As I always say, contrary to the holiday song, early January is to me the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. The Consumer Electronics Show. Disneyland for adults, I call it. Normally I cringe at crowds, and even avoid malls when at all possible. But for some reason, despite CES being a maniacal circus with almost 200,000 attendees, I love the mass and magnitude of it.
A little bit of wariness did creep in this year though, before the show. In the month leading up to CES, I always get inundated by emails from the press reps of companies pitching their products. Several hundred of them keep pouring in, and it's from this that I usually get a sense of what the “theme” might be for the show that year, what products and technologies seem to be leading the way in Tech World. And from all of those pitches, it looked wildly uninteresting.
To be clear, this isn’t totally shocking or meant critically. More observationally. Over the years that I’ve been going to CES, what I’ve noticed is that technology develops SO fast that every few years the industry needs a year off to catch up. As a result, there's no Big New Breakthrough Technology that other products coalesce around or build on to drive the industry, but rather just refinements of what's already there. And that seemed to be the case this year heading in.
For instance, of the hundreds of emails I received, there were only about a half dozen that I was intrigued enough to read. The subject lines said enough, and I’d make a mental note of it, but nothing to specifically write down a Must See booth number to check out.
As I headed into the halls, there were technologies that got prominent push and seemed to leap from the pack. They included connected Smart homes, 5G wireless connectivity, driverless cars, and Virtual Reality. To be clear, all of these are very serious tech that already have a certain presence in today’s market, and a very solid development for the future, but still…it’s the future. Perhaps two, three years away.
And after returning from the show, that perception turned out to be the case. There were definitely some very interesting products and impressive refinements, but the most fascinating part of it all (to me, at least…) was how these above-mentioned main technologies are developing for down the line.
As a result, this year’s look at CES might be a little bit different compared to the past when I’ve singled out the individual devices ready for the market that stood out, but instead will look more closely than usual with what’s on its way. So, this will be more general than specific, but rest assured I do have a lot of specific products here. It’s just that they’re more “stand-alone” for being interesting unto themselves, rather than indicative of The Industry.
And here’s where I present my annual warning. This Will Be Long. Not “cute long,” but serious “I need a break to stretch from reading this” long. This is a detailed, comprehensive look at CES and the direction of technology…and it’s long. Long. It’s almost like if a magazine put out a Special CES Edition. (Though, okay, blessedly not that long, but you get the idea.) In fact, I even will provide a rest break. So, if you don’t like long—stop now. You’ve been warned. No complaining later. It will fall on deaf ears. Hopefully this overview will be full of fascinating items and a good look at what’s out there, whether “New and Improved!” or upcoming in a few years. But either way, buckle your seatbelts, we’re about to head in.
And “buckling up” seems an appropriate way to jump to driverless cars. My perception has always been that they’re still a long time away, but that no longer is the case. I got to talking with my friend John Quain, who writes about cars for The New York Times, and he felt that we’re only about two years from seeing driverless cars. I thought he was referring specifically to driverless vehicles in the commercial industry field that make their way through warehouses and company grounds, but no, while that’s certainly a significant early market for them, he meant specifically on the road. Though Tesla has gotten most of the attention, Cadillac with its “Super Cruise” system is actually nearing being road ready. It’s not that such cars will drive autonomously everywhere, but that they are programmed for certain maps, highways and roads, and when on those routes the car will tell you it’s available for driverless usage.
Once this market becomes mature, it opens up other third-market industries to develop further. Panasonic, for instance, was presenting its “Smart Vision Cockpit.” Yes, cockpit. You may be in a car, but this is the future, me bucko, and it’s designed “for unobstructed views and comfort,” and with a sense that you’re on auto pilot. (To be clear, I’m sure that most driverless cars will look more normal.)
There is a massive range of new technologies that will be built into not just driverless cars, but all vehicles, and among those that intrigued me the most is using facial recognition and smart voice, which was prominent throughout the show in a variety of areas. But as for cars in particular, this kind of recognition not only will make all the proper adjustments to a driver it identifies (like seat location, temperature, and music options), but more importantly will prohibit a car from being started unless it can discern who is sitting there.
