Tens of thousands of tech enthusiasts are descending on Las Vegas this week for the 53rd Consumer Electronics Show. The show formally starts Tuesday and runs through to the end of the week, but already early announcements are trickling out. In the industry, CES is traditionally the marquee kickoff event for the year, and offers hints of what trends are likely to dominate technology in 2020. The annual event had more than 175,000 attendees last year and 4,500 companies exhibiting all manner of cool, strange, silly and cutting-edge gadgets, including dozens of TVs, a robot made for cuddling and a flying taxi. Here are five things to watch for this year, based on the early buzz.
Big TVs, and weird TVs
The veteran tech journalists who attend CES every year all say that really, it’s a trade show about TVs. Last year LG grabbed headlines with a TV that rolls up into a box. This year, Samsung announced an 8k “SERO” TV that is mounted on a swivel stand so it can rotate to a vertical position, optimized for viewing smartphone video content. The South Korean electronics manufacturer also announced an enormous 85-inch 8K QLED television. As most of the write-ups about these televisions note, it’s probably a waste of money since there’s essentially no 8K video content available to watch on these ultra-high-resolution screens.
With the Streaming Wars heating up in 2020, the entertainment industry and the tech industry are blurring together. Apple CEO Tim Cook was at the Golden Globes on Sunday night, and later this week TV executives will be delivering keynote speeches in Las Vegas. On Wednesday morning, the public might get a clearer picture of what Quibi is all about. The odd project is led by Jeffrey Katzenberg, the former president of Paramount Studios and the co-founder of Dreamworks, along with Meg Whitman, the former CEO of both Ebay and the Hewlett-Packard Company. The pair has raised US$1 billion in funding to build a streaming service which will apparently deliver short, bite-sized video entertainment, starting in April of this year.
Phones and 5G
Typically smartphone manufacturers wait until Mobile World Congress in February to make their biggest announcements, but CES offers a bit of foreshadowing. Last year, the Royole FlexPai was unveiled at CES, and while the phone was widely panned by reviewers, it served as a preview of the Samsung Galaxy Fold and the Motorola Razr folding phones which would go on sale later in the year. This year, all signs are pointing toward 5G high-speed network connectivity becoming a reality, and CES is likely to offer early indications about how device manufacturers plan to use the new technical capabilities.
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Cars are gadgets now
Amazon started off the week by announcing that its Alexa voice assistant will be going on the road, built into a Lamborghini supercar and a forthcoming electric truck by a startup called Rivian. Also, Bosch announced a car visor powered by artificial intelligence that blocks out the sun by beaming a shadow directly onto a driver’s eyes.
Some gadgets at CES are just downright strange. Inevitably, with so much hype and so many companies jostling for attention, some product designers go wild. This year Charmin has announced a toilet-paper carrying robot named Loo. There’s also a robot waiter cat. Many of these products are unlikely to ever make it to market, but they’re fun to contemplate. Last year, the laundry-folding robot drew a lot of attention, but Foldimate still isn’t selling the device. There was also a Bluetooth-enabled smart diaper.