Just as autumn gives way to winter, and the days start to get longer, the annual Consumer Electronics Show is set to kick off soon in Las Vegas.
From Tuesday, Jan. 8, through Friday, Jan. 11 (not counting a few unofficial press conferences before the official opening), roughly 200,000 people from across the globe will descend upon Vegas for CES, a bacchanal of all things consumer tech. It’s one of the largest trade shows in the world, and many companies use it as their springboard for all the products they plan to release over the coming year.
Quartz will be on the ground—yours truly, along with reporters Ashley Rodriguez and Dave Gershgorn, will be attendance—to make sure you don’t miss a single piece of gadget-related news that’s worth knowing. While there’s a certain amount of stuff you’d expect to see each year—every manufacturer will have their new TVs, washing machines, laptops, and various peripherals ready to go—there’s always a few surprises and trends that emerge. Based on early rumblings, here’s what we expect to see a lot of this year:
Yes, I know I just said there are always TVs at CES—in fact, they were some of the first things ever to be shown off at the inaugural conference in 1967—but over the last decade or so, there’s been a new type of TV that manufacturers have hailed as the future of entertainment. There’ve been 3D TVs, curved displays, flexible displays, paper-thin-displays, and an infatuation with ever-increasingly sharp screens. While you’re probably still considering whether to upgrade your HD TV to a 4K TV, the industry has, amazingly, started to move on to a new standard, 8K, which has 16 times the resolution of a 1080p HD display.
It’s not even entirely clear whether the average human eye can make out the differences in quality that an 8K screen has over a 4K one, but that hasn’t stopped manufacturers. The first 8K models started shipping from the highest-end producers late last year, so expect to see a ton more at CES. We’re also expecting even more giant screens this year—Samsung showed off a ridiculously beautiful 146-inch 4K screen called The Wall last year, so perhaps this year we’ll see something even bigger—maybe an entire house made of TVs? A village? Who knows!
Samsung may use CES to unveil the first smartphone with a folding screen, which it’s calling the “Infinity Flex Display.” Much like flip phones of old, the device will feature a small screen on the outside, and fold open to reveal a much bigger one—it’ll be like carrying a tablet that folds down into a phone, and vice versa. Google and LG are reportedly also looking into folding-screen devices, and what better time to show off something truly zany than when all of the world’s tech press is within a few miles’ radius?
The fifth generation of cellular connectivity technology, aptly called 5G, is on the horizon. Networks have started setting up their first 5G connections in small test areas across the US and other cities, and phone manufacturers such as Samsung and OnePlus have already committed to releasing phones in 2019 that support the technology. While many will likely wait until February’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the CES of the cellular world, it seems safe to say that it will be impossible to avoid 5G at CES. Companies will be selling you on the wonderful opportunities that only superfast wireless data connections can provide. There’s even an entire conference session track at CES just about 5G—even though the standard technically won’t be real until 2020. But don’t let that bother you.
CES has been increasingly dominated by companies trying to turn literally every object into a smart device. Some things can obviously use a bit of technology—adding the internet to a car isn’t a crazy idea; adding it to a fridge is probably overkill, but still somewhat understandable. But there are some things that really, really don’t need an internet or Bluetooth connection. Just in the last week, I’ve been pitched a smart backsplash, a smart bottle opener, a smart toilet, and a smart padlock. I don’t require any of these things to be smart, but if you do, you’ll be able to find out more about them next week, along with the other everyday objects that now have computer chips in them for some unknown reason that will also be on display.
But that’s not to say that everything “smart” is actually dumb. Many of the earliest connected-device products to hit the market have proven popular, like connected lights, plugs, cameras, and alarms. And if you want to talk to all these devices easily, you need a digital assistant like Amazon’s Alexa or Google’s Assistant. Alexa may have been first out of the gate—we even named it the “winner” of CES in 2017—but Google has started to catch up, shipping more devices in late 2018 than Amazon. Expect countless devices to be billed as having “Alexa built in” or working with Google Assistant as the two platforms vie for dominance. (Not likely to be seen around: Apple’s Siri, which, for now, is mainly still relegated to Apple’s own devices.)
This amorphous term has been making the rounds at CES for the last few years, as cars have become more central to the convention as consumer electronics devices in and of themselves. Automakers have used it to describe what their products provide, especially as they all rush to turn self-driving cars into a reality. But it’s started to mean something else, from the hoverboards that took over CES a few years ago, to the electric scooters that flooded cities across the world in 2018. Technology is providing novel new ways to get around, beyond bulky cars, and it’s likely we’ll see the latest motorized madness at CES. Self-balancing, motorized electric roller skates, anyone?
This is a bit of a sore subject for me, but CES will likely feature countless new robots, many of which may not even work. Their makers will try to convince you that they’ll be a wonderful addition to your home, even though it’s not clear what benefit these robots will provide that a dog couldn’t do for cheaper. These companies will be bankrupt by the next CES.
Across CES’s various show floors and over 4,000 exhibitors, there will be a near-unending torrent of: wearables, headphones, speakers, radios, cars, VR devices, TVs, cameras, protectors, drones, robots, 3D printers, laptops, desktops, connected home devices, routers, switches, dongles, accessories, and just about every other tech-adjacent product you can possibly think of. Just remember to breathe.