CES 2019 is nearly upon us – when thousands of tech enthusiasts will descend on Las Vegas for a chance to get hands-on with the latest gadgets and devices, we will want in our lives during 2019 and beyond.
As the world’s biggest consumer technology event, CES is where the manufacturers of phones, televisions, computers, toys, and wearables announce their plans and unveil new products for the year ahead.
Last year the inevitable new mobile handsets from the likes of Samsung and Huawei, OLED televisions and virtual reality were among the hot topics. But what will grab the headlines this year? Here’s my guide to some of the top trends we can expect to see:
AI at the top of the agenda
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is now a mainstay of consumer tech, from automated translators and image enhancement in our phones to voice recognition in cars, and the industry appetite for AI is only likely to increase this year.
LG’s president and chief technology officer I.P. Park will mark the start of proceedings with a presentation on how AI will enable ‘self-evolving’ products. Throughout the week we are very likely to see the results of continued efforts by all major tech companies to embed machine learning and predictive analytics into the devices we use day-to-day.
AI in in-car tech is likely to be a major focus, with most of the big auto manufacturers unveiling plans in the past year to build natural language-based voice recognition into their vehicles. While the majority of us may not yet be riding in AI-controlled cars by the end of 2019, we may very well be using AI to pick our entertainment while we are driving and control our in-car climate. We could even see screens beginning to replace mirrors, bringing us augmented reality features such as hazard identification and image enhancement.
AI in its various implementations is likely to be on display across all of CES’s 11 venues, reflecting AI’s infiltration of every facet of consumer technology. If you can watch it, listen to it, play with it or ride in it, expect to see it with embedded AI in Vegas.
Smart screens – the command center of the smart home
Amazon started it with its Echo Show, and Google was quick on their heels with its Home Hub – this year smart screens will be big news, and we’re likely to see the first dedicated TVs with Amazon Echo devices built in (rather than merely being Alexa-compatible through “skills,” as many that are currently available are).
We can expect other major tech manufacturers and developers to join the party at CES 2019 – Samsung is likely to show off their Bixby-enabled Galaxy device, Facebook will be hoping to draw attention to its Portal, that aims to revolutionize Facebook Messenger with cameras that follow the user as they move around the room, and other similar devices will be on show from the likes of Lenovo and perhaps even Sony.
LG, in particular, is theming its smart home strategy around the kitchen, where smart screens are regularly put to use. As well as showing recipes, they could soon be used to directly control appliances themselves.
The tablet form smartphone has ruled the roost for some considerable amount of time now. Well, nothing lasts forever – and several manufacturers including Samsung and LG are thought to be putting their money behind foldable screens as the most likely evolution of the smartphone form-factor to break into the mainstream.
Previously obscure Chinese-American manufacturer beat the big boys to the punch by releasing the world’s first folding phone – named Flexpai – this year, that can switch forms from 7.8” tablet to dual-screen smartphone.
Phones featuring foldable screens have several obvious benefits – offering larger pictures while taking up less pocket space, and being less likely to disintegrate if dropped.
The OLED and AMOLED technology making foldable screens a possibility is likely to also find its way into televisions, laptops and gaming devices. LG may show off its roll-out TV in Vegas in January, and its such a practical idea that other TV manufacturers won’t be far behind.
Commentators are already predicting folding-screen devices that can switch between tablet, phone, laptop (by utilizing part of the screen as a keyboard) and television forms. While these are still on the drawing board and unlikely to be on show this year, expect to see the first steps on the road to producing consumer-ready multi-functional folding displays.
The Road to 5G
The next generation of mobile data networks – promising speeds that far outstrip even those provided by today’s cable connections – is still a year or so away from being made available to the public. But what we might expect to see at CES this year are the first devices that will be capable of connecting to these networks, when they are up and running.
With Qualcomm president Christiano Amon predicting that every flagship mobile device will be 5G capable by the end of next year, we could get early glimpses of the tech that will be available from the likes of Samsung, Huawei, OnePlus and Google at CES 2019.
These 5G networks should put connection speeds of around 20 gigabits per second into the hands of the everyday mobile internet user and are critical to the ongoing rollout of the smart city concept. The move towards 5G will be the subject of Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg’s show keynote, and there will undoubtedly be a lot of buzz around the topic from other network operators and device manufacturers.
Autonomous cars have been on the horizon for some time now, and 2018 saw a building-up of everything, including hype, around the idea that cars will soon be driving themselves through our streets.
Companies considered to be on the cutting edge of designing the AI that will power these vehicles have confirmed they will be exhibiting at CES 2019, and we might be lucky enough to get new announcements or even demonstrations of the tech in action.
Nvidia’s Xavier chip, that allows level 3 autonomous driving, will soon be fitted to electric vehicles produced in China. Level 3 autonomy means that while cars can effectively drive themselves in most normal conditions, a human should be ready to take over the controls at any time.
Last year’s CES saw the announcement of a partnership with Uber that led to its technology powering the ride-sharing network’s autonomous driving trials in Phoenix and Pittsburgh, US. This year could bring news of new partnerships and trials as practically every tech company, and vehicle manufacturer stakes their claim to a slice of the pie.
Also present will be TuSimple, which is developing computer vision technology they say will bring autonomous trucking closer to readiness. We will also hear more from Rivian – a startup that has developed an electric pick-up truck that is designed to become autonomous via a software update once legislation is in place to make them road-legal.
Although it remains to be seen whether these established veterans and startups of the autonomous driving world will have anything new in the way of products or announcements, it’s certain there will be a lot of buzz around the way driving will change in the future.