A Review of CES 2019
The Latest, Greatest, Interesting Things In Technology Today
The techie calendar probably begins its first event in the desert of Las Vegas (USA) in the first week of January. This is CES (Consumer Electronics Show) trade show and convention which attracts exhibitors from big and emerging tech companies worldwide. It is hosted at the Las Vegas Convention Center, which is near the “Las Vegas Strip”, so it is accessible to attendees and tourists alike. On show are the newest gadgets that are either currently available in retail or a proof of concept design to give consumers something to look forward to. This is all about showcasing not just the latest products, but also the latest innovations that will make our life better.
I will begin the review on some key technologies that are on display this year. Unfortunately, smartphones and cameras are only limited in CES. More emphasis on smartphones will be on show at the MWC Mobile World Congress while cameras are presented at Photokina. Recently more auto-makers are featuring their products at CES, with the emergence of self-driving cars, electric cars (EV) and autonomous vehicles. The electronics and software using AI have become more sophisticated in automobiles, it is becoming more marketable for commercial use. More auto products will be showcased at upcoming auto shows, like that in Detroit and Geneva, so CES is more of a starting point for introduction and marketing.
I will use buzzwords to describe certain categories of products in my review. I was impressed by some, but not all. No one can really please everybody, there are certain things consumers like, as we all have different tastes and preferences. However there will always emerge “crowd favorites” and “most hated” products. You cannot base a product on other people’s reviews unless you have actually used it or seen it.
What makes a product great in my criteria are:
- Usability — Is it user friendly, intuitive and practical.
- Necessity — Is it really necessary to build the product.
- Pricing — Is it worth its price tag or is it of value.
- Design — Form usually follows function, but in most cases consumers can be fooled by the facade.
I’m sure very few products can meet that criteria, so there is always a tradeoff of one feature for another. The reviews presented are my own opinions. It is nearly impossible to review every single gadget and visit every booth at CES. One day would not be enough to see everything. In the Internet Age we have so many sources of information to get news, both reliable and fake. I am basing my review on account from credible sources that have been fact checked online. If some company’s product claim turns out to be wrong later on, well that is the world we live in. Always “DYOR” Do Your Own Research to verify the facts.
So, lets get to it.
I am going to begin with some AI, though more “awkward” than “artificial”. This is because I am beginning to notice a trend in interactive robots that really are more for amusement than practical use. The idea the developers have may be for entertainment purposes for now, but it really does not impress me that much. Some companies are presenting how far along robots have come in making conversation, but if you ask me, I would rather talk to Google’s Duplex than to a human-looking prosthetic robot e.g. “Sophia”. She is back once again to CES.
Sophia is a robot developed by Hanson Robotics. If you have seen the demo, this is what a typical robot has been like for past decades. The developers claim new capabilities, this time Sophia is able to sing and now has better mechanical processes e.g. gripping objects. To me Sophia is like an unsophisticated chatbot with a movable neck and smiley face. It does not have a mind of its own, fortunately. What makes this robot awkward is when you try to strike a conversation with them and they say the strangest and weirdest things. The idea they are trying to make with Sophia is to give it more feelings and emotions, like how a real human would answer. Yet it is anything but that, which is why I think Google’s Duplex artificial voice technology is farther ahead than Sophia. It does creep many people out because of how “real” it sounds.
We really shouldn’t develop robots like Sophia to have a mind of their own or even becoming close to human. Otherwise we are just re-inventing ourselves in silicon and circuits. This is very much an experiment in how to extend robot abilities, but those who praise this as the future … think again. Remember “SkyNet”?
Robots are also finding more purpose now, not just in automation. There are companies that are making robots not only for industrial use, but now as companions for consumers. They have a social interface that allows them to interact with consumers.
You have probably heard of robots like Sony’s Aibo, which mimic a real dog. Those types of robots are more for entertainment. Robo-pets are a sort of emerging fad, but now we also have robo-assistants. What developers are creating now are more interactive robots for assisting consumers. Robot assistants can provide home care to help elderly and disabled people. These robots are running on AI enabled software which have been programmed for routine tasks. This is actually a more practical and useful application of robotics for consumers.
Tech giant Samsung shows us its line of robots. One of their robots is called Bot Care. The idea is to have a robot assist with daily living, so it is also a health assistant. Another type of robot Samsung showcased was for customer and service support. We shall see how these robots will be regulated for retail. I find this to be useful for accomplishing many tasks. Imagine having a robot assistant that can help you hammer a nail, collect trash around the house, get you a beer or cook your burger. Some businesses are already experimenting with this idea like at Creator restaurant in San Francisco. These are examples of how man and machine can work together in a non-adversarial way.
