It's almost that time again: CES. And while we're all just getting over bloated holiday tummies, those of us who work in the consumer technology industry are preparing to pack our bags to head to Sin City and see what's on tap for 2019.
So what is on tap? While CES doesn't officially begin until Tuesday, January 8, there's a lot we can predict. Here are just a few trends we expect to see at the show this year.
More Smart Speakers
The concept of "smart" speakers used to just describe the Amazon Echo and Google Home. Today, those brands are still the market leaders, including new smaller (and larger) iterations. But they've been joined by many others, including the Apple HomePod, as well as others from both new companies and established audio brands that are integrating "smart" voice functions into audio products of all kinds. We expect to see many more of these at CES this year, offering up compatibility with Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, Apple's Siri, Microsoft's Cortana, and more. Brands like Sonos and Bose have previously announced that Google Assistant support would be "coming soon," and after much delay, we wouldn't be surprised to see many anticipated Google Assistant partnerships finally come to fruition, or at least learn of a solid date when it will happen.
What could possibly be the next evolution of the smartphone? With models like the Google Pixel 3 XL and the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, smartphones have officially become awesome portable cameras with photography features that rival dedicated digicams. CES isn't typically a show where major mobile announcements are made. But all of the majors have a presence there, and 5G represents more than just the future of phones, but the future of connectivity on the whole, both in the home and out. Many are calling 2019 "the year of 5G," as we'll see how 5G networks will benefit the latest generation of mobile devices, aiding not only in faster network speeds for our smartphones, but other connected devices, like smart home gear, as well.
One particularly interesting trend in mobile that will be on display at CES is the concept of the foldable phone. Royole Corporation of Fremont, CA, which manufactures human-machine interface technologies and advanced flexible displays, sensors, and smart devices, has already confirmed that it will be showcasing a full line-up of flexible displays at the show. All part of the company's Flexible platform, the company says the technology can be applied to a variety of consumer products, from sports and fashion gear, to office tech, smart home, and robotics. FlexPai, in particular, can be used either folded or unfolded, combining the portability of a smartphone with the screen size of a high-definition tablet. For the first time, the company will also demonstrate its fully flexible displays, including a commercial smartphone with a flexible display that was first introduced in Beijing in October 2018. Then, of course, there's Samsung, which is reportedly close to revealing its own foldable phone. Foldable phones are coming - make no mistake. Will they be widely commercially available in 2019? It's tough to tell. But the technology is clearly there and they could soon be ready for prime time.
We'll see plenty of large-screened 4K TVs, including gorgeous OLEDs. But if CEDIA Expo, which took place in San Diego in early September, was any indication, 8K will be the big story in video at CES this year. Of course, this brings us back to that ever-important numbers game: these TVs have far more pixels! Yay! How much of a difference would that make in a standard-sized living room of a family home? For the average family, probably not much. But in terms of cool factor, wealthy customers with large dedicated theatre rooms, and commercial applications, 8K is the expected next evolution in video technology. Might it become the standard for home viewing? Eventually we might view 4K as being as passe as standard-def.
Big Brands Branching Out
The major brands are testing the waters in different areas of consumer tech, more than ever before. We've seen everything from a fully robotic (and intelligent!) dog, to smart appliances that can sense what you need, and do it for you. This year, we can expect to see some more surprises from all of the big consumer tech brands. Already, LG has confirmed that it will be tapping into a new product category with its capsule-based HomeBrew craft beer making machine. LG Electronics Home Appliance & Air Solution Company President Song dae-hyun says it's the culmination of "years of home appliance and water purification technologies that we have developed over the decades." It's an interesting attempt to capitalize on a growing trend. Will it stick? The interest in home-brewing is on the rise, and we can totally see devices like this becoming as common as the toaster oven in due time.
Forget big-screened TVs: while these, particularly of the 8K ilk as noted, will most certainly be a focal point at the show, several major display brands have teased massive monitors they'll be revealing at the show, too. Samsung's Space Monitor will come in a 32" or 27" version, along with a fully integrated arm stand that can secure to an office desk to help you save space. LG, meanwhile, will be showing off its new line of Ultra Monitors, including a 49-incher that can essentially replace a multi-screen set-up. Sure, computing tech has always been a focal point of the show through massive booths like Intel. But, judging from these announcements, this might be the first time we see the major AV companies place more emphasis on the office side.
More True Wireless Earbuds
Thanks to Apple's AirPods, the concept of "true wireless" earbuds has become one of the many growth sub-categories for the healthy headphones space. And we can expect to see many more models that sport better battery life, charging cases that can boost the battery even more when on the go, and even perform additional tasks, like serving as back-up power banks for your smartphones. The Wicked Audio Dunmore buds, for example, which will be revealed at the show, can run for up to six hours, and you can use the included Powerbank charging case to recharge them, as well as other mobile devices, like a phone or camera.
As usual, Eureka Park will serve as a tech enthusiast's paradise, featuring start-ups of all kinds showcasing innovations that solve everyday problems, along with problems we didn't realize we had. Such companies won't be limited to this exhibit area: we're likely to see start-ups littered throughout the various show venues, particularly in the Sands Convention Centre and South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center, as they invest heavily in trying to build awareness for their brands. Some items we've already been pitched range from beauty tech products like the VOLO Beauty cordless and infrared blow dryer, to the Ava fertility bracelet that helps couples who are trying to conceive, and Reviver Auto's digital license plate called the Rplate Pro. For the TV fans out there, CES is like Shark Tank (or, for fellow Canadians, Dragons' Den) come to life!
As with last year, there will be plenty of demos of self-driving cars for show-goers to experience, along with cars in the North Hall that showcase the latest evolutions in driverless technology: from pods where business meetings can be held while a virtual driver carts you and your clients or co-workers to the airport, to smarter built-in technology that makes driving, and staying connected, a core part of the in-vehicle experience.
Tech to Service Specific Demographics
The core technology categories will always dominate, but there are plenty of new areas of growth, from baby and beauty tech, to tech for the elderly, safety and survivalist tech, and more. CES will have several "tech zones" and sessions dedicated to specific anticipated areas of growth for 2019, including sports, robotics and machine intelligence, health and wellness, smart home and smart cities, self-driving cars, cryptocurrency and digital money, sleep tech, high-tech retailing, and more. Each year, we see the most popular ones return and/or expand, and new ones emerge, proving that while the consumer tech industry has its ups and downs, it's never lacking in innovation.