While driverless cars will change the landscape you travel on, I think that 5G will change technology the most, especially for those in the entertainment industry.
5G broadband (most of your phones now use 4G) offers stunning otherworldly usability. Not just that it’s a jump-ahead faster but SO much faster in a way that changes how you will use online streaming and phones and tablets and other technologies, as well, like the connected home. (More on that later.) Here's the simplest example of what I mean—you know the lag between when you click to send a command, and it’s activated? With 5G, that “lag” will be just 1 millisecond, which is 400 times faster than when you blink your eye. Suddenly, “immediacy” leaps to the forefront which changes the way much of existing technology can be used.
The issue of 5G particularly relates to Hollywood, as well, as I noted, and importantly. Once it’s here and standard, and at those ultrasonic streaming speeds, content delivery is no longer even remotely an issue. And suddenly companies like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and even YouTube and Facebook stand on the edge of being major players, competing head-on with the studios. And deals like Disney buying much of 20th Century Fox, and AT&T wanting to buy Time-Warner start to be all the more understandable. But 5G is very complicated technologically and still isn't ready to roll out yet. So, it too, like these other technologies mentioned, is in the future. Though not the terribly distant future. There are estimates that 5G networks could reach a billion people within five years that’s 20 percent of the world population. And it could start making its appearance by next year, with larger network rollouts by 2020.
5G technology was dancing around the edges of CES. There wasn’t much in terms of devices that could specifically be shown, but its influence was referenced throughout. The multinational Chinese telecom ZTE, for instance, devoted a large part of its booth to their involvement with the technology.
As I noted, 5G has ramifications in a wide range of areas, one of which is another of those upcoming technologies Virtual Reality and its cousin Augmented Reality. (In very simplistic terms, the former creates a fictional world you see through headgear, while the latter adds imagery to the real world you view through headgear.) Yes, VR has been around for a couple of years, trying to get a foothold, but it’s still largely game-related. However, it’s the use of the upcoming 5G that should be what launches VR from just being a large, but limited niche game platform to one with massive real-world applications. In fact, sometimes several of these “upcoming” technologies overlap with one another like the intersection of Augmented Reality, 5G, and driverless cars which will be able to get critical information streamed to the vehicles. Or the application of AR with 5G in medical procedures and on-site industrial use. Indeed, most VR technology that involves remote controls will be impacted by 5G. And adding real-time Virtual Reality usage for streaming live sporting events with the super-high speed of 5G will allows users to create separate, hopefully-absorbing experiences. At the moment, there are already a great many VR and AR vendors displaying their products, though they’re almost exclusively for games, which still have yet to become fully mainstream. But it’s this larger future which is nearby. And far more fascinating.
Somewhat related to this VR/AR world is the advance of Artificial Intelligence. A good example is Voxx and ViaTouch’s EyeLock technology, which they’ve built into a product called LISA. This uses iris identification for “intelligent checkout” that authenticates consumer in-store purchases.
But like so much of this “upcoming” technology, it too overlaps at times with another technology in the near future that just isn’t here yet, the connected Smart Home.
And yes, though the connected Smart home market is here now, but even connected homes are an “in the future” technology, at least for the direction that that industry is pushing itself, beyond what’s here now, being able to remotely set your lights and heating levels and making sure your doors are locked (oh, my, were there surprisingly piles of “Smart locks” this year!), and connected Smart appliances. All of those are part of connected homes, to be sure, and have been prominent for several years. And it’s all interesting technology. (Except those piles of “Smart locks” whose value has yet to be made clear to me. I do get it that you can open them, for example, with a fingerprint or punching in code and they all say that if the locks ever fail or lose battery power, you can just manually open them with a key. Well, swell, but if you have to carry a key, then what’s the huge point of having the Smart lock??! I can see a small point, but that’s as far as the vision goes. But I digress…) However, all that with today’s connected Smart homes is merely baby steps. It’s all great technology, but the future of the connected home is with sensors and connections to local communities. It’s fascinating technology that is terrific and a bit creepy.
