cheaper price,” explains Forrester FORR analyst James McQuivey. Either way, customers have hard a hard time justifying their purchase. “It’s really hard not to walk into Best Buy, see a $400 laptop and ask, ‘why should I spent $900 on these ultrabooks?'” Another problem: Intel INTC helped launch the initiative right at the end of Windows 7’s lifespan. Many consumers seem to have decided to wait until Windows 8 became available to buy new PCs — of any kind.
3. Interactive Appliances — Not so much
A kitchen that thinks for you? That was the idea behind a number of smart appliances unveiled at CES 2012, including LG’s line of Smart ThinQ appliances that included a smart refrigerator and stove. But while these gadgets may be fun, consumers are still waiting for a ‘killer app’ that will make a kitchen full of software worth the hassle, says McQuivey. “There is very little reason for a connected home, yet,” he adds. For the time being, such high-tech appliances appear to be “gee-whiz” models that drive some interest, even if most people walk away with a brainless value model.
4. Connected TV — Not so much
The same holds true for connected television, which is great for streaming movies or shows via the likes of Netflix NFLX , Roku or Xbox Live, but has failed to engage consumers with apps or other streamed offerings. Connected TVs flooded the market in 2012 – more than 100 million smart TVs were in homes worldwide by the end of 2012 according to Strategy Analytics — but consumers aren’t expanding outside of traditional television watching, says McQuivey. Perhaps the rumored Apple television (yes, again) can convince consumers to use their TV for more than just movies. Intel is said to be working on such a device too.
5. Tablets — Bingo!
Last year saw tablet-makers get even more daring with form factors beyond mere screen size. Lenovo unveiled the IdeaPad Yoga, a 13-inch laptop that resembled your typical ultrabook — that is to say, thin and light — until you flipped the screen back. Voila: a responsive, fully-functional tablet. While there have been plenty of tablet models that went absolutely nowhere, McQuivey expects even more experimentation this year.
6. WiFi-Connected Cameras — Not so much
Instantly. That’s how quickly users expect to share photos or videos. Digital cameras tried to learn a few things from Androids and iPhones in 2012. WiFi-capable cameras from Sony SNE , HTC, and Nokia (among others) were unveiled at CES and provide competition for the smartphones already in consumers’ pockets. The benefit is higher quality photos. The downside is opening your wallet for a product that does what your smartphone can already do. Reviews have so far been mixed. For the casual photographer, a smartphone does the trick.
7. Windows 8 — Jury’s out
Given 2012 was Microsoft’s final appearance at CES as top keynoter, at least the company turned heads. Its Windows 8 operating system sports a touch-based interface, one that strongly resembles the tile-based Metro look in Windows Phone. Though PC makers had hoped Windows 8’s launch last fall would boost slumping PC sales, that hasn’t happened yet. According to the NPD Group, holiday PC sales fell 11% compared with the same period in 2011. Users have also had mixed experiences with the software.
8. OLED Televisions — Not so much
Organic light-emitting diode televisions, or OLED, were all the rage at CES 2012 – and rightfully so. A high-quality picture coupled with a screen only 4 mm thick promised to offer a completely new experience for home viewers. The problem: no one can afford one. LG announced this week that its 55-inch OLED screen, which will be available in March, will cost a whopping $12,000.
9. 4G — Bingo!
When it comes to mobile network speeds, faster is usually better. Companies like Motorola, LG, and others took that message to heart and let loose a slew of devices capable of fourth-generation, or 4G, speeds like the Droid Bionic for Verizon’s Long Term Evolution (LTE) network. And it doesn’t look like 4G adoption will slow down any time soon. According to ABI Research, the number of LTE subscribers is expected to grow exponentially, from 58 million in 2012 to 785 million in 2017.