Foldable smartphones, robots, digital assistants in every room and even a smart toilet: just a few of the tech trends to come out of this year's Consumer Electronics Show.
It’s easy to become blasé about the amount of innovation in the tech industry, but a visit to the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas can quickly change that.
More than 4500 companies exhibited products at CES 2019. However, even more notable was the maturation of some important technologies. We saw smartphones with foldable screens, robots to help around the home, clever space-saving tech and even a “smart” toilet. Perhaps the biggest trend was the spread of artificial intelligence (AI) through the home and beyond.
Here’s our pick of the most interesting new products – and consumer technology trends that business leaders should know about – from CES 2019.
Smartphones with foldable screens
If you thought smartphone design had peaked, think again.
Foldable screens could be the next big design breakthrough, promising to turn devices into dual-purpose smartphones and tablets.
Foldable screens have been in development for several years, but appear to be nearly ready for mainstream production. In fact, Chinese company Royole is already selling a development edition of its FlexPai foldable smartphone.
Folded out, FlexPai is a 7.8-inch tablet. Folded up, it becomes not one, but two smartphones, courtesy of dual SIM cards. Software detects when you switch between modes, changing the display accordingly.
Durability is another big advantage of foldable screens. According to Royole, its display is virtually unbreakable. Meanwhile, Samsung has demonstrated its foldable smartphone, which the company says will be released next year. Huawei, Lenovo, Microsoft, Xiaomi and others are reportedly developing foldable devices.
Roll-up TVs and other space-savers
Foldable screens have other applications, such as LG’s roll-up television. As display sizes increase, televisions are again dominating living spaces – and you’re pretty much limited to placing them against the biggest available wall. The LG Signature OLED TV R solves both problems by rolling away into its base when switched off. Even so, LG claims the 65-inch display is as good as its well-regarded OLED TVs.
Samsung has taken a different approach to space-saving with its Space Monitor. The computer’s screen sits flush against a wall, saving desk space when not in use, but in operation pops out on a movable arm.
Clever design has also resulted in a reprise of 17-inch laptops, which had previously lost popularity due to bulk. The Asus StudioBook S, however, squeezes a 17-inch screen into a 15-inch chassis by using ultra-thin bezels. The LG Gram 17-inch is even smaller and lighter than the StudioBook, weighing just 1.34kg – lighter than a 13-inch MacBook Pro. Unfortunately, LG currently doesn’t sell laptops in Australia, but hopefully it’s a template for similar future 17-inch models.
AI was everywhere at CES – mainly in the shape of various voice-activated devices running one or more digital assistants, such as Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.
Smart speakers are still the most popular of these devices. Along with Amazon’s Echo and Google Home, new smart speakers are available from JBL, Klipsch, LG and other brands. More smart TVs are including Alexa, Google Assistant, or both.
Smart displays – tabletop touchscreen devices with built-in digital assistants – appear to be the next big thing. Google (Home Hub) and Amazon (Echo Show) naturally offer one, as do Facebook, JBL and Lenovo.
Digital assistants are also moving into other parts of the home – into the bedroom with Lenovo’s Smart Clock, and the kitchen with Whirlpool’s KitchenAid Smart Display and GE’s Kitchen Hub.
Smart mirrors from Capstone Connected Home, Kohler and Simplehuman even bring digital assistants into the bathroom. Then there’s Kohler’s Numi 2.0 Intelligent Toilet for those who can’t do without Alexa, even in the smallest room of the house.
Elsewhere, we’re getting closer to Knight Rider becoming a reality with Anker’s Roav Viva and JBL’s Link Drive bringing voice-activated digital assistants to your car.
Here come the robots
Digital assistants are increasingly powering robots, with the most human-looking at CES being Robomodix’s prototypes, Alan and Alena, which include Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri.
Household helper robots are becoming closer to a reality. UBTech displayed two humanoid prototypes: Walker, a walking robot with functional arms and hands, and Cruzr, a service robot for business. Another popular prototype at CES was Aeolus, a butler-style bot with arms that can fetch you drinks.
Less ambitious but available right now is Temi, a self-navigating robot that can follow you around. It can also respond to voice commands via Alexa and features an Android tablet.
What does it all mean for business?
Some of the above-mentioned products are currently available, others are almost ready for prime time and others are prototypes that may or may not come to fruition. However, all have potential ramifications for business leaders.
Foldable screens could change how we use smartphones, a likely significant development given their importance for work and everyday activities such as shopping.
AI – and more specifically voice-activated digital assistants – is changing how we interact with machines and internet services. As availability spreads inside and outside the home, the impact on searching websites, shopping and everything else we do online could well be huge.
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