CES: Trends for 2016
The annual Consumer Electronics Show gives us a glimpse of the year’s new technology. But don’t apply for that flying car loan just yet, writes JAMES FRANCIS.
The technology market is a bit like the first school dance. On the one wall are the tech companies, nervous, holding gifts and practising their lines. On the other, the consumers, aloof and bored, waiting for the right suitor to sweep them off their feet.
Unfortunately not everyone gets a twirl on the floor. Most are ignored and forgotten. Every consumer is the belle of the ball and every year it becomes harder to woo them with glittering gadgets.
The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is the largest technology gathering in the world. Since the mid 60s, it’s where new electronics try to become the next big thing.
This isn’t easy: VHS launched at CES … in 1970. It would take many more years before the iconic black tapes lived in every household.
So what might move in during 2016?
It’s almost a Smart year
Smart, smart, smart. If you are done with that word, change the channel for the next 365 days. Many are betting on smart wearables – and not only the fitness trackers we’ve seen around. Soon you will be able to buy smart bras and smart belts.
The home is also growing as a battleground for smart technologies. Several companies, including LG, unveiled smart hubs from which to run your home with ease. The favourite? Mother, a sensor hub that can even tell if the kids haven’t brushed their teeth long enough.
You can invest in a smart shower head, which claims to save water, or flowerpot that will raise your plants for you. There are smart collars and bowls for pets, while sun babies can check their UV exposure with L’Oreal’s new smart skin patch.
But the winner? Laundroid: a robot that folds your laundry. Sadly, that is just a prototype and still a few years away from taking over your chores.
Regardless, expect 2016’s technology word to be ‘Smart’, even if the products might not be.
Virtual reality disciples believe 2016 will be a watershed year for the technology. Sadly, the U$599 (R10 000) price tag for Oculus Rift dampened spirits a little. Still, there are several companies eager to crack the VR nut and they tried hard at CES 2016. They will try hard again in 2017, but for now VR looks like an expensive indulgence, not a life-changing technology.
Connected cars are in better shape. Everyone from Volkswagen and Chevrolet to BMW showed off electric and connected vehicles.
Many more want to wire up existing cars. But this is bad news, office jockeys: Harman and Microsoft aim to make it easier for you to answer emails and schedule meetings while driving. On the upside, if you are late for work you can insist you were in the office the second you got into your car. Take that, HR.
And take this, teenage drivers: the SMARTWheel wraps around any steering wheel and warns if the driver is reckless or tired. That sound you hear is the voices of thousands of parents cheering.
So what’s in store for 2016?
The technology companies have their lines, moves and flowers ready. But what will consumers go for?
Smart is a tempting bet, but wearable sales have shown consumers aren’t that interested just yet. Not until prices come down and uses go up. The clear winners may be drones: these are becoming easier to fly – in fact, models like the Parrot Disco practically fly themselves.
Ultra High Definition (UHD) televisions are also set for a boost, though sadly the really exciting TVs – such as LG’s rollable screen or Panasonic’s panel that turns into a transparent piece of glass – are still a few years away from store shelves.
Of course, you can't talk CES without talking smartphones. These days it's tough for manufacturers to out-power competitors, so everyone is fighting through features. Already some manufacturers are toying with 360-degree cameras, 3D scanners and projectors built into handset. Expect a lot more of that during the year.
But will consumers bite? If we could answer that, we’d be retired on an island somewhere, rich from technology stocks, and not guessing like everyone else.
Main image: Attendees visit the The Oculus Gear VR Theater with 4D during the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada, US, on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. CES is expected to bring a range of announcements from major names in tech showcasing new developments in virtual reality, self-driving cars, drones, wearables, and the Internet of Things. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images