When people look back at CES 2018 in five or 10 years, it’ll be the heavy rain, flash flooding and power cuts that’ll stand out more than the tech on display.
While 1.33 inches (3.38 cm) of rain may not sound like a lot, it was a record for the desert city of Las Vegas: The first precipitation in 116 days, and more than one quarter of the city’s annual average rainfall in just one day. That led to the 180,000 or so attendees trudging though deep puddles on the show’s opening day, followed by an even bigger surprise: A nearly two-hour blackout in large portions of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Demos stopped in their tracks, light shows went dark, and screens stopped glowing. A sudden reminder that even the most innovative technology in the world needs infrastructure to function.
Stormy skies outside the convention center mirrored the online turbulence too, as the show’s roster of male-only keynote speakers sent the #CESsoMale hashtag trending on Twitter.
Through it all, though, the show went on. And once again, we got to see a cross-section of the world of technology as we rocket towards the 2020s — a world in which every device, every vehicle and every person will be interconnected with one another.
Here’s how we’ll get there.
Smart home rising: More assistants and ‘AI’ everywhere
CES 2017 was all about the rise of Alexa, so it was no surprise that Amazon’s digital assistant was again ubiquitous at the show. But this year Google came ready to fight back: Its Google Assistant will be built-in or compatible with a wide range of 2018 products (including LG TVs, Schlage smart locks, Hunter ceiling fans), and it debuted the Google Smart Display — basically an Echo Show for the Google smart home ecosystem.
Samsung, meanwhile, will amp up its own smart home offerings, pledging that all of its devices from TVs to washing machines will be “smart” by the 2020 model year, infused with its Bixby Assistant and linked together via its SmartThings cloud. In fact, CES 2018 seemed to mark the beginning of the end of “dumb” household products, with everything fromlight switches to faucets to mirrors and (yes, really) toilets getting some sort of AI upgrade.
TVs still dominate
For decades TV and home theater was the bread and butter of CES. That DNA was alive and well in 2018, with giant displays once again dominating the landscape of the convention center.
As usual, LG and Samsung went mano-a-mano with impressive dueling technologies that improved on prototypes shown last year: LG’s rollable OLED — literally a TV that rolls up like a poster — is now a full 65-inch 4K TV. Samsung, meanwhile, turned heads at its booth with an installation known as “The Wall,” a 146-inch display utilizing modular MicroLED technology that it says will ship by year’s end. (No, you won’t be able to afford it.) Andboth companies showed giant 8K TVs, too. Of course, your local Best Buy won’t stock these anytime soon, but the impressive updates to each company’s consumer OLED and QLED TV lines, respectively, will show up in new models this year.
The big screens didn’t stop there. Nvidia’s BFGD — “big format gaming display” — is a PC monitor designed with refresh rate-obsessed gamers in mind, coming in at a whopping 65 inches. And CES introduced a wave of ultra short-throw projectors — ones that project straight up to an adjacent wall, rather than across the room — at higher resolutions and lower prices than ever before. And we’re psyched to see ever more manufacturers using full-array local dimming technology in their sets, which is hands-down the best image quality for LCD TVs. That means new models like TCL’s Series 6 TVs will be strong contenders for “best bang for the buck” TV deals in 2018.
Rise of the robots
You don’t need to fear a robot rebellion, at least not yet. While we saw plenty of interesting robots at CES 2018, they were more about being cute than threatening or terribly useful, for that matter. We were charmed by the likes of Aeolus — the closest thing to a real-life Rosie the Robot — as well as Buddy and Keecker, all of whom have designs on being your next-gen housekeeper or butler. Sophia veered far too close to the uncanny valley for our tastes, while Honda had a trio of robots designed to be deployed on a construction site. And LG’sCloi showed that robots won’t participate in demos unless they’re damn well ready to.
But it was Sony’s next-gen Aibo that stole the show: Already for sale in Japan, this robot pup shows how far the field has advanced since its predecessor was pulled from the market in 2006.
Health tech goes beyond wearables…
CESes of yore introduced the early step counters and smart watches that inspired the Fitbits and Apple Watches of the mainstream tech world. But CES 2018 revealed health, fitness, wellness and medical technologies that address more than exercise.