CES was full of robots designed for different purposes. Of the many robots exhibited, I found one that has beneficial use and not for entertaining. A company called Somnox has developed a “sleep robot” to help assist people who have difficulty sleeping or just want a good night’s rest. If anything, the most practical uses for robots are in fields like healthcare, where costs can be justified for their benefits.
Robots have in recent years been used in other social interactive applications, notably “sexbots”. They continue to get better and the market is growing for it. They talk like Sophia, the typical fake robot voice, but advanced prosthetics and materials have made them more human like. Some owners of these robots even claim they feel like a real human (well that is up to your imagination). The next step in evolution for these robots is a more human like voice, and then perhaps we can have a better conversation about it.
You wouldn’t think there would be a food showcase at a technology convention, unless it is at the concession stands. This year marks the introduction of innovative food technology worthy of being shown. A company called Impossible Foods has released their “Impossible Burger 2.0”, which is a non-meat plant based edible product. Good news for vegans and vegetarians and those who believe in a more sustainable source of food in the future. This burger was made with minimum impact to the environment. Look out In-N-Out, you have competition coming.
Many were impressed by this burger that is not even made from real meat. The company also makes other “meat products” for tacos, empanadas and even pizzas. The word is it tastes just like the real thing, but much healthier. If the future of food is heading toward the lab, it may truly be revolutionary in how the food supply can change. This is truly an innovation, of the organic type.
You’ve heard about self-driving cars, but how about walking cars? Hyundai presented a concept 4 legged car, that can walk on rugged terrain. I had to see it to believe it and it is quite impressive. Who would have thought “walking” is the new driving? Probably only me, but kidding aside, this has great potential for exploring unknown terrain. It will not only be used here on Earth, but the bigger picture is bringing a vehicle like this for inter-planetary exploration e.g. Mars.
LG innovates with a new television that can be rolled up from an enclosure. That makes it easier to get out of the way, when you don’t want your display showing. This would probably be ideal for the bedroom, at the foot of the bed. It sounds like a novelty item waiting to happen, but right now it is the only one of its kind ready to hit the market. You get an OLED screen 4K display that rolls up when you want to use it. As innovative as this is, I have an issue with the rolling up part. It uses a mechanism which could be a point of failure in certain circumstances. What if it gets stuck, builds up dust and grime, malfunctions or even worse is if the mechanism gets jammed. Will service repairs come at a premium like its price tag?
Samsung has mentioned and briefly showed they are developing a smartphone with a foldable display. That is now a reality with Royole FlexPai. This is an actual OLED smartphone that is available in retail, but is not affordable for everyone. It actually costs more than a flagship iPhone (finally a phone that costs more than what Apple makes). The device can be folded and fits into a pocket.
Cut the cord from cable and go full wireless. That is going to be possible with the deployment of 5G wireless technology in 2019. There were products on show that will support the standard, which aims to deliver faster data speeds and lower latency. That means a UHD 4K streaming movie will load almost instantaneously without lag on your smartphone or mobile device. 5G also aims to deliver “Wi-Fi over the Sky” or what I call “Sky-Fi”. With a dense deployment of small cell transceivers, you can access the Internet like a Wi-Fi connection from anywhere you go.
There weren’t that many 5G devices on display since it has not yet been fully deployed. Smartphone makers like Samsung have announced full support for 5G networks on their next model releases. Most all existing smartphones do not have 5G capabilities at the moment, so it requires buying a new one. It is not a software implemented switch, so it requires hardware that can process the signals.
Perhaps the biggest application of 5G is for IoT (Internet-of-Things) devices. Most of these devices will have not only faster access to the Internet, but better response time without the lag or delays. Other showcases at CES mention 5G and the development of “smart cities” that provide always connected devices. This will be a huge deployment, so developers are getting in to making more products available for 5G networks.
This is a category for lifestyle products, only this time they are designed to be more intelligent. These are every day items we have around the house but now built to be “smarter” in order to help consumers. These are lifestyle products that make the “Smart Home” ideal for “Smart Living”. This encompasses IoT devices, wearables, healthtech, digital appliances and digital speaker assistants.
Beauty and fashion are now a part of the Smart Living ecosystem. There are products that cater to a beauty and health platform for the home. CareOS has revealed a “smart mirror” with AI and uses AR (Augmented Reality) called Artemis. The mirror not only functions as mirror, it can give beauty and health tips. The software can also give users beauty tutorials, fitness coaching, vision tests and even teleconferencing among the many features.
Another company called Mirror have developed a smart mirror that can be used for health and fitness purposes. This product can take a biometric profile of a user and analyze their data. The Mirror can also be used for workouts with instructors. The good thing about this is you can see yourself while working out since it is a mirror after all.
There is also the Savvy Mirror from Electric Mirror. This is actually a giant Android based device in a mirror form. Ideal for installation in bath or bedroom. It supports apps from the Google Play store and digital assistants like Google Assistant. It brings the features of an Android smartphone right on a mirror.
