It’s almost here! Here’s the best of what’s coming at CES 2018

Once a year, I take a deep breath, open the overflowing CES folder in my inbox, and sort through hundreds of emails to see what’s cooking at the largest gadget show in the world. Sure, I spend all year studying the tech world and looking for Digital Trends (see what I did there?), but it’s the hundreds of products unveiled or announced at the show that really set the agenda for the year ahead in tech.

I don’t always get it right.

In 2016, I said we’d see driving gadgets galore, which promised to refresh that old hoopty. Did you buy one? I doubt it. In 2017, I predicted “4,000 4K announcements,” and declared that content providers were finally catching up. While there were tons of new players offering internet TV streaming packages, some key names were absent.

At CES there’s always interesting stuff to watch and envelopes to see pushed father.

Indeed, you could argue that exactly the opposite has happened. I will, below. Hey, you can’t get ‘em all right.

Of course, I also predicted the boom in truly wireless headphones and last year’s security frenzy, so I’m not totally off my rocker here.

There’s always interesting stuff to watch and envelopes to see pushed father at CES, from the Halo “5D printer” by Ethereal Machines to Sniffy, a French company selling a screen that somehow conveys smell and taste. Here’s a few trends that you’ll see emerge in Las Vegas and in the year ahead – we’ll see how accurate my predictions are soon.

Alexa (and “touchless computing”) explode

The big story in 2017 was the rise of the smart assistant, with Alexa embedded in everything  from speakers and lights to cars and even furniture. This year promises even more pervasive adoption of voice computing, but the ubiquity of “touchless” interfaces should make voice assistants far more versatile in the year ahead.

amazon alexa advertising 2018 echo kitchen

Ed Oswald envisioned the near future for us recently: “Imagine picking up your empty bottle of juice and saying ‘Alexa, order this’ and it being ordered for you, without you, since Alexa understands what you’re looking at or holding.” This will require cameras and detailed geolocation abilities like that being shown off at CES by Crea.vision, which uses computer vision sensors to recognize who’s where in your house. And that sounds far more useful than mere weather reports.

Voice assistants will sell you on smart homes

The widespread acceptance of voice assistants will be a huge driver for the smart home in the year ahead, and I expect will be the primary driver of smart home products. You bought a speaker, so why not get lights and locks and thermostats to work with it?

So sure, expect to hear about dozens of new smart speakers, including LG’s newly unveiled ThinQ, but look beyond that and you’ll see the real promise of the Internet of Things taking shape: a smart button for pervasive connectivity. A smart fertility monitor from a new company called Mira. A smart deadbolt you can unlock from your phone. And technology like Qualcomm’s Smart Audio Platform to bring voice control and connectivity to everything that isn’t yet connected.

Chinese companies you’ve never heard of take over

A funny thing happened at CES last year: China quietly took over. From car companies like Faraday Future and LeEco to TV makers like TCL and Hisense (which calls itself “the biggest company you’ve never heard of”), Chinese companies exploded at the 2017 show. Expect even more of a presence from China, as the country moves to rival Asian powerhouses like South Korea and Japan for U.S. dollars.

TCL P-Series TV unboxing

We expect an enormous showing from Huawei, which plans a keynote address and a massive push into U.S. markets in 2018. The company recently ran a series of ads describing one of its products as “the best phone you’ve never heard of” — get the theme here? — and plans to make sure that in 2018, you hear of them. We picked the new Mate 10 Pro as one of the best smartphones of 2017, after all. Look for big news from Xiaomi, TCL – which says it as “among America’s fast-growing television brand for the past four years” – and others.

Wireless power is here at last

Two years ago I said we’d see wireless power from Cota and others. We haven’t. But they swear up and down that it’s going arrive in 2018, and from the buzz I’m hearing I believe it. Cota is still trying – and at CES Unveiled this past November, it unveiled a product that realizes the hype. The Forever Battery is a wirelessly charged alternative to AA batteries, and it won a CES 2017 Innovation Award. Meanwhile, a company called WiBa will show off a power bank that charges itself wirelessly while simultaneously charging your phones and other gadgets wirelessly. The death of wires is imminent!

The death of cable TV

Any consumer worth their salt knows 4K is the big buzzword in TVs. Shopping for a new flatscreen? You obviously want a 4K TV. And this year at CES, LG plans to show off an 8K TV, which is sure to make you the envy of the neighbors and set off a new round of keeping up with the Jonses. LG’s latest is a huge 88-inch 8K OLED TV that will be the largest OLED display on the planet. The TV’s resolution will be 7,680 x 4,320, which is 16 times more pixels than 1080p and four times that of today’s 4K TVs.

This year at CES, LG plans to show off an 8K TV

But here’s the thing: TV simply hasn’t kept pace. And consumers know this. Buy a new TV and they don’t turn on CBS, they head straight to Netflix, both for the superior quality of content and for the higher resolutions.

As more 4K and ultimately 8K sets are released, and visual quality from Comcast, Charter, Time Warner, Cox, and even FiOS and AT&T continue to lag, the pace of cord cutting is sure to improve. Just watch out.

A use for AR/VR?

I’m not a believer in virtual reality’s power to transform the world. I don’t want to sit on the couch next to my friends and family encased in a headset and in my own world, I want to watch a movie and laugh and cry along with everyone else. But it’s hard to discount the slew of AR announcements we’re seeing around CES.

ces 2018 tech trends and predictions epson moverio

For example, Lumus makes transparent displays that enable AR headsets, and in December, the company announced a major deal with Quanta, a giant manufacturer with designs on the space. Will we see dozens of new iterations on Google Glass? Meanwhile, Epson is unveiling a new version of its Moverio AR glasses, a company called ThirdEye will show off the X1 glasses … heck, there’s a whole Augmented Reality marketplace in the South Hall of CES.

Autonomous is cool, but electric cars rule

We’ve only begun to scratch the surface of self-driving cars, which remain the most eye-catching and buzzy showpieces of CES. But it’s not only the vehicle manufacturer’s booths you’ll want to check out: Most big tech companies have their eyes on autos. Intel’s many initiatives at CES include the technology featured “under the hood,” graphics giant Nvidia has transformed itself into a leader in the machine-vision that lets cars pilot themselves, speech-recognition pioneer Dragon aims to help you and your car chat, and so on.

Intel’s many initiatives at CES featured Nvidia, who has transformed into a leader in the machine-vision that lets cars pilot themselves

Meanwhile, the real trend to watch is the explosion of the electric car market. All of the neat new car startups? Electric car makers, including a brand new entry to the space. Called Byton, it promises to be not just  an electric car but “a smart intuitive vehicle,” whatever that nonsense means. Then there’s the Solo, the world’s only one-person, all electric vehicle (made by Electra Meccanica). And Nissan will be showing off the 2018 Leaf, which impressed us by how ordinary it is.

Electric cars are the new internal combustion cars, which spells a huge revolution in U.S. infrastructure, something the U.S. government would be wise to prepare for as we look forward to the billion dollar infrastructure bill. Do we need more gas stations and gas pipelines? Or do we need electric charging stations at every shopping mall from Bangor to Berkeley?

Better laptops than ever before

New Snapdragon chips from Qualcomm enable a new generation of laptops that for the first time ever, really provide a viable alternative to traditional Intel and AMD chips. Snapdragon-powered laptops were unveiled at a splashy event in Hawaii last month; they boast battery life of up to 25 hours if you can believe that. Expect to hear about a dozen or so models from CES 2018. Meanwhile, chips based on Intel’s eighth-generation Core i7 will abound as well, such as the very attractive Samsung Notebook 9.