From assistive tech like the NeoMano glove that helps paralyzed hands to grip, to L’Oreal UV Sense, a fingernail-sized sensor that measures sun exposure, we’re seeing tech that helps the disabled and prevents skin cancer. We also loved Aflac’s robotic duck companion, which comforts child cancer patients, and we’re sure anyone who suffers from a peanut allergy will appreciate a handheld sensor that scans for unwanted nuts. We also saw the first FDA-cleared watch that can tests your blood pressure and a host of products aiming to upgrade elder care.
…while beauty tech gets awfully judgmental
While health tech is designed to make you feel better, the show also saw a parade of tech intended to make you look better. Products such as the HiMirror Mini and Neutrogena Skin360 SkinScanner and apps such as YouCam Makeup gave semiprofessional skincare analysis and advice, but they lacked the reassuring bedside manner of a dermatologist or the friendly assistance one expects from a visit to the beautician or even the makeup counter. So far, the technology is promising, but sorely needs a more human touch.
Silicon upgrades are making laptops better than ever
The elephant in the room at CES 2018 was the one-two punch of Spectre and Meltdown, recently uncovered chip flaws that afflict nearly every PC and mobile device on the planet. Amid the controversy, though, was ever-faster and more innovative PCs that are borrowing more and more from their cousins in the phone realm. Case in point was the Lenovo Miix 630, promising the same marathon-like battery life as the HP and Asus models announced in December, all of which use Qualcomm Snapdragon processors already found in phones.
Not to be outdone, Intel has signed up with longtime rival AMD to offer the former’s Core i CPUs with the latter’s Radeon graphic chips on a single board, an easy choice for vendors like Dell to build gamer-friendly laptops smaller than a Buick. (Of course, with more and more gaming vendors offering cloud-based streaming services, future laptops might not need high-end graphics at all.)
More electric and automated vehicles set the stage for Detroit
Deals and partnerships with backend technology providers like Nvidia, Bosch andQualcomm, and assistance platforms Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, made the most news in CES’ North Hall. Automakers rolled out their wares, all with the industry-shaking transition to electric and autonomous vehicles hovering just over the horizon.
Indeed, that future often appeared to be now at CES 2018, with Aptiv and Lyft shuttling showgoers around town in self-driving cars while Toyota debuted its autonomous e-Palette shuttle van concept.
Still, plenty of dazzling concept vehicles — especially electric versions — vied for attention. We particularly liked Byton’s cool EV, the Kia Niro, the impressive return of Faraday Future’s 2017 CES fave FF91 and the hydrogen-powered Hyundai Nexo (which we were able to test drive on our way to the show). All these Vegas wheels set the stage for the 2018 North American International Auto Show, now kicking off in Detroit.
VR strikes back
Magic Leap’s late December reveal of its long-awaited augmented reality hardware, which overlays computer-generated images on your vision, capped 2017. It was a year that also saw Apple and Google ramping up their respective AR platforms, even as Oculus and Vivevirtual reality hardware saw frequent discounting into the holidays.
But VR bounced back at this year’s show, thanks to two new high-profile products: The Vive Pro and the Lenovo Mirage. The former is an upgraded, fully wireless version of the HTC’s PC VR headset, while the latter is the first Google Daydream mobile VR device that doesn’t require a phone. But AR powered our favorite toy of the show: The Merge Blaster, which is basically an AR-powered update of Laser Tag.
One game-changing phone technology
Apple and Samsung haven’t been able to do it — not yet, at least — but China’s Vivo (with help from Synaptics) appears to have nailed it: It put a fingerprint sensor inside a phone screen. If it pans out, it means no-bezel phones without the compromises of rear-mounted finger sensors or still-slower-than-we-want facial recognition.
Otherwise, aside from the surprise scuttling of Huawei’s US carrier partnerships and some early jawboning on 5G wireless plans, CES was pretty light on mobile news. That’s been the trend in recent years, as Mobile World Congress in Barcelona has grown in importance. And it’s at that show where 2018’s first big megaproduct, the Samsung Galaxy S9, is expected to be unveiled.