Now Kohler has put together a “Smart Bathroom”. It is a collection that includes an intelligent toilet, a free-standing bath, a lighted mirror and a lighted three-piece vanity. All can be controlled by Google Assistant.
There are way too many products to review in this category so I just emphasized the ones that really caught my attention. There is a more comprehensive list at this CNET website of most CES 2019 home products.
“Y8K — Year of 8K”
2019 will see the introduction of the first generation 8K TV displays. Manufacturers like LG and Samsung are releasing their products around premium 8K TV with high end OLED displays. They are quite expensive though, so it is not yet geared toward the masses. TVs are also getting wider along with the higher resolution. 8K, at the moment, will be geared more toward video production professionals, enthusiasts aka “early adopters” and people who have money to burn.
Uber is still serious about taking ride sharing services to the air. Bell Helicopter, an Uber partner, showcased a flying taxi that Uber might use for its Air Taxi service. If Uber cannot guarantee safety for their self-driving cars, how much more flying cars?
OLED TVs are hitting the wall. Well, you can mount an array of flat panel or curved OLED TVs to cover your wall. The competition here is between LG and Samsung and the use of what is called Micro LED technology. This delivers amazing high resolution displays. On show were the 4K Micro LED TV, which can be put together to create a wall of displays. LG also showcased curved screen displays that really impressed the crowds.
CES always has something for gamers.
Mention worthy is the DELL Alienware Area-51 gaming laptop. Ideal for overclocking gamers. It basically provides desktop performance in a laptop form factor.
Samsung has unveiled a space saving monitor called Space. This is ideal for professionals and gamers who need more desk space with a large monitor.
“AR For Real”
nReal takes the prize for startup product. They made AR glasses that don’t require covering much of the face. They look just like ordinary glasses, so they are more comfortable to wear and lighter too. Another feature is it delivers 1080p projection through both lenses with a 52-degree field of view.
I came upon this news of what appears to be a consumer 8K camera from Sharp. It is a prototype, and what better place to showcase than CES.
Imagine going to the airport with a suitcase you don’t need to carry around. Instead it will follow you wherever you go. There is now a product that does exactly that. ForwardX Robotics demonstrated the Ovis Suitcase.
Roland has released a mixer designed for vloggers. It is a streaming audio mixer ideal for live videos.
Huawei is not only into smartphones, they also build laptop computers. They present their own competitor to Apple’s MacBook Pro, the ultra-slim touchscreen MateBook 13. Here is the catch, it comes with a built-in GPU options: either an intel UHD Graphics 620 or NVIDIA GeForce MX 150.
Intel is innovating again. 9th gen core, AI processors, 5G networking cards, 10 nm chips and hybrid chip architectures. It seems there is a lot coming from Intel this year. Just for reference, they will be releasing the Lakefield processor hybrid CPU architecture that uses foveros stacking technology. This introduces multi-level 3D stacking to really make a compact chip die which means they can fit more functionality into the processor.
While AMD and NVIDIA have been somewhat lackluster in their presentations this year, there are other products worth mentioning. AMD is promoting their RADEON GPU while NVIDIA is promoting the RTX series GPU. Both companies are also trying to capture the AI market, after the failed cryptocurrency mining market failed to materialize. That means plenty of unsold GPUs that were developed for the cryptocurrency market in stock.
More NVIDIA at https://youtu.be/JyMdhW9qPE4.
More AMD at https://youtu.be/bibZyMjY2K4.
This year looks like the start of the post-smartphone era. While smartphones have been the primary revenue maker for tech giants, it is now slowing down. The market is becoming more saturated due to many new companies entering the fray. This means the battle is moving towards more innovative features that are relevant to current trends. This has also influenced the entire consumer electronics industry to build features that are in line to the changes in lifestyle and income.
Devices are now integrating more AI features. Streaming is becoming the most popular way to deliver content. Automation products using robotics are here. Devices are evolving toward not only more energy efficient design, but smaller form factors.
While there are many forward looking concepts presented at CES, they are still under development no matter how impressive they might be. Right now it appears that more practical technology is what the industry is pushing. This is why lifestyle products that focus on health and fitness tracking are appearing.
Transportation technology with driverless and self-driving cars are also taking the spotlight. Normally auto-maker don’t need to be at an electronic convention, but the emergence of intelligent software and advanced electronics for cars is making its presence felt.
For me one thing did standout this year and it isn’t even an electronic product. It was the Impossible Burger, a food item. Perhaps this will introduce a new and more sustainable way to feed people. It is also much healthier and overall this is a product that has true value for the world.
For 2019, we can have our non-meat burgers, 8K TV and 5G connection. Stay tuned.
The views here are the author’s own opinion made without any sponsorship or endorsement of the products reviewed. Always do your own research to verify facts.