Last year’s CES in Las Vegas, Nevada, marked the last time in a long time, many of us would chat face to face, exchange invisible respiratory droplets, handle the same germs, and enjoy food and drink in windowless restaurants.
This year, due to the ongoing pandemic, the annual CES is held entirely on our computer screens. The first all-distance presentation of the consumer technology industry event begins on Monday, January 1
The CES experience from afar poses some obvious challenges to those of us who report on the show. We can’t walk nearly 3 million square feet of exhibition space or actually try the new products that are on display. But we will do our best to give you our expert analysis of this year’s technology fest, based on a whole bunch of virtual briefings and our collective decades covering CES in the past. So turn on Zoom, hook up your headphones with VR and get ready to continue.
Let’s get small
If you want to check out CES this year, you don’t need to spend money on registration fees, plane tickets or accommodation. You can view all messages and activities in your pajamas.
But there is no doubt that this year’s CES has been reduced. The Consumer Technology Association, which hosts CES, says about 1,800 exhibitors will be part of this year’s exhibition. That’s less than half of the 4,400 exhibitors who introduced the technology last year. The CTA also said that as an all-digital event, “the show will be available to audiences around the world,” but declined to say how many people actually signed up for this year’s virtual CES. Last year, about 170,000 people attended in person.
Some technology companies are giving up CES this year or driving product news on their own schedules. Amazon will not have an official presence, although you can probably expect to see its Alexa voice assistant appear in hundreds of products. Google, which recently organized massive Googley installations around Las Vegas, says CESes will host partner meetings, but is otherwise giving up the show. Microsoft President Brad Smith will give a keynote speech on technologies that are both a weapon and a tool – a particularly relevant topic, but most of the news related to Microsoft at CES will be from PC makers. Facebook and its Oculus division will also not be involved. Instead, the company chose to tease its upcoming “smart glasses” on a blog earlier this week. And much of the focus on Facebook right now, anyway, is its role in undermining American democracy.
Samsung and LG Electronics will host virtual press conferences and give briefings on their new displays and appliances. But it’s worth noting that Samsung is holding its annual Galaxy phone launch on January 14 –during CES, but not really part of CES. We will also follow closely Monday’s press conferences with Intel and Sony. And some of the highlights include talks from CEOs of General Motors, Verizon and AMD.
Look, but don’t touch
Is what a new technology will see in practice next week? Some exciting things are happening on television, says Parker Hall of WIRED. The most stunning TV we’ve seen before the conference is Samsung’s new 110-inch MicroLED. (MicroLED is a relatively new display technology that uses small, inorganic LEDs, three per pixel and should offer perfect contrast.) More TV manufacturers are also pushing 8K screens, including Samsung, LG and Sony, as well as cheaper manufacturers. kits like TCL and Vizio. And that may seem like a small thing, but many new TVs will ship this year with improved HDMI 2.1 ports – so that the new PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X gaming consoles can run to their full 120 Hz potential on displays.
Some TV manufacturers may refuse to make their announcements until spring, when most new TVs will hit the market. It’s just hard to entertain the same noise for displays when you can’t show an exciting OLED waterfall in person. And 8K displays come with the same warning that 4K did only a few years ago: It will take some time for 8K content to become widely available.
CES usually offers a good opportunity to check out new laptop technologies, even if we don’t see some of them shiping by the fall. (It turns out that laptops are the main gadgets when you do everything from keeping work to homework for your kids during a pandemic.) You often hear, “The computer is dead, the computer isn’t dead,” said Patrick Moorhead, founder and CEO. analyzer in Moor Insights & Strategy. “But I see a lot of action in computing devices, especially around ACPC – the always-connected PC.” This means that we can finally start seeing more ARM-powered computers with cellular capabilities, so if we can again on the move in the future, we will always have a data connection.
WILED’s Scott Gilbertson says it’s “AMD’s laptop year.” From Chromebooks to high-end gaming machines, manufacturers offer AMD models along with the usual options powered by Intel. The AMD Ryzen 3000 C series chips – optimized specifically for the Chromebook – arrive in newer models later this year from Acer and other PC makers. Scott also says that support for Wi-Fi 6 and better-looking displays with a higher refresh rate will become standard for laptops in 2021 to meet the requirements of modern games. And the entire WIRED Gear team hopes that laptop webcams will get much better in 2021. This is an improvement that is long overdue.
Calling the future
Most of the major smartphone makers will be hosting individual announcement events at some point in 2021, as well as for at least a decade. But some of the mobile messages made during or around CES will point to lasting trends.
This year, we’ll probably see that almost every phone maker offers a 5G phone for under $ 400, says WIRED senior associate editor Julian Chocatu. Qualcomm has just announced 5G support for its Snapdragon 480 chip for low-cost phones. The result is that Qualcomm can now offer 5G in its full range of telephone processors, not just higher-end chips. Of course, wireless operators will continue the conversation about building 5G networks – expect to hear more about this during the main address of Verizon CEO Hans Westberg on Monday night. Although Moorhead says don’t expect any “waving in the room” messages around 5G.
Coming later this year on smartphones, even if not announced at CES: more foldable, removable displays; high-end Android phones running the Snapdragon 888 chip; support for the new Wi-Fi 6E standard; higher screen refresh rates; and, taking a sign from Apple, fewer phones that come with charging adapters in the box.
Alone at home
If there is another trend that has emerged in full force during the Covid-19 pandemic and is likely to continue in 2021, it is our obsession with our homes – working from them, working in them and refreshing them . Or, as senior writer Adrienne So says, “companies bet we want to keep our vacuumed carpets, toned bellies and buttocks fresh.” (We may even see a commercialized version of the toilet that analyzes your poop.)
Companies such as Samsung, Roborock and Eufy will unveil robotic vacuum cleaners with attractive designs and new cleaning technologies at CES this year. Bathroom fixtures will become “smarter” – yes, more appliances with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth chips are stuck in them.
On the fitness side, most wearable manufacturers are missing out on CES this year, Adrien says. But that means a year could come in which hardware innovation puts software in the background, with a greater focus on intelligent training and recovery applications, working artificial intelligence trainers and personalized training services, all working on the phone or smart the watch you already own.
And of course, where there is a serious health crisis, he is always immersed in the technological solution: WIRED associate Boone Ashworth says he gets a lot of playgrounds for high-tech cleaning equipment. Think of hand-held air purifiers, antimicrobial screen protectors, and non-contact disinfection stations that disinfect while showing you ads. Some of them will be more legitimate than others, but it is safe to bet that for many of us, even after the end of the pandemic, disinfection can be a long-standing mania.
We won’t really be able to catch vibration at CES this year – the oddities, novelties, size and scale of the displays, the elegance of the concept cars. Not to mention that the pandemic has had a devastating impact on the tourism and hotel industry in Las Vegas, and the cancellation of massive events like CES will only add to the trauma. But the CTA says this year’s CES is not intended to replace or recreate a personal exhibition, and that the organization “looks forward to returning to our home, Las Vegas, in 2022 and beyond.” I never thought I would write this, but I will look forward to returning to CES in Las Vegas someday.
Julian Chocatou of WIRED, Adrienne So, Parker Hall, Scott Gilbertson and Boone Ashworth contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared on wired.com.