The annual CES, the largest showcase of consumer technology, went all Digital this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of spending a week in Las Vegas walking the aisles of the huge show put on by the Consumer Technology Association, attendees like myself spent days strolling the “virtual” booths, and holding meetings via video conference. Instead of the walls of giant TV’s and rows of laptops and accessories, there were pre-produced videos and the opportunities to set up meetings in advance, based on your areas of interest.
While there were fewer companies showcasing their tech, about 1600 down from the usual 4,000, there were still trends to be seen, many of which reflect the effects of the pandemic on our home and work life.
Among the trends, which include robotics, AI, 8K TV’s, transparent and bendable displays, enterprise technologies like cloud, IoT and 5G, it was the Covid-related products that took center stage.
Companies have been working on ways to keep us safe and healthy, producing everything from smart masks to disinfecting robots.
LG introduced a portable air filter, the LG PuriCare Mini, a wireless device designed to improve air quality in smaller spaces like the home, office or the car.
Targus showed off a UV-C LED disinfection light that blasts your keyboard and desk area with virus-killing UV-C light for five minutes when you walk away from the desk. A motion sensor knows when you’re there or if you’ve stepped away to grab some coffee. It also showed off a backpack with antimicrobial coatings on its handles and other spots that are “high touch.” It plans on introducing anti-microbial keyboards and mice soon.
Kohler and Toto showed off touchless toilets and faucets that turn on or flush automatically, or with just the wave of a hand. Moen has its touchless sink faucet that you can control with a wave or with your voice using Alexa.
For larger areas such as office buildings, schools and hospitals, there were UV-C light robots designed to disinfect large spaces and surfaces.
AirPop showed off its Active+ Smart Mask which Halo has a built-in sensor that measures outdoor air quality, as well as your own breathing, to provide helpful health and fitness insights, as well as letting you know when it’s time to change the filter.
BACK TO WORK – AT HOME
Though some offices are re-opening or creating hybrid work models, many of us will continue to work from home until the Covid vaccine is more widely rolled out. Tech companies are designing new devices to make it easier to work at home, focusing on connectivity, convenience, privacy and security.
Dell showed off a series of video conferencing monitors that have a Microsoft Teams dedicated button, a pop-up five MP camera, dual 5W integrated speakers, and a noise-cancelling microphone.
If you just need to upgrade your own audio, Shure showed off mics it says will enhance speech audio quality for video conferencing.
Some home users prefer the convenience of a desktop and the Lenovo Yoga AIO 7 is one of the most versatile all-in-one desktops we’ve seen. It has a 27-inch 4K IPS display that you can view in the traditional horizontal or landscape mode or rotate into a vertical mode that’s perfect for reading long documents and working on spreadsheets. When connected to your laptop via a USB Type-C cable you can use the peripherals, share the hard drive and move files between the two PC’s.
Some of the latest Lenovo X1 computers will now come with Dolby Voice for PC, an audio-conferencing tool designed to make meetings sound clearer and more natural at home. It removes unwanted background noise and echoes, while automatically adjusting levels for voices that are quieter or farther away from a microphone. So sorry, you’re not done with Zoom and Teams calls yet.
We also saw LG bring OLED displays to laptops screens and monitors like the new 32-inch 4K monitor. This means you’ll get those deeper blacks and the individual dimming on each pixel that you usually only see on TV displays.
There have always been robots on display at CES but this year, they’re taking on more of a domestic role. Samsung showed off a line of robots we’ll all want in our homes, most notably, the Bot Handy, which can help empty the dishwasher or set the table. It uses AI to recognize and pick up objects so it can help clean up or put away groceries as it moves throughout the house. Sign us up for this one!
For those who need help keeping their busy day on track, the Samsung Bot Care acts as both a robotic assistant and companion. It learns your schedule and sends you reminders throughout the day.
We’ve been watching a lot of TV at home, streaming the latest shows and movies. Since we’re saving money on movie theater trips, it might be time to upgrade your family TV. Samsung and LG gave us a gorgeous preview of what to expect in entertainment this year.
OLED TV’s remain the star of the show, offering up life-like images with their ability to individually control each pixel. LG, which last year debuted a rollable TV display, showed off a 55-inch transparent OLED TV, designed to rise from the frame of a smart bed. It tucks neatly away at the foot of the bed when you’re done watching.
If you’re looking for the larger end of the spectrum, there’s Samsung’s 110-inch Micro Led 4K TV. Samsung says its MICRO LED TV is 30 times brighter than OLED and claims the lifespan is about 100,000 viewing hours. You’ll pay a hefty price for this model, priced at over $150,000 but take heart, there are smaller models coming out later this year.
With all the work video calls and TV streaming we’re doing; routers are getting an upgrade to handle all that bandwidth. D-Link showed off new routers with 5G and Wi-Fi 6 to help speed up home wireless networks. Wi-Fi 6 offers faster speeds and less network congestion, a must-have when the whole family is working and going to school from home.
5G IS ALMOST HERE
The mobile devices shown off at CES were 5G-enabled, and not just at the high end. Even budget, or more affordable phones than the flagship devices now have 5G baked in, thanks to a less expensive Snapdragon 480 processor. Laptops from Lenovo, Dell and HP have built-in 5G modems and a company called Inseego debuted the world's first mobile 5G hotspot as well as in-home 5G routers.
Is this the year we’ll finally see broader adoption of 5G? Maybe. Now that the hardware is here, we’ll have an opportunity to see what the different 5G networks can do. Verizon’s Chairman and CEO Hans Vestberg, in his Verizon keynote, detailed all that the carrier’s 5G Ultra-Wideband can do for telemedicine, drone delivery, education and other areas. “It’s an innovation platform that makes other innovations possible,” he said. And that’s the most exciting part of CES – imagining all the technological advances we’ll see in the coming year.