What's next for technology in 2016?

With a new year and a major technology conference on the immediate horizon, what new tech trends can consumer expect?

Next week, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the annual tech convention, will kick off. Thousands of companies, from gamers to automakers and everything else in between, will be showing off their latest technologies. Yet which of those have the inside track to emerge as breakout successes, and which ones could disappear?

Read MoreCES 2016: Smart homes, smart cars, virtual reality

One gadget to watch is part of the smart home craze. At the end of 2015, Amazon entered the voice assistant market with a device called Echo ($175). The cylindrical speaker sits in your home and connects to the Internet via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. Users can ask the device questions —such as what the weather is like—and "Alexa" will answer. —Another useful task: It can add and place orders on an Amazon shopping list.

Users also have the ability to control compatible "smart" electronics such as Belkin's WeMo switches, Philips Hue lights, and SmartThings.

"Right now there's a million different connected gadgets you can put in your home, on your wrist, and they're all connected to Wi-Fi, but they all require a different kind of portal to use them or interact with them," Jordan Crook, Techcrunch's senior writer, told CNBC's "On the Money."

Smart devices like the Echo, Apple's Siri and Google's Now "allow you to interact with all of these devices and that's going to make or break the industry in a lot of ways," Crook added.

Road hogs? Hoverboards and driverless cars

One of the hottest gifts this holiday season was the hoverboard—for reasons both encouraging and discouraging. The various dangers associated with the device led retailers such as Amazon and Target to yank certain brands from their inventory. Meanwhile, the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show banned them, and New York City considers them illegal.

Engadget's Managing Editor Dana Wollman said calling it a 'hoverboard' is actually a misnomer, since they are more like a Segway minus the handle bar. According to Wollman, the technology for a board that hovers over the ground (think "Back to the Future") is still years away from breaking into the mainstream.

However, if you have a couple of grand to spend, ArcaSpace says it will have a board that will actually hover over the ground. Priced at $19,900, Arca says it plans to start shipping the boards in April.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, right, and Google Chairman Eric Schmidt get out of a Google self-driving car at Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., February 2, 2015.
Getty Images
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, right, and Google Chairman Eric Schmidt get out of a Google self-driving car at Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., February 2, 2015.

Separately, while driverless cars are still years away from hitting the road, some of those autonomous car features are already here. So what can we expect in the year ahead?

On at least a few features, Techcrunch's Crook believes consumers may want to lower expectations.

"If we're talking about getting into the car, laying back and watching a movie on your iPad, that's not going to happen in 2016," said Crook.

Crook did add that carmakers will continue to take steps towards automation, something the industry has been working on for years. Tesla is considered a pioneer on that front, and currently has a semi-autonomous vehicle, the Model S. The vehicle can auto-steer, change lanes with a tap of a turn signal, and maintain a safe speed by monitoring traffic. It even reads and adjusts to speed limit signs.

The state of play means a breakthrough is not a matter of if, but when—and who executes it.

"I think the big question is - will a big tech company win this car race or will an automaker win it?" Crook said. "Because we have Google and Apple working on same stuff [that] BMW and Audi are working on."

Virtual reality gets real

According to Consumer Electronics Association research, virtual reality headsets are expected to take off in 2016. Projected sales will increase by 500 percent over 2015, to reach 1.2 million units sold, with total revenues expected to soar by 440 percent to $540 million.

Some companies are already leading he way. This year, Samsung came out with Samsung Gear, a headset priced at $99. Separately, The New York Times employed virtual reality to help tell stories to its readers, while Facebook owned Oculus, HTC, and Sony are all expected to come out with consumer headsets in 2016.

"I don't think [virtual reality] will become mainstream exactly, I don't think everyone will have virtual reality headsets, but it will at least enter the lexicon for a lot of mainstream people," said Wollman.

One lone cloud on the horizon is the ubiquitous tablet device. Worldwide tablet shipments are expected to decline 8 percent in 2015 from 2014, according to a report by global market research company IDC.

Wollman said the future for the increasingly saturated sector doesn't look bright. "Expect tablets to become less of a thing, because phones keep getting bigger and bigger."

On the Money airs on CNBC Saturdays at 5:30 am ET, or check listings for air times in local markets.