With CES officially over for another year and the Nevada desert dust finally settled as the world’s tech-hungry masses beat a retreat back to their myriad homelands, we can look back at the madness of the past week and assess the show’s impact on the gadget landscape for 2016. As E&T sits listening to the hailstones pinging off the windows in our English office, the dry air, bright sunshine (at least when it wasn’t raining), gaudy neon and all-round sensory overload of Las Vegas and CES sure seems now like a strange and borderline-hallucinogenic dream. Did all that really happen?
Did over 3,600 companies really converge on the city to debut over 20,000 new products between them? Did Segway really come out at the Intel keynote with a hoverboard robot butler? Is Kodak really bringing back Super 8 cameras and film processing? Were visitors really happy to give up hours of their time in actual reality queuing up simply to experience Virtual Reality? In a world apparently swarming with cheap Bluetooth speakers, is Bang & Olufsen really gunning for a select band of individuals who are willing to pony up $80,000 for a pair of its BeoLab 90 hi-fi speakers? Have we ever seen so many new vinyl record turntables since the 1970s?
The friendly clash of old-school styling and future-facing tech was definitely an underlying trend, each rubbing genially against the other. Audio-Technica announced its first Bluetooth vinyl turntable, while Technics brought back its legendary SL1200 turntable to the delight of DJs of a certain vintage everywhere. Victrola, amongst several other companies, showed Dansette-style turntable-in-a-suitcase solutions, in a range of suitably retro colourways. Sony, meanwhile, acknowledged vinyl’s revival, but elected to kick things up a future notch with its PSHX500, a turntable with USB output and accompanying software, so you can play, rip and edit vinyl tracks all at once.
Two big names in analogue photography also surprised people: Polaroid and Kodak. Polaroid showed up at CES rocking a huge stand, demo-ing a much wider range of Polaroid-inspired products than a lot of people were expecting. Polaroid smartphones? Check. Polaroid tablet computers? Check. Polaroid HD action cams? Check. Polaroid point and shoot and instantly print cameras? Check. That rainbow stripe lent itself to a surprising range of camera-related products – however loosely – all of which looked like a lot of fun to own and use.
Kodak, meanwhile, literally blew show attendees’ minds with the news of its reintroduction of analogue film in the Super 8 format. Planning to offer the full film stock “selling, processing and return to the customer” service – just like back in the analogue day – Kodak has also wisely embraced the digital world and will digitise the customer’s footage for retrieval from the cloud. The three-minute film cartridges will also feature sound – something not all old-school cameras did. Naturally, the star of this particular analogue revival story was the Super 8 camera itself, a prototype of which was on display at the show. The return of Super 8 film, who’d a thunk it? What next: 8-track cartridges at CES 2017?
New headphones (insert name here of any known brand and they were displaying at CES, e.g. Monster, Skull Candy, Urban Ears); Bluetooth speakers (ditto); more Chinese phones than the world needs; massive tellies we’re going to have to build bigger houses to accommodate, and enough drones to darken the skies over Vegas forever swarmed all over the main show venues. Connected cars were also jammed in to the unlikeliest of spaces – Samsung contriving to get a BMW i3 on to its indoor booth – while outside the Las Vegas Convention Center the likes of Chevrolet, Ford, BMW, Hyundai, Kia and more sought to position their future vehicles intelligently within a connected, IoT world.
In the VR space, willing visitors donned hefty headsets (e.g. HTC’s Vive Pre) from any company with an augmented or virtual future to sell, inevitably winding up looking a little bit disoriented, like they were being subjected to an ocular medical procedure, either abstractly groping in the air in front of them or else standing frozen like they were down to the last two people in a goggle-based game of musical statues. If VR is the future, either things are going to look weird or companies are going to have to come up with better-looking goggles than current models, be it a $600 Oculus Rift set (first-run orders launched at the show, for delivery later this year) or a cheap-as-chips I Am Cardboard smartphone holder.
Remember those 1970s red plastic eyepieces, housing 20 analogue slide-film style photos of the top tourist attractions of Italy or still images from The Jungle Book, which you flicked past by moving a lever with your finger as you held the unit to your face? We really haven’t come that far in terms of VR handset design in the ensuing 40 years. Google Glass tried and failed to be more stylish and less intrusive, although Carl Zeiss is ready to give that concept another shot, presenting regular-looking smart lenses for spectacles that don’t immediately mark you out as an early-adopting tool. No companies have officially bitten yet, but the Zeiss lens concept was dangled enticingly at CES nonetheless. Zeiss also debuted a VR headset of its own, the ONE.
If you want other technological trinkets and baubles with which to adorn and improve your body, you could do worse than the Helix Cuff with integrated Bluetooth headphones from Ashley Chloe. Or how about L’Oreal’s My UV Patch, a temporary tattoo that tracks your skin’s exposure to the sun, relaying its findings to your smartphone? Or how about the Digitsole Smartshoe, a wireless pair of trainers whose fit and internal temperature you can adjust via your phone? Improve the quality of your sleep with the Variowell Smart Bed mattress? Determine the carbs and calorific content of the food on your plate with the SCiO Bluetooth food scanner? Refresh yourself from Samsung’s $5,000 Family Hub Smart Fridge – quite possibly more intelligent than most of the show visitors – whilst enjoying a refreshing Perfect Blend smoothie or a cocktail instantly prepared by Somabar’s Robotic Bartender? Keep stock of your grocery requirements with Smarter’s cupboard mats? Check your temperature – or the temperature of anyone within arm’s reach – with Withings’ Thermo WiFi thermometer? Stimulate the follicles on your thinning scalp with Panasonic’s Hairmax LaserBand 82? Pretty much anything you can imagine is possible now or will be at some point during 2016.
Inevitably at a show of this size, given the presence of companies both large and small, both innovative and lazy, you can easily end up seeing 50 variations on the same theme – most of which are largely indistinguishable from each other. We already have enough of almost everything on display at CES this year – the world _really_ does not need another Chinese iPhone clone, if it even needs another Apple iPhone, let’s be honest – but there are still nuggets worth digging for, that techno gold worth panning and sifting through the dross to uncover.
Take LG’s Display AMOLED rollable screens, for example – a high-quality digital display that can be rolled up like paper. It’s not being used for any commercial product right now, but you can be darned sure we’ll be seeing it in due course. This is the kind of future insight, a glimpse behind the laboratory curtain, that CES is really about. We hope that we’ve provided a series of intriguging signposts that will lead to further discovery.