Here's what I mean. Security provider Vivint has a new app and service called “Streety.” It’s like a digital version of an everyday Neighborhood Watch and pushes the idea of connected homes beyond what has been considered in the past, the whole “turning on your lights by remote” concept. Basically, Streety places cameras outside your home and allows you to give neighbors access to what’s being seen and recorded. You can watch everyone’s children, check the streets for home break-ins, be informed when garbage trucks and school busses are arriving (there appears to be an aspect of artificial intelligence built in) and more. The company says that privacy is a major feature, since you have to approve all access to the camera, and Vivint itself adds several other layers of security. But honestly, this is a product whose whole point is about the very opposite of privacy. That’s not to suggest it’s bad or wrong, indeed it’s strong, protective software, I’m just clarifying the landscape. And the question of hacking is always a concern. Further, although Vivint notes that the camera coverage limit is about 300 yards and, as such, focuses specifically on just the neighborhood in question that avoids the reality that neighbors throughout the block can each have their own Streety, which pushes camera coverage into the next neighborhood where residents living there may have Streety, as well, and on into the next neighborhood and next. Suddenly, the quaint idea of a local Neighborhood Watch may well be the entire community or town. Very protective, perhaps, but potentially deeply intrusive.
There are other examples, as well, of upcoming technology that moves the concept of connected Smart homes beyond one’s home into a much larger realm of the full community at large:
Bosch has several public-connected initiatives, including their “connected parking” with smart lighting, security systems and parking controls for public and private parking lots. Their “Climo” program is a process for microclimatic data collection for use by cities. And the company’s CISS project (Connected Industrial Sensor Solution) is intended to provide predictive and preventative maintenance and monitoring equipment. Panasonic has long been developing projects for connected cities (their Smart Cities project) and even have built several fully contained towns, like Fujisawa which they call a “Sustainable Smart Town.” The focus is to study connectivity, mobility, energy consumption, security, health care and much more. On a more limited basis, they’re working with cities around the world, including creating a solar grid to provide backup power for a light rail system in Denver.
That’s what I mean about the connected Smart home industry being far more extensive than the current perception and something that’s in the future.
All this future aside, the connected Smart home still does have its development in the more traditional “in-home” sense. In fact, I find some of this, most notably connected appliances among the more interesting products in technology, since it’s moving what have long been standard devices and pushing them in new ways some of those ways valuable, though admittedly others a bit pointless.
Indeed, connected refrigerators, washing machines, stoves, lamps, home theaters and heating systems are becoming standard features. So much so that we’re at the point where Anker’s brand Eufy offers its Smart Plug Mini system which they say turns any appliance into a Smart one. If only such a product worked for the classroom… (Note that for all the convenience of Smart homes, data is being collected and allows for the risk of being hacked, and outsiders knowing your living patterns and when you’re away.)
Haier has a large line of Smart Home-branded products, and its General Electric subsidiary has added to its stove a video screen enabled with Google Assistant. This allows you to access recipes, how-to videos, put together a grocery list, order groceries online and even publish your own cooking videos online. Moreover, you can run other appliances from the monitor and watch movies as you cook. This sort of thing is becoming commonplace on many appliances, notably refrigerators (with inside cameras that allow you to see inside without opening the door, saving energy, and check what food you may be out of when at the grocery store).
One of the early adopters of connected homes, and which focused on security, was an interesting company called Doorbot which I wrote about in 2014—and then a few years later they changed their name to Ring, and have become very successful. Indeed, their rep told me that they just did a piece for Shark Tank about being the most-successful company to not get a deal on the show. (Long story, but the funny, short version is that when I saw that appearance, I couldn’t believe that the president of then-Doorbot forgot to mention the Most Important and Unique Point of the product that you can see who’s at your front door from anywhere in the world.) They have a new product upcoming, the Stick Up Elite which seems valuable, but poorly named. They are sort of "portable" devices" that you put up around your house (inside and out) for wider coverage. And they run on battery or impressively solar power (if outdoors). Despite the name, though, no, you don't stick them up with adhesive, but screw-in bolts.
