The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) invariably delivers a host of new and intriguing gadgets for consumers to consider purchasing throughout the year. But, CES is bigger than just a showcase for the newest tech; it shows us where technology trends will be taking us. Despite the unveiling of cool contraptions at the show, analyzing the trends within the show can illuminate greater truths about the technological future. We wanted to focus on CES not from the “five best gadgets for 2015” perspective, but rather what we can learn from the show as a whole.
1) The Internet of Things is here, but it’s still expensive
As we covered in our 2015 predictions’ article, we said the Internet of Things (IoT) isn’t a new concept, but that it would come closer to reality this year. The sheer prevalence of IoT devices at CES bore that prediction out — from washing machines, to ovens, to lights, to locks, the IoT was a major selling point for many of the world’s largest technology manufacturers.
Samsung’s CEO Boo-Keun Yoon stated all of Samsung’s products will connect to the Internet within five years — all of them. That doesn’t mean that IoT is here for everybody. For now, it’s mostly consigned to the nerdirati. But the prevalence of the IoT at CES indicates the growing importance of this nascent industry.
Despite those positive signs, there is one major drawback to an IoT utopia — the ecosystem. Right now, most of the IoT players are developing their own ecosystem (Samsung appliances talk to Samsung phones, etc.). In order for the IoT to work the way consumers will demand, it will have to be a cross-platform ecosystem in which an LG washing machine will talk to a home automated by Google that’s controlled by an iPhone. There’s no reason this can’t be done, but there may be some major gnashing of teeth along the way…
2) Cars are the next frontier
Google has made waves re: self-driving cars for years. This year at CES, some major auto players hopped on board. Audi sent a driverless car from San Fran to Las Vegas for the show. Mercedes-Benz launched it’s own autonomous prototype as a possible model for “mobile living spaces,” according to Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche. BMW and Volkswagen showcased self-parking cars while Nvideo introduced two new computers for the car, one for infotainment and the other to compute the massive amounts of data self-driving machines will require (the self-driving computer can process data at 2.3 teraflops — twice the processing power of the world’s most powerful supercomputer in the year 2000).
On the infotainment side, Parrot released the first aftermarket dash unit that will support both iOS (CarPlay) and Android Auto, turning your car into an infotainment Eden regardless of which phone you carry. Given the amount of time we spend in our cars, it’s only natural that this space is ripe for technological disruption; the major players in both the auto and computing fields certainly seem to agree.
3) 3D printers are (still) a big deal
3D printers have been making headlines for a few years now — from guns to prosthetic hands, 3D printers have demonstrated their utility (or frivolity, depending on where you stand). Given the strong presence of 3D printing companies at CES, this industry is poised for continued growth. MakerBot unveiled faster and easier to use 3D printers. HP touted its Sprout computer, an integrated 3D prototype visualizer and printer. For product designers, engineers, artists, architects, you name it, 3D printers signal a new wave of ideation and prototyping. As they become faster and more consumer friendly, the industry ought to continue its impressive growth.
4) Everyone still loves TVs
No matter what new gadget you fell in love with at CES, there’s no denying that TVs still reign supreme. The main floor was awash with new offerings from established tech giants, as well as improved offerings utilizing already-launched technologies. OLED TVs and updated LCD TVs were everywhere, with many LCDs getting a boost from “Quantum Dot” and high dynamic range upgrades. Most notably, though, 4K ulta-high resolution TVs will hit the mainstream in a major way over the next 18 months. It will take some time for content creators and distributors to catch up and film their shows/movies in the new ultra-HD format, but it’s a brave new world out there when it comes to (big) screens.
There were some other trends to take note of at the show, specifically the outcropping of virtual reality headsets, new entertainment delivery channels and an explosion of wearables. We decided not to highlight them as much because we’ve covered some of those in the past, or we feel like they’re not quite ready for primetime.
In the end, we hope you begin to look at CES not as a showcase of gadgets, but rather as a barometer for where the technological world is heading. All we can say is that we’re excited for where it might take us.