Techies and pundits have bemoaned the lack of innovation at this year’s CES. Unlike years past, we didn’t hear announcements of a breakthrough technology promising to illuminate the path of consumer electronics for the next few years. Nothing this year came close to the video cassette recorder announced in 1970 or the 2001 unveiling of WiFi. It has been said that nothing new happens at CES anymore.

But perhaps this reading of CES is off the mark. While it’s true that we didn’t see a potentially big game changer this year (mind readers made nary a splash, in part because it was showcased on a TV loaded with Chinese software, deterring curious attendees from having a go at it), the other exhibits point strongly to the idea that we’re seeing a different phase of innovation–a period of platform stabilization. After all, technology requires time to develop and consumers need time to be acquainted with them as well.

Much of this is due to Android’s presence. It was barely 4 years ago that you had to relearn how to use your smartphone each time you bought one from a different handset maker. And that’s fairly recent history. Common operating systems have allowed consumers to feel comfortable switching devices, and given technologists’ focus on Google TV and Android-based kitchen appliances, this familiarity will help shorten consumers’ learning curve. Google’s “Extend My Brand” strategy is helping them reach beyond our computers and smartphones, and soon, into any thing that can be digitized.

It makes sense that CNET named “The Ecosystem” as the next big thing. Devices, apps and operating systems are coming together to offer consumers a coherent way to use their multitude of devices. Fridges can now talk to ovens and grocery stores, while smartphones share real-time doodles with each other during meetings. Essentially, we’re seeing new applications of existing technologies with new iterations and refinements to products and services that better fit consumers’ needs and are simple to use. If we use CES as a barometer for the tech industry’s health, the main takeaway from this year’s CES is the fact that the ecosystem is consolidating.

However, the downside of this ecosystem framework is that consumers will bear the brunt of a “lock-in.” Right now, apps from Apple’s app store only work on iOS products, and soon enough, Samsung apps only on the Korean brand’s range of devices and kitchen appliances. We’ve noted on Inspire’s trend “Guiding Choice” how consumers want a helping hand in navigating the morass of options, but if curation leads to a high-walled platform, the inflexibility of the ecosystem will lead consumers to a digital future that is difficult to change.