CES is such a big show that there's never enough time to see everything, or to write about it all. Since the show earlier this month, I've discussed my opinions on some of the big trends: Every product is trying to be "smart," with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant winning the battle for orchestrating the smart home. 8K TVs are becoming real, but display companies are making strong progress on what's happening after LCD. 5G was talked about a lot, but really didn't happen at the show. New processors and graphics are setting the stage for 2019's PCs, while laptops are highlighted by better gaming machines and much smaller, thinner 2-in-1s.
But there are always more things to consider. Indeed, the Consumer Technology Association, which puts on CES each year, predicts that Americans will spend $398 billion on consumer tech in 2019. CTA VP for Market Research Steve Koenig highlighted some of the big general trends from underlying ingredient technology, such as AI and 5G, to specific products in the market, such as digital assistants and AR/VR. (See the slide at the top of the story.)
Here are some of the other trends that stood out to me:
Virtual Reality Is Moving, But Still Has a Way to Go
In many ways, 2018 was a disappointing year for VR. Though devices such as the Sony PlayStation VR, Oculus Go and the HTC Vive Pro were decent sellers, the promise that VR would become a mainstream platform is still years out. In part, that's because the hardware just isn't good enough.
But there are signs that things are changing. We're waiting for the Oculus Quest and the much-rumored HTC Cosmos, both expected in the next few months. At the show, HTC was showing a more professional version of its Vive headset called the Vive Pro Eye. This adds eye tracking, so you can glance at something to select it, rather than using a controller, while the rendering can be more detailed only in the area where you are looking.
I did try out a professional VR headset from VRgineers. The XTAL has a 180-degree field of view, with each eye having a Quad HD (2560x1440) OLED display at 70Hz.It's big but the company tells me it has found a niche in applications such as automotive designers wanting to see what the car looks like without building a model. I'm not sure I'd want to wear one for hours at a time, but it seemed to work quite well.
Also, as I mentioned in a report on Last Gadget Standing, I was very impressed by the Vuze XR camera, where the lenses can be placed back to back to capture 360-degree images, or snapped out to capture VR-180 degree content. Making it easier to capture good VR content seems like a necessity if the technology is going to take off.
AR for Business is Finding its Niche
Similarly, augmented reality glasses don't seem really consumer friendly yet, but they do seem to be finding a niche in business, and I saw a number of intriguing demos with Microsoft Hololens and Magic Leap. For instance, at Intel's booth, I was able to try a demo where two Magic Leap users collaborated to put back together a broken drone. The display looked pretty good, with a broader field of view than HoloLens, but there's still quite a way to go. Microsoft has scheduled a press conference later this month where we expect to see something new in this area, and Magic Leap is on its commercial product, though neither had an announcement at the show.
Vusix showed a new consumer version of its Vusix Blade AR smart glasses that use waveguide optics. The company recently announced connections with AccuWeather and Yelp, as well as a companion app for IOS and Android that lets users see and manage smartphone notifications from the glasses. I tried the glasses for a few minutes and they are certainly improved over previous versions. I still don't think this is mainstream—the glasses are still big—but it's a step in the right direction
Other examples at the show included Tikaway, which had an interesting set of glasses for video conferencing for remote assistance.
I was also pretty impressed by Kopin's Golden-I Infinity headset, in part because it seems extremely lightweight (if not as ambitious as some of the others). The company is working on a wide array of lens for AR and VR, including a 2K by 2K OLED lens that can show a 2K by 2K image in each eye, with a wider field of view.
There were reports of other interesting AR headsets at the show—notably the Nreal Light and the RealMax Qian—but unfortunately, I wasn't able to see these. (CES is a big show.)
Higher Speed Connections Are Coming
With computers and phones getting faster, and networks doing more, every year the standards need to be increased to support faster connections and to improve security. This year's CES saw a few notable improvements.
The USB Implementer's Forum launched a new authentication program for the USB-C standard, which brings in cryptographics-based method for host devices (like PCs or phones) to know what is being plugged in and what capabilities it should have. It's an interesting solution to the problem of fake USB keys and other potentially compromising devices. The USB group also announced a new standard for delivering digital audio while simultaneously charging; and has rebranded its USB 3.2 specifications with the 5 Gbps version now called SuperSpeed USB, with 10 and 20 Gbps versions adding the speed after the SuperSpeed designation.