The aforementioned Vivint (with its Streety) has a product, Sky, which ratchets up the connected Smart home by adding a layer of artificial intelligence. This is their “intelligent Smart home assistant” which they say “remembers” what you forget. It will know when you’re on vacation, for instance, and suggest actions for you. Or know when you have a meeting and prompt you for things to do.
Mind you, for all the connected refrigerators, washer-dryers, stoves, lights, communities, warehouses, parking lots, and more, it’s good to know that there is still a place for yet another Smart mirror, which pop up from time to time. Kohler’s entry into this odd market is a little more reasonable than most I’ve seen in the past, though still not what one would consider essential. It’s a voice-controlled, Alexa-enabled mirror that adjusts lighting for things like “Make-up Mode,” and will also play your digital music, as well as have motion sensors to adjust lighting for nighttime.
Sometimes, though, an odd, home product comes along that actually is sort of, kind of interesting and reasonably useful. And Coravin had one of the most bizarre but actually good products I saw at the show. It's lets you pour wine from any bottle...while leaving the cork in! Honest. And it works. Unlike normal usage when you remove the cork, this protects the freshness of the wine—for weeks, or potentially up to years. (They said it's been tested up to 10 years, though I'm not sure how they did that, given that the company was founded in 2011. But perhaps that was in a pre-research and development phase, or they can simulate aging.) Basically, it's a device that fits over the cork; then a long, thin, hollow needle punctures through the cork; the wine pours through the needle (more of a flowing trickle), and when you remove the needle, the cork—being cork—naturally "re-seals" itself. It’s clearly not for everyone, but seems quite valuable for those it would benefit. They have different models ranging from $200 all the way up to $1,000 for an automated version (the new Model 11 they were introducing) with additional features. At that top price, perhaps it comes with a personal sommelier…
But still, CES will always find a place for the truly offbeat. And surprisingly, there’s now a second, competing home-device to the odd Foldi-Mate I wrote about last year, which folded laundry. The company was there again, with a refined version, smaller and better designed. But to my surprise there was now the Laundroid, which is sort of a closet-like product with shelves. And like what is apparently a requirement with so many home appliances today, it too is “connected,” letting you check your folded laundry when away from home. Because I guess you just never can tell when you’ll need that information. No, really. Hey, who knew that automated folding of clothes was a market? If it is.
In the purest sense, products like the Laundroid and Foldi-Mate are robots. What I found interesting was how many more robot devices showed up at CES this year interesting not because they were robot-like products that automated human daily functions, but ones that looked like traditional sci-fi robots.
Several were along the lines of the Canbot, cheerfully described as a “Robot for your better life.” It’s more a robot for commercial use than the home, with the afore-noted speech recognition and facial recognition, along with features for shopping guides, banking services and venue guides. At the moment it appears to only speak Japanese, but I assume it will eventually be multi-lingual.
As you’ve been forewarned (or comforted, depending on your perspective), facial recognition devices had a growing security presence at the show this year. Loomo from Segway (the company that developed the stand-up “scooter” in 2010) had a different kind of robot product, though their own version. It too is sort of a scooter, in that a person can ride it (oddly without handles, so you’d better be circus folk or at least good at balancing), though having a person aboard is not necessary and it can zip around on its own. It has a built-in camera for facial recognition as it moves through crowds.
LG fell somewhere in the middle, with its CLOi range of products (pronounced Chloe), which is their voice-activated software. (A clear pattern is that companies are coming up with their own cute names that you use to activate their proprietary software, like Amazon’s Alexa, Haier’s Geneva, Samsung’s Bixby and of course Siri, Cortana and so on…) Though there was one small CLOi device for connected-home use that looks “robot cute” (as if R2D2 designed it), the larger industrial units were a little less humanoidish though still with those Big Eyes—and provided various services, like a shopping cart at grocery stores, a butler robot, and one for serving.
