CES 2019 Wrap-up: What We Learned and the Best of CES 2019
Last week at this time I was cool hunting the floor of the Las Vegas convention center in search of the questions Serious Insights found most pressing about the future of work. I managed to find a few items of interest. The major hype ended up focusing on AI and 5G. To that theme, AP posted a headline that read: “CES 2019 Proves AI and 5G Will Transform the Future.” I would say that CES proved nothing, except the latest abbreviations, get most of the coverage. What CES 2019 did demonstrate rather than prove is that the theories posited by proponents of AI and 5G have visions for how they will transform our future, even if those visions were mock-ups, videos and other marketing materials.
XR gets incrementally better
XR, in no form, is ready to take on the consumer outside of gaming. There is no reason to buy a VR headset for home unless you want to quickly consume content while being more anti-social than you are consuming content on your phone in front of other people while wearing headphones. There are still good work use cases for VR in design especially, as well as medical, education and health. To the later, VR may create ways to get you excited about exercise accidentally by stimulating competitive drives that don’t come out in a public gym.
AR and mixed also offers good business use cases, though primitive ones compared to some of the visions of AR assistance with good spacial recognition for activities like repair and construction.
AI still making promises
AI is mostly about conversation and classification, can conversation is really a kind of classification problem on the basic level (classify sounds and categorize them into known strings and then respond and classify the input related to the response). So AI was shown making sense of meetings (Otter), classifying your room and lighting to optimize images on TV, classifying moving vehicles (Intel), classifying inventory levels and determining when something on the shelf needs to be replaced, best settings on a washing machine for the clothes being washed (I will be impressed when it includes robotics and vision to sort through the basket, ID the types of materials and do it pretty much without me) and optimum routing in vehicles, both driven and driverless.
While driverless cars still appear outside the show floor, AI has yet to prove that it can overcome the social and regulatory hurdles that will influence its adoption.
Mobile gets retro
I did get to play with a Galaxy Note 9 Samsung phone and found it pretty impressive. Since I already have an iPhone 8 Plus and an iPad Pro, I don’t need an in-between not-tablet phone though. If I was looking for an all-in-one solution, I might migrate to the Galaxy Note 9.
However, what I might need is something of a throwback to the days of the Psion computer, a miniature computer from the 1990s. Now imagine that the designers of the Psion took all the new cool technology and fit it into the Psion form factor. Well, you don’t have to imagine because some of the original Psion team have done just that with the Cosmo Communicator from Planet. Sure, this device is ridiculously bulky for a phone, but not so much for a really small computer.
The Cosmo Communicator sports a nice big backlit keyboard, good 24MP camera, 6GB of RAM and 128GB of Flash storage. It accepts interaction and outputs information when the device is open or closed via dual displays (inside and out). I also heard people looking for a new round of Motorola StarTAC phones. Perhaps a deal can be made with CBS to support the new versions of Star Trek in the mix. Seems like a good galactic match-up.
Wearables spread from the wrists
There wasn’t much on the productivity/work front related to wearables, but if you look at some of the offerings from the health arena they do have a role to place in the workplace. Three examples include the Willow 2.0 wearable breast pumps, the Owlet Band (not shipping yet) for baby health monitoring and the DFree incontinence bladder monitor. Professionals who worry about pregnancy issues, nursing and bladder control can breathe a sigh of relief that their devices will keep people pumping, monitoring and controlling while they do their work.
The Internet of Things goes WiFi and Smart Speaker
Sure, there are still a number of devices that use protocols like Zigbee and Z-Wave, proprietary systems like Insteon and Belkin’s Wemo. But what CES showed was that the key to home automation is a combination of cheap Wi-Fi devices (like sub-ten-dollar switches and plugs) along with Amazon’s Alex and Google’s Assistant. It’s pretty clear Apple has missed the nuance of simplicity with HomeKit. There is a future of home automation, and it will come in the form of stocking stuffers, not infrastructure investments. Sure, if you want blind control, and garage door opening, you will need to invest a bit more, but for basic lights, small appliances and the like, inexpensive devices connected to voice control will be common.
So with those observations out of the way, here is our list of the best of CES for 2019.
The Best of CES 2019
Dell XPS 13 (9380)
I love an all-white computer. Most may have bought into the current Apple aesthetic of silver and black or rose gold, but I miss my all white Macbook. Dell seems to be playing all angles with the 2019 model of the new XPS 13 which comes in all three of those variations. Most importantly, Dell has nixed its one consistent XPS 13 negative review element by moving the new 2.25mmcamera from the corner of the screen bezel to the top. The new camera, however, does not support Windows Hello with IR, but optional fingerprint support is available for biometric login.
The XPS 13 remains one of the best consumer laptops, and now its even better with HDR content that leverages Windows HD Color, improved thermal management for better performance and next-generation Intel processors, along with some lid and hinge refinements.