Meanwhile, CableLabs along with NCTA and Cable Europe announced a new 10 gigabits per second technology for cable networks, which it is calling 10G (somewhat confusingly since the terms 4G and 5G are used mostly for wireless connections). This technology is still several years away from being deployed—and the operator representatives I talked to admit that they haven't seen the applications that need it yet (but they note that they started work on today's networks before streaming video and high-resolution computer games were developed). Cable service of up to 1 Gbps is currently available in about 80 percent of the US, the cable group said; nearly all the big cable companies in the US, and many in foreign markets, pledged their support for the 10 Gbps standard.
Wireless Power-at-a-Distance Inches Closer to the Market
I've been intrigued by the idea of true wireless charging—the idea that your device could be charging at all times, not just when you plugged it in or placed in on a charging pad. But the technologies involved in what has been called power-at-a-distance are very hard because there's only so much power that can be transferred by relatively low-intensity electromagnetic radio, light, or sound. Still, there were some indications that this technology may be available in some limited real products this year.
Powercast, which uses low-power RF including products at the 915MHz band, had earlier showed applications such as a transmitter powering electronic price tags and similar devices. But this year, it was showing a consumer product—wireless charging grips for Nintendo controllers that it expects to ship in the third quarter of the year. The idea is that the grips would contain batteries that would get charged when the controllers aren't in use. I can see where this would be useful.
Ossia, which makes the Cota system for using radio frequency (such as Wi-Fi signals) to charge, announced a new 5.8GHz transmitter, which it claimed can deliver 5 watts of power at a distance of 1 meter, more than competing systems. It also announced a partnership with Spigen to bring a wireless charging sleeve for mobile phones (called the Forever Sleeve) to market. The version on display supports an iPhone X or XS and is expected to be available in early 2020. You could theoretically put a transmitter in your home and your office, and a sleeve on your phone, and not have to think about ever charging the phone. It's an interesting idea.
uBeam was showing an ultrasound-based solution, which it claims is safer because the waves are not absorbed by the body. They showed an interesting system, though not consumer-based solutions yet.
Again, this concept is developing more slowly than I would like, but it does seem to be inching forward.
Digital Health is Becoming Real
Perhaps the most hopeful trend at the show was a dramatic increase in the number of digital health products. I was quite impressed by the wide variety of products designed to help people with specific ailments, as well as just general fitness. Lots of wearable devices are now trying to get more into the health market, starting with Apple supporting ECG monitoring in this year's Apple Watch. I saw products that track your exercise, smart clothing, even devices that alert you in cases of incontinence.
A couple of devices stood out in my mind: Omron was showing a blood pressure monitor that looks like a smartwatch which appears much easier to take everywhere than the older blood-pressure cuffs. Abbott showed its Freestyle Libresystem that makes things easier for diabetics by offering continuous glucose monitoring rather than repeated finger stabs.
Looking even simpler, AerNos showed a wrist-worn device with a gas sensor called Aeretic that it says can detect certain exhaled gasses that indicate diabetic episodes. I don't have any of these issues, so I haven't tried them out, but they certainly look interesting.
Going even farther, Electronic Caregiver was showing Addison, a virtual caregiver—essentially an animated agent that reminds you to take your medicine, monitors your health, and can inform your health care providers about the status of your health. It's an ambitious and intriguing concept.
CES Has Become an Automotive Show
New cars and new car technology were all over the show. Autonomous vehicles—mainly self-driving cars—got a lot of attention, with all sorts of vendors showing hardware and software for making such vehicles, and it seemed like every car company had a prototype of what the interior of their cars might look like if they no longer had driver controls inside.
These are neat, but I expect that full autonomy—what the industry calls Level 4 for specific situations and Level 5 for vehicles that work in all situations—is further off than many in the industry predict. For the next several years, I expect ADAS (advanced driver assistance services) is where the action is for most consumers.
There was also plenty of action on the show floor with electric vehicles, as almost every car maker wants into the market. I'm not going to go over the details here—others know car technology better than I do—but here's PCMag's look at the coolest and craziest cars at the show and Extreme Tech's look at the best car tech.