Aside from the important, upcoming technologies I mentioned earlier that are all still a few years away, there of course were still several booming areas of technology in the “here-and-now” that were prominent at the show. Some traditional, some growing, and one surprising.
As always, I won’t go into detail in the traditional areas, like televisions and cameras, because they are so mature and high quality, even at the lower-end, that it’s almost meaningless. Best to ask a friend, “What TV do you have?” and if they’re happy with it, then that’s something worth considering. Or just go to a store, look and compare price tags. Besides which, every company has its own jargon, and they are untranslatable to the human creature. The “Our nanocell, black light, enhanced hi-frequency GenIQ technology provides more accurate colors than anyone in the industry” Syndrome. Who knows what that means, and they all have their own version, whatever it means. But sometimes certain items do stand out, and those are worth referencing.
When wandering the massive LG booth area, I was given a brief tour by one of their VPs. I asked him a question that I prefaced might be too unfair to answer, "If one is going to buy a new television, what one, single feature would you say is the most important?" (Unfair, since there are likely SO many factors). But surprisingly, he had an immediate answer, "Oh, that's easy. OLED, OLED, and OLED." That's a very high-quality type of panel. Years ago the challenge for tech was that OLED screens could only be made small—now they make them for TVs.
Also notable was how voice-activated software (like “Google Assistant-enabled”) was not only prevalent in products, but how developed it’s become. It’s an advance from handling basic commands to now using artificial intelligence. (As you may have noticed at this point, AI is a growing feature in technology.) LG calls theirs “ThinQ” (pronounced “Think,” not “Thin-Q”). It’s taken voice activation and moved it beyond changing channels, finding your favorites programs, accessing show casts, or displaying photos, to now knowing how to show specifically vacation photos, and learning your viewing preferences.
What I found particularly intriguing is how panels have become bizarrely flexible. One company had a huge display of video panels shaped like waves. And Skyworth had a display with an AMOLED screen (a cousin to OLED) that was so flexible, it could be worn as a wristband.
Just when you were getting used to adapting to the concept of 4K televisions, sorry, you blinked and they’re now dealing with 8K which is closing in on becoming the standard. (This all relates to the resolution.) There are a few things odd about this. The first is that there not only is almost no content available for 8K, there’s pretty much none for even 4K. So, you’re watching today’s 1080p content on a ultra-high resolution set that’s still only showing it in its lower resolution. (There’s a slight visual improvement, but it’s minimal.) It’s sort of like having a color TV but watching a black-and-white program the image might be a bit crisper, but it’s still black-and-white. The other oddity is that the human eye can’t really see the difference between 4K and 8K when viewed at normal home distances. (Sony had a display promoting its X1 line. In doing so, they had a 4K LCD panel next to one that was 4K OLED. The latter did seem a bit better though both were great. But off to the side was a high-def 8K OLED panel…and boy, I just couldn’t see how it was much different from the 4K OLED one.)
That actually brings up the good folks at Stream TV Networks, who I've mentioned here often, the people who make glassless 3D televisions. Again, it's still "coming," but the technology is there and works brilliantly, overwhelmingly better than 3D-TV with glasses, which was foolish and it not only converts today’s 1080p content to 4K or 8K, but does so instantly, as you watch. During CES, they announced a deal with BOE, a major Chinese company for high-end panels that will allow them to jump from producing only 4K sets to what they refer to as “8K Lite.” (Long story—the short version is that this will have half the pixels of actual 8K but twice as many as 4K....but is far less expensive than 8K). The product looks tremendous, and they were also showing off glassless 3D panels for tablets and mobile phones, both of which should be... coming. It's been a long time, but the product is very mature and well, we’ll see, when it does actually, finally hit the market.
As mentioned, cameras are another area I just avoid altogether. CES is filled with oceans of cameras, so there would seem so much to write about. But in some ways, that’s like singling out drops of water in the Pacific. And ultimately, when the camera on your mobile phone is as good as it is, it’s just too much for me to dive into the minutiae of the digital photographic world. But one offbeat product related to cameras did intrigue me.
