CES 2020: 3 Emerging Tech Trends Actually Worth Getting Excited About
During the course of the three official days of CES 2020 (and the days of preview events and leaks before it), there were plenty of reasons to despair about the future of technology. There was the moment when the Kohler Numi 2.0, an absurd toilet that features support for Amazon Alexa, won an “innovation award.” There was the moment that a CEO of a startup pulled me towards his booth to talk about how disrupting the way one pays for gym memberships. There was the introduction of yet another $200+ “AI-informed” smart toothbrush.
It has become increasingly popular to decry CES, which is an easy target for criticism like this. None of these new products offer meaningful improvements to life or our collective wellbeing. Very few of these companies are seriously thinking about privacy. And after a decade where mosts optimistic sentiments about tech solutions to our problems have dissipated, a lot of the criticisms stick. And yet, I found CES 2020 to be an illuminating experience. There’s just no better place to see, firsthand, where tech, defined broadly, is heading in the next few years, and while there might not be much in the way of life-saving tech solutions, there's a lot of nifty stuff to get excited about.
There was a ton of gear to help you get a better night's sleep. There were a bunch of bendy computer and phone concepts (following last year’s underwhelming Samsung Fold). There were lots of new true wireless headphones. There was a glut of smart appliances. None of those developments were particularly surprising., but these three big trends were:
Despite Being More Than Good Enough, TVs Are Getting Better
TVs are already plenty good. They’re enormous, basically bezel-less, and feature picture quality that is so many magnitudes better than was conceivable even ten years ago. They’ve even become affordable, long gone are the days where you’d pay more than $500 for something with less than HD resolution and a 32-inch screen. But tech companies have to do something to make you part with your hard earned money, so they’re trying really hard to make them a lot better.
The main way we’re seeing this right now is through broader support for 8k resolution. Despite the fact that there isn’t that much native 8K content available, several manufacturers showed off 8K TVs in the Las Vegas Convention Center. 8K is actually at the center of an extremely petty definitional fight being waged currently between Samsung and LG about 8k certification. You don’t need to worry about the details of this yet, especially since any of these TVs offers absolutely mind boggling image quality that your eyes will barely be able to appreciate. But my hope is that competition in this arena will drive down the prices of the current set of aspirational TVs (4k OLEDs), as well as the ones most people will buy (4K LCDs).
This year’s CES also saw the US debut of view-rotating TVs, meaning a TV that physically rotates from horizontal to vertical. The most prominent example in this category is the Samsung Sero, a 43-inch TV that comes on it’s own built-in speaker stand. It pairs with your phone and will change its orientation to match that of your phone—automatically if you’re using Android, iPhone users will have to push a button on the included remote. This makes the Sero an excellent platform for scrolling through Instagram and watching videos on TikTok. It’s an interesting play. Do people even want to watch that kind of content on a big screen? Are you going to want to stalk your ex on Instagram if it’s broadcast that large? Time will tell. But as companies worry about losing market share to people who don’t feel that they need a TV, I expect we’ll see more TVs like this.
The Gap Between Consumer and Medical Health Tech is Closing
The gap between wearable fitness trackers, your Fitbits, and actual medical devices has really narrowed over the last few years. Functions that were once limited to extremely expensive machines that you could only find in hospitals have are now commonplace on gear that you can purchase on Amazon. One promising implementation of this I saw this year is by Withings, which makes smart watches, scales, and health monitors. This year, the company announced the Scanwatch. None of its features are particularly revolutionary—it has the ability to track activity, show notifications, and detect irregular heart rate (with an EKG), just like the Apple Watch. But it features an SpO2 sensor, which can help you determine whether you should be tested for sleep apnea. It’s not the first consumer grade product with this sensor—as Gizmodo pointed out, Fitbit watches have had them since 2017—but Withings is submitting the Scanwatch for FDA-approval. That might mean it’s a long time before anyone is able to buy a Scanwatch, since it could get caught up in regulatory hell, but it also has interesting implications for our ideas around medical devices.
Bluetooth is Getting (a Little) Better (Eventually)
For more reasons than just Apple removing the headphone jack on the iPhone, Bluetooth has become an essential part of most people’s daily lives. And honestly, it kind of s**ks. Don’t get me wrong, it is absolutely amazing to be able to listen to music without a wired connection. But it’s hard to pair two devices, still has noticeable latency, and the compression it requires still messes with audio quality. At the beginning of CES, Bluetooth announced some changes that should address some of these problems through finalizing support for Bluetooth LE Audio. As The Verge reports, This will unlock a bunch of new features for people using Bluetooth, including higher-quality audio, hearing aid support, broadcasting to multiple devices, and better wireless earbud support. These updates should have a big effect on devices using the most basic Bluetooth standards, giving them some of the advantages that already exist in devices like more premium Bluetooth headphones and Apple’s AirPods. These aren’t just minor upgrades. If we get what’s been promised, this is a substantial improvement to a ton of devices that a lot people purchase. That is something worth our optimism.