Unfortunately, over the last couple of years as the show continues to grow in size, I have found myself perusing through aisles and aisles of experimental gizmos and gadgets that will likely never be widely adopted from a consumer perspective. This doesn’t mean, however, that the underlying technology behind those products won’t be the foundation of the next big thing. It simply means that it gets more difficult to sift through all of the noise and find the things that will eventually have a significant impact on us all. On that note, here are some of my observations from the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show.
AUTOMOTIVE IS THE NEW BLACK
Walking through the North Hall in Tech East, one might think they were at the Detroit Auto Show. Over the last couple of years, however, no other industry has adopted the proliferation of technology and pushed the limits of innovation more than the auto industry. Things like GPS and integration with your smart phone are fairly standard these days. Manufacturers are now talking more about user interface and user experience design, integrating cutting-edge display technologies and advanced operating systems to power the driving experience. Artificial Intelligence has also made its way to the forefront of the auto industry, as self-driving, autonomous vehicles are just a few years away. Even the much-hyped launch of Faraday Futures FFZero1 concept car, despite the unrealistic nature of the vehicle displayed at their booth, will lay the groundwork for what they are calling the Viable Platform Architecture, which hopes to revolutionize the way we design and manufacture vehicles of the future.
IoT IS EVERYWHERE
Connected devices and smart appliances have almost become the norm at CES. Every major manufacturer is there to show off their smarter and more data-rich product, ultimately to increase the number of touch points with their customers and redefine their brand for the future. Whirlpool’s interactive kitchen of the future featured a great concept, in which the kitchen counter could display not only the nutritional value of your food on the interactive backsplash, but also integrate with your apps (for things like checking the weather), and even your baby monitor. More practically, Whirlpool introduced a new line of Internet connected appliances that can be controlled from your smartphone that are due out in March.
Outside of the basic advances in wearables from companies like Fitbit, Fossil and Misfit, I saw several advances in technology geared towards newborns and expectant mothers. Additionally, there were some unlikely players starting to enter the sensor world of IoT like Under Armour, who unveiled their connected fitness product portfolio, which included embedded wearable tech in their clothing. L’Oreal also got into the game with the unveiling of their My UV Patch product, a small sticker that is meant to be worn on your skin to monitor exposure to harmful UV rays.
AND SO IS VR
While I’m still looking for the killer app in virtual reality beyond gaming, there was no shortage of booths selling or using VR as part of their pitch. The technology is improving, but still feels a bit ridiculous with the face-hugging units and cord-tethering equipment. This didn’t stop many vendors from using a virtual reality experience to market their products in an immersive, but sometimes irrelevant, way.
The vendors launching VR products like Samsung, Oculus and HTC had lines wrapping around the Central Hall in Tech East to offer experiences in the latest and greatest advancements in the market. Whether it was a virtual roller coaster ride or exploration of the ocean floor, manufacturers went to great lengths to displace people in a fun and exhilarating way. Despite the elaborate experiences and massive booths from those vendors, I think the coolest VR product was a minimalist version of Google Cardboard; simply two lenses mounted on a metal base that snaps onto your phone and can be folded up like a pair of eyeglasses.
HDR MAKES A DIFFERENCE
The announcement of the first commercial High Dynamic Range television sets has even the most jaded techies paying attention. To date, the marketing of televisions has focused primarily on resolution or pixels per inch. However, the saturation point was reach long ago, with scientific studies showing that there is nothing to be gained by increasing resolution beyond 4K, as the human eye simply cannot detect the improvement. HDR takes a very different path by increasing the range of contrast and color resulting in enormous visible improvements. Our eyes can see far more and can process a greater amount of contrast and color than current televisions can provide. HDR pushes these aspects forward, bringing the viewing experience much closer to the reality we see around us. Bottom line: not more pixels, but better pixels.
Beyond HDR there were some pretty outstanding displays from manufacturers that will advance television viewing in different ways. LG showcased their 18” rollable TV using OLED, or organic light-emitting diodes. Samsung showed off their 170” modular TV, which used borderless modular panels fit together to create a single cohesive viewing screen. Both very cool but still very much in the concept phase.
WHAT’S WITH ALL THE DRONES?
I’m always game for a little drone flying, but the drone displays at this year’s CES seem to have quadrupled in size compared to last year. I have no idea what is driving so many low-end manufacturers to build essentially the same thing, with the only differentiating feature being the brand name. JDI, one of the leaders in the space, introduced more refined models, but they did have a few interesting competitors this year, including a company whose drone looked exactly like theirs, but came with a camera and hard travel case all included at a much lower price point.
My feeling, however, is that drones are really more for the commercial market (automated delivery services) or for hobbyists. That was, until I saw the Ehang 184 Autonomous Arial Vehicle. This human-size drone claims to be able to carry a single passenger for 23 minutes at a speed of 60MPH. It is completely electric and has no controls — you simply need to plot a location on the display and the drone will take you there. It’s obviously years away from the production line and probably even further away than that due to FAA restrictions, but here finally is a technology that can significantly impact my life.
I’ll be curious to see how these trends progress over the coming year, and which one will be the first to cross the finish line.