Ever since Google Glasses hit the marketplace, they’ve seemed pointless because wearing them immediately turns the person into looking like an instant geek who dreams of being a Borg from Star Trek. But the ORBI Prime, which received a CES Innovation Award, is a pair of sunglasses that have a camera built in, yet look like just basic sunglasses (probably closer to 3D glasses, though more stylish) however they also take 360-degree photos and video. Rather than having a big, ugly attachment, there are pin holes in the front, and rear cameras are built into the earlobe part of the glasses.
Cameras also play a big part in drones today. However, all I’ll say about the massive growth of the drones market is that two years ago they were in a contained area in the back of South Hall’s lower floor. This year they not only were pushed up front, but so huge that they’ve become their own community.
When looking at the most overwhelming areas of tech at CES, that would not seem to be where you’d find my inexplicably favorite devices, portable chargers. Hey, it’s just portable charging, I get it. As much as I dearly love them, for reasons unknown to Man, it’s a niche. In fact, I thought I might even try to give readers a break this year and even avoid mentioning them but it turns out…that I can’t. Because surprisingly my beloved portable chargers were actually another of the big fields at the show. Yes, portable chargers. Huzzah! But there’s a reason for it, because it’s not just any old portable chargers, but wireless Qi chargers. (Pronounced “chee”.) I’ve written about wireless Qi chargers in the past, and the technology is terrific. But they’ve still been a limited market for several years, that’s all. Yet there they were at CES this year, sprawling all over the place and in a huge range of incarnations, including built into cars. So, what on earth changed?? Well, when you know the history, it’s not hard to understand Apple added wireless Qi charging to their latest iPhone. So, welcome the technology to the world.
Not to worry, I still won’t pour out a panoply of portable chargers, but hey, as long as I’m mentioning them, I should at least note one. It’s a refinement of a device I reviewed last year, the excellent myCharge Adventure Ultra, which impressively included an AC port that lets you actually power small appliances or a laptop. But now it’s been updated, and a new model has been released called the All Powerful. Yes, that’s its real name. It has even greater capacity, higher wattage (which was its one previous slight downside) and now also allows for yes, you should have seen this coming, wireless Qi charging.
Completely separate from this, but one of the more clever designs of portable power I’ve seen was the line of products from GoWear Tech. The one issue with portable chargers, no matter how small, is that it’s still a separate device to carry. But GoWear Tech builds the charger into their apparel like a belt or purse strap. (They don’t make purses, you just hook their strap on to what you already own.) It’s very convenient, though a little pricey the belt with a 5000 mAh charger, good for about three charges of a mobile phone, retails for $179.
And speaking of power, this is a good time to let you take a break and stretch your legs as I tell you about the strangest occurrence I’ve experience in all my years at CES. At around 11:15 in on the second morning, the Las Vegas Convention Center had total power failure blackout! The Central Hall (where I was at the time) and North Hall were out for almost two hours. Boy, howdy, if any convention relies on electricity and would be pummeled by a power failure, it’s CES. What was funny though is that, if you are going to have a massive power failure, in some ways that's where it should be. Because immediately, amid the total blackness, mobile phones were whipped out, and flashlight apps were immediately turned on all over the place. If you've wondered if that flashlight app is really useful—it is!
The photo I took doesn't do it justice because I foolishly used my camera’s flash, so it brightened up the cavernous area. But my friend Walter J. Podrazik (curator of the Museum of Broadcast Communication in Chicago) happily took photos both ways, and this without flash gives a far-better idea.
It wasn’t problematic, just momentarily “concerning,” because you’re in the middle of a massive convention hall surrounded by 50,000 people, in (at first) total darkness, and don’t know exactly the way out. But after about 20 seconds, all these flashlight apps went on, and it was actually sort of charming if odd—and pretty easy to get around the hall, albeit slowly. Needless-to-say, every company there, so reliant on electricity, was completely inconvenienced except for Nikon and Casio, which had prepared and brought generators. They were like little oases of blessed sunshine in the pitch blackness.
