One of the largest technology trade shows will open its doors Sunday in Las Vegas.
At this year’s CES consumer electronics show, better known as CES, companies hope to impress reporters, investors, and ultimately consumers with a flashy mix of smart assistants and smart cars, giant TVs and, of course, robots. Some of these products may make waves in the year ahead, others will likely be forgotten by the time the conference wraps up next week.
It’s been years since major tech players have made revolutionary announcements at CES. After all, many of the biggest companies, including Apple, Google and Amazon, host their own product launch events at their respective headquarters. However, the event remains a key platform for some companies, especially startups, to launch new products and make some noise. More than that, CES typically helps set the tone for which tech trends stick for the rest of the year.
The lineup of companies getting stage time this year extends well beyond the usual CES headliners, including Samsung, Sony and Panasonic. Impossible Foods, Delta and even John Deere are all readying announcements this year too, in a nod to how CES has grown beyond its roots.
Apple will also mark an unofficial return to the show for the first time since former CEO John Sculley debuted the Newton personal digital assistant (PDA) in 1992. A senior executive will speak on a privacy-related panel, alongside panelists from Facebook and the FTC.
The conference also has the potential to get political this year as Ivanka Trump — daughter of President Donald Trump and one of his White House Advisors — will address CES attendees on Tuesday on the topic of “future of tech.”
Although we can expect a ton of oddball gadgets, like a trash can that ties up bags when they’re full or an Alexa-enabled shower head, here are the overarching topics likely to get the most attention out in the desert this year:
5G was a hot topic last year at CES as US carriers were just months away from launching their networks across the country. But now that the infrastructure is starting to fit into place, albeit slowly, expect companies to further outline how they plan to use the fifth generation of cellular network technology, which is nearly 30 times faster than 4G and about 10 times faster than the average American home broadband speed. It’s an especially hot topic among car companies — think: how traffic lights could communicate with your car to keep you abreast on traffic patterns.
Car companies will almost certainly bring even more tech integration to vehicles this year. We could see anything from smart assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant getting built into dashboards to announcements around augmented reality displays and advancements in self-driving technologies. Beyond cars, expect updates to electric scooters and the introduction of some unique concepts, including this self-balancing Segway wheelchair.
At last year’s CES, the Consumer Technology Association — the group behind the event drew controversy for stripping a woman’s innovation award for a high-tech vibrator after it was deemed “immoral, obscene, indecent, profane or not in keeping with CTA’s image ….” The CTA ultimately walked back its decision in May and returned the award to the vibrator company. This year, the category will be in force, from build-your-own vibrator workshops, intimate gadgets for couples and a sex toy already in the running as a finalist for Last Gadget Standing, an annual competition hosted in partnership with CTA.
After more than a year of intense scrutiny over how the tech industry handles user data, expect gadget makers to play up new privacy measures to help earn back user trust. Executives from BlackBerry, Apple, Facebook, Verizon and others will also discuss on a series of panels how they are tackling growing concerns around privacy and security at their companies.
AI and smart assistants
Amazon, Google and Samsung are expected to make software updates to their smart assistants this year, paving the way for new features and capabilities to make gadgets brainier than ever. But perhaps the most anticipated AI update is a rumored Samsung project called Neon, a more visual digital assistant — or “artificial human,” as Samsung teases it. Although it’s unclear what this expected CGI-like system could bring, it could be far more sophisticated than the existing Alexas, Google Assistants and Bixbys of the world.
TVs and streaming services
CES is always a crowd pleaser when it comes to new TVs: the bigger, the flashier the better. In past years, we’ve seen rollable TVs, a giant modular wall of TVs and 8K TVs. This year will be more of the same, but with limited 8K content available, it will likely remain a niche product. We will, however, likely see more 4K HDR sets show up on the trade show floor.
Although Netflix, Hulu and Disney+ aren’t expected to share news, smaller streaming services, such as short-form mobile platform Quibi, and new platforms from traditional broadcasting companies, including NBCUniversal, are expected to announce news at scheduled keynotes.
Other categories to watch include advancements in augmented reality and virtual reality. Although we won’t see too many system updates, companies are expected to showcase accessories with sound and touch vibrations, which makes it seem like you’re in a virtual world. Changes are also coming to wearables, with a focus less on fitness tracking and more on extra features, such as help you shop or regulate your body temperature.