CES 2019: Tech trends to watch for at the consumer electronics show

Tech shapes our daily life, impacting not just how we read and work and play but how we interact, how we learn, how we grow. And just days from now in Las Vegas, CES (formerly the Consumer Electronics Show) will give us a window into what that will look like.

Unfortunately, it’s a really big window.

With more than 4,400 exhibiting companies and more than 2.7 million square feet of exhibition hall, it’s hard to glimpse tomorrow; that window is plastered in banner ads for Alexa, new televisions, and more iPhone cases than you can shake a fanboy at. Let me do the work for you. I’ve read the 687 emails I received in the last three weeks and synthesized all the announcements from LG, Samsung, Sony, Qualcomm, and everyone else. Here’s my list of the large trends that we’ll see in 2019, to help you make sense of the wonderful, mesmerizing chaos that is CES 2019.

Artificial Intelligence will run the world

Yes, there will be voice-powered devices at CES. Yes, there will be smart speakers running Alexa, and yes, Google Home will be embedded in TVs and lightbulbs and other things. But A.I. goes well beyond simply telling you what to wear. In one of the first keynotes of the show, I.P. Park, president and chief technology officer of LG Electronics, will detail the company’s vision for A.I., which can “solve this problem of using complex systems, so that the devices become smart — and smart devices mean they’ll know exactly what you want,” he told Digital Trends, in an exclusive preview of the keynote.

Artificial Intelligence | Tech Trends to watch for at CES 2019

Baking A.I. into everything solves the conundrum that lies at the heart of modern technology, threading its way from your phone to your dishwasher to your air conditioner: “Currently, you need to be smart to use a smartphone,” Park joked. So look for smart tech in everything the company makes from here on out – and in everything EVERYONE makes. I read press releases about A.I.-powered security cameras, mattresses, memory chips, golf gear, grand pianos, televisions, translators ….

5G. Yes, again. This time for real

It’s been hard to miss brands shouting about their efforts to bring 5G networks to the world over the past few years. With substantially faster speeds and vastly lower latency times, the next-generation networking technology will interconnect everything from cars to computers to smart homes. Like the Internet back in 1999, this will change everything. But up until now, the advancements have been … let’s say more hope and hype than here and now.

No more.

qualcomm snapdragon 855 news

In 2019, every major carrier will have pilot 5G programs up and running. Heck, some of them already do. And at CES, we’ll learn in depth what that means: Things like immersive virtual reality worlds that don’t suffer disorienting lags from slow networks. It means being able to visit the best doctor anywhere around the world, and maybe even undergo robotic surgery, thanks to telepresence technology. And of course, it means faster phones, so that you can download the new Game of Thrones episode in the blink of an eye, rather than just plodding along.

I don’t expect to see too many 5G-enabled gadgets at the show – although they’ll be out in force at Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2019 in March – but I do expect to hear concrete plans from the giants leading the charge in 5G, including companies like Qualcomm and T-Mobile. Listen carefully to keynotes from Verizon and AT&T on Tuesday and Wednesday, as well as a livestream Tuesday with Federal Communication Commission Chairman Ajit Pai and Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, and you might catch an actual timeline. This ain’t hype anymore, folks.

Self-driving cars. Yes, again. This time for real

It’ll be hard to miss all of the concept cars at the show, which will capture everyone’s attention with splashy visions of what the cockpit of the future feels like once robots become our chauffeurs – and our cars become more movie theater than driver’s seat. In fact, Audi’s car of tomorrow is exactly that: A full-fledged entertainment space. Watch for other eye-catching concept cars from companies like Bosch and Kenwood that show off visions of the future. These are useful to spur the imagination and get a public still somewhat fearful of self-driving cars to see the bright side, a 25th hour in your day that you just reclaimed from that wasted commute home.

Toyota e-Palette concept
Alexander Kalogianni/Digital Trends

Meanwhile, the work will continue building and programming the systems that will actually pilot our cars. I took my first spin in a self-driving car at last year’s CES, a Lyft ride in a vehicle powered by Aptiv. You’ll read dozens of reporters telling the same story this year, as the sheer number of self-driving cars at CES turns this year’s show into the world’s biggest self-driving-car parking lot. I catalogued two dozen tech companies building autonomous vehicles last year. How many will we see this time around?

But let’s be honest, self-driving cars are boring to ride in (unless they crash, of course). Sure, those cars are driven by artificial intelligence, but nothing happens, right? Cockpit demos and concept cars are a lot more interesting than the nuts and bolts of self-driving cars, which aren’t nuts or bolts at all but things like solid-state Lidar sensors and 5G chips and gigabit wiring harnessed to ferry data from high-resolution radar to the real-time Linux operating systems and A.I. programs that make all the decisions. Companies making those things will also be at CES, pitching the eyes and brains of cars to carmakers and the world at large. In the meantime, pop me some popcorn.

Tech for women (finally)

In 2017, a breast pump took CES by storm. The Willow Breast Pump took a device that hadn’t changed in decades and reimagined it as a smart wearable with an app – so smart in fact that Digital Trends gave it a Top Tech of CES award. In 2018, the Mommy Tech space exploded, and I anticipate lots more tech that targets women this year. The tech industry has a gender gap, notable in staffing at big companies, allocation of venture capital funds, and the gender of the average company’s C suite. That won’t be solved anytime soon, but it’s nice to at least see a real growth in products meant for women, designed by women – and not just pink smartphone cases or easier-to-use washing machines.

Tech for Women | Tech Trends to watch for at CES 2019

In particular, watch for beauty tech at this year’s show, something CES has always had a section for … one hidden from view, down a hall, behind some boxes. This year, it’ll be front and center, with big brands like L’Oreal and Olay at the show, some for the first time ever. With smartphone-controlled skin care devices and A.I.-powered beauty apps, this space is just getting started.

Foldable screens, and 8K goes mainstream

You can’t have a CES without some crazy new display technology, whether that’s a giant TV screen that rolls-up like the posters from your college dorm room or an 8K set with so many pixels you’ll want to pop the news anchor’s zits yourself. Ahead of this year’s show, we’ve been panting like a dog during summer over rumored announcements about smartphones that either roll up or simply fold in half to better fit your pocket. With Samsung, LG, and Huawei all doing the “will they, won’t they” dance, it’s hard to say for sure whether we’ll see one. My guess? Abso-freaking-lutely. And as usual, Samsung will lead the innovation charge.

Foldable displays and 8K TVs | Tech Trends to watch for at CES 2019

The things-that-fold category won’t be limited to cellphones, however. We expect to see laptops and tablets that incorporate the new display tech for an entirely new experience. Imagine a device without a keyboard, just a continuous screen that can act like a keyboard when you need one – sort of like the OLED display on Apple’s MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. Only useful.

On the television front, expect bigger and brighter, of course, but what’s new? A number of companies launched 8K televisions at CES 2018, but few of them actually shipped to market. Expect more realistic products this year, meaning Stuff You Can Actually Buy, including OLED sets to die for from LG, monster 80-inch 8K TVs, and Alexa and Google Assistant baked into nearly every TV announced.

I know what you’re thinking: “Again? Didn’t I just get a 4K set?” Trust me: We’ve seen the future of 8K TV … and it’s glorious.

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