Okay, hopefully you’re now all refreshed, so let’s dive back into the show. And best of all, you’re probably three-quarters done! So, the end is in sight.
Once upon a time, CES was overrun with PCs and computer peripherals. It was so massive in scope that a separate show, Comdex, competed for attention just months apart. But that was then, this is now. Comdex is long gone, and PCs and their peripherals are a very small part of CES at this point. Still, a few things do stand out.
Storage capacity is always an issue for computers, with the main solution being to replace your hard disk something that is not generally possible with laptops, but for desktop systems only. There are portable hard drives, and many are somewhat small, but still a bit cumbersome. SanDisk, however, showed their Extreme portable SSD solid state drives which are much smaller, faster, lighter and have no moving parts, so they crash far less. They’re more expensive than hard drives, but that price is coming way down. The devices range from 250 gigabtyes for $129 to a massive 1 terabyte drive that sells for $399. (A 2 terabyte model is on the way, if not here by the time you read this.) It’s about the size and weight of a pack of cigarettes, though half the thickness, so it could fit in your shirt pocket. In a similar vein, SanDisk also has the Ultra Fit, which is a Flash drive but the size of a tiny dongle with 256 GB capacity you just stick it in a USB port where it’s so small you can forget about it, and it shows up as a separate drive on your computer.
The MirraViz Multiview is a bit of an oddity, allowing multiple people to view a single monitor screen, yet each see completely different personalized content. For instance, people can watch different movies on the same screen or (for more commercial use), different shoppers can see personalized advertising from different perspectives, all on the same screen.
Somewhat from the opposite perspective, the Logitech Flow (which like the MirraViz is a CES Innovation Award honoree) is intriguing software that lets a person control up to three computers with just one mouse.
And of all the laptops I came across, the one that impressed me the most for small size, light weight (only 2.78 pounds), 2-i-1 convertibility (into a tablet), touch screen, long battery life (up to a claimed 16 hours, though most people won’t get nearly that long), and reasonable cost was the HP Spectre X360. It starts at a base configuration of $1,150.
Limited ports and slots bring their own issues with a MacBook. However, the Kingston Nucleum helps deal with that. It plugs into your laptop’s USB-C port and the small expansion device provides seven additional ports—two USB-C ports, HDMI, two standard USB-A ports, along with SD and microSD card slots.
Okay, so once you have your computer properly set up, sitting down at the keyboard does tend to bring up the concept of writing which, given that this is the Writers Guild, is the whole point of it all here, of course. Rocketbook is the latest attempt I’m come across to transfer handwritten notes to digital. One of the common problems with such products is that many require special paper, which becomes expensive. The Rocketbook, though, has an interesting twist –it’s a reusable notebook which you write on with a proprietary pen. With a few clicks accessed by a QR code on each page, you can scan this handwritten text which will get sent to any sites or email addresses you’ve set up. The company has two different notebooks the Everlast allows you to wipe the text clean and then re-use the pages as often as you like. Very clever. For the other, the Wave—and I swear I’m serious about this—you put the notebook in a microwave which will clean the ink off, and the book can be used five times. This, on other hand, is stupid. I’m going to guess that most of their sales will be with the former.
And speaking of writing and odd, there was one device that stood out as perhaps the winner of this year’s oddest product especially given that this article is written for the Writers Guild of America West. But honestly, I think it would win that oddity award under any condition. When I brought it up to others, the reaction I got was blank stares and “Hunh???” It’s the Short Edition Short Story Dispenser. Think of it as a vending machine from which the public can print for free a 1-3-or-5-minute short story written by an online author. No, really. (Insert “Hunh???” here.)
For no particular reason, other than the Short Edition reminds of it, I feel compelled to mention the Singing Machine. It’s not odd in the slightest, really just your basic home karaoke, but with one nice twist—it features autotune, so now anyone with even a terrible singing voice can sound respectably good.
I don’t tend to write about health tech products much, but it’s a huge industry, and impressive. A major segment of that is things like Fitbit products, checking your pulse and heart rate when exercising, which interests me not at all, checking my pulse, I mean, not the exercising part…but there are devices that add clinical medical benefits that are huge advances for society.
Some on the commercial side are admittedly smaller leaps, though more to the point of what’s covered on these pages. Like the FlexiSpot Deskcise. A CES Innovation Award-winner, this is basically an exercise bicycle but one that they’ve combined with a desk. So, you can work while you work out. Beside which it is multi-functional and can be used as a stand-up desk for those who prefer to (or for medical reasons with a bad back, have to) stand when they work.
Also interesting was the Tobii Dynavox Indi, designed as a “speech tablet.” The device, which won a CES Innovation Award, as well, gives “non-verbal” people the ability to communicate, such as those with non-verbal Autism, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy or other like-disabilities.
Good news: the end is actually near! Really. Not all that much more to go. Bear with me, you can make it…
The last day of my travels through CES Land took me to the Sands Expo Center, where they have Eureka Park, a congested, interesting area of startup companies, some of which are still in the crowd-funding phase, or new international companies that are trying to get a foothold in the United States. Without putting them in any particular order, and mixing the most interesting with the most decidedly-offbeat, here are some of the companies there that caught my attention—
I’ve seen a lot of products like Ovie over the years at CES, but theirs is the first that seems to be doing it right. It’s a chip that connects with an app to let you know when food in your refrigerator is nearing its “use-by” day. It knows the shelf-life of many foods, or you can manually enter a day. They sell containers into which the chips fit nicely, but you can use your own canisters. (Apparently, a scout from Shark Tank came across them at CES and wanted Ovie on the show, but at the moment the company said it isn’t sure if that fits in their strategy yet.)
[Side note: in addition to having recruiters wandering around on their own and checking out startups, Shark Tank held a big event at CES for new companies wanting to audition. As you might imagine, the turnout was…er, massive. I wasn’t there, but ran into someone who was and had taken a photo of the line of those companies hoping to get in. How to describe it? Imagine a football field covered with people crammed together like sardines.]
MyBus is not really yet for the public, but more for civic organizations which would first have to change how their public local transportation system is set up. So, that’s a hurdle, but it’s already in operation in smaller cities in France. Basically, it’s a “smart city mobility app” that uses a QR code on the door of busses and subways, and you just snap a shot of it with your cell phone. This in turn charges your account which was previously set up. No money has to be exchanged on the public transport, and a group or family can be charged at the same time.
Quode Interactive has what also competes for the oddest product at CES, a Smart Hula-Hoop. I assume it checks your heart rate and things like that, but still…
Caveasy is a connected wine cellar. You take a picture of the label, and the software informs you when the wine is ready to drink. It can also recommend wines, though that seems a less valuable service. More beneficial will be when they add the ability to adjust temperature control, but that’s upcoming.
SmaCircle takes the concept of portable and ratchets it up a notch. It’s a motorized bike that folds up to 19”x11” and they say can fit in your backpack. I suppose it could, though you’d need a somewhat large backup and strong shoulders, given that it weighs 15.4 pounds. Not remotely impossible, but still a challenge for some. It will run for 2 hours on a charge and go up to 12 MPH. This is a photo of two bikes, one folded as well as another born to run.
GoFish Cam is an underwater camera attached to a fishing line that lets you review underwater conditions where fish might be. You can either record and check out the video later, or watch live if used with an add-on device.
And that’s it. Then he rested.
Recharging to prepare for CES 2019…
To read more from Robert J. Elisberg about other matters from politics, entertainment, technology, humor, sports, and a few things in between, see Elisberg Industries. He can also be followed at a distance on Twitter or Facebook.
Note: The Writers Guild of America West neither implicitly nor explicitly endorses opinions or attitudes expressed in this article.
Copyright 2018, Robert J. Elisberg. All rights reserved.