Dell Latitude 7400 2-in-1
For those with higher-end security needs, like a Smartcard reader, and other enterprise features, Dell brought all its integration knowledge to bear on the Latitude 7400 2-in-1. This is a 2-in-1 that flips rather than detaches, but that’s OK. It’s no iPad Pro in weight-class but it proved surprisingly light when I played with it at the show. For those who need high-end power for analytics or graphics work, smaller, lighter devices may not do, and peripherals, like digitizers, add not only weight but stuff to keep track of and pack. And the design target: 24 hours of battery. It may not always get there, but it will probably get through a workday with juice to spare.
To take on the Dell track but kick it up a notch, consider the Area-51m. This is a gaming computer. But it you look at the specs, its also an impressive looking AI/business analytics development box. Its portable, though not all that portable it is portable. If you want to take it home, you can without packing up a keyboard and monitor. At the high-end this beast arrives with Intel Core i9-9900K CPU, 32GB of memory, NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 1080 (with an upgrade guarantee to the next gen when it ships). With the 17.3 inch HD display, there is plenty of real estate for work. And who knows, some of the business intelligence vendors may well add eye tracking as an option for manipulating graphics in the future.
HP Chromebook X360 14 G1
Dell isn’t the only company to introduce impressive computing devices at CES. HP brought its business insights to the design of the Chromebook X360 14 G1, a premium Chromebook powered by up to an Intel Core i7-8650U which will certainty outpace most Chromebooks on the market. Devices will be delivered with up to 64GB or storage. The X360 14 G1 also offers two USB-C ports, a USB-A port, a microSD slot, and a headphone hack. On the radio, front look for 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2. The battery is rated at 13 hours. For those who live in the cloud, a fully loaded HP Chromebook X360 will likely make that experience much more productive, cutting wait times and ensuring enough offline synchronized content to keep working when away from a connection.
Planet Cosmo Communicator
As mentioned in the mobility commentary at the top of this article Planet’s retro Cosmo Communicator offers an intriguing mix of nostalgia with real computing horsepower. The things we wanted to do with handheld computers in the 1990s have now become feasible. And just because the market abandoned a form factor for being early, doesn’t mean that when technology catches up viability remains curtailed. And thus the Cosmo Communicator. For those who want a Cosmo Communicator, check out the Indiegogo campaign.
LG Signature OLED TV R
What we see if TVs eventually makes it to monitors, so be wowed by the LG Signature OLED that rolls up in a box. They didn’t deliver this marvel in a 32-inch screen first, but in a 65-inch screen, so imagine as the tech gets cheaper that it could easily evolve into a desktop hub with a screen that folds away and night. Think USB-C port across the back and side of a box. Hit the power and the screen emerges as the fire light up. LG didn’t show that work version, but I saw it clear as day.
When looking at the future, the flying car is the most often referenced device that humanity has failed to deliver. Well, one look at the Bell Nexus Prototype Air Taxi and Blade Runner’s dystopian flying cars get quickly overwritten by this sleek badass flying machine.
LG UltraWide 49WL95C
I love my LG 34-inch curved monitor. I’m sure I would love the LG UltraWide 49VL95C even more. I feel immersed most of the time with 34-inches of wrap around, but with 49 I might even begin to imagine I’m living in my content. The 49-inch widescreen display pops a 5120 by 1440 pixel resolution that captivates from all perspectives. All of this filled out from a USB-C cable. No pricing or shipping, but, you know, wow.
My big shelf of backup hard drives has given way in recent years to a stack of smaller hard drives, and it is on the verge of turning into a box of USB flash drives. With Flashback SanDisk and parent company Western Digital recognize that all backups aren’t really backups, they may be copies of infrequently used content. Even if they are backups, sometimes backups fail. So enter Flashback™ as a service to backup flash content to the cloud, for retrieval or sharing.
Harry Potter Kano Coding Kit
One of the issues with consumer electronics is the focus on delivering value without any effort. Enter the Harry Potter Kano Coding Kit, the first Harry Potter STEM product. The build-it-yourself wireless wand teaches fans of all ages how to code and create. Flick and swish through 70+ challenges inspired by the Wizarding World to make serpents slither, feathers float and more. A great way to connect to technology in a way that makes magic more emotionally invested.
Car and Drive CoPilot
According to The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, each year 100,000+ police-reported crashes are a result of driver fatigue, resulting in about 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries, and an estimated $12.5 billion in monetary losses.
To combat this epidemic, Car & Driver expanded its mission to keep its customers safe with the Copilot Fatigue Monitor.
Using ocular identification technology, the Copilot Fatigue Monitor tracks eye and face movement to detect fatigued and distracted driving. When a driver nods off or becomes distracted, the device produces loud warnings to refocus the driver. As an additional safety measure, users can also invest in an optional vibrating cushion alert.
Perhaps the ultimate non-intrusive wearable, the Motiv Ring brings a sleek, subtle accessory that is designed to be worn 24/7. The superlight and discreet form factor make Motiv Ring ideal for tracking sleep, activity, and heart rate.
Answering the Bot Question
Are robots for real? Well, vendors offered several incarnations at CES, from industrial robots which continue to do their job without the need for a pat on the back to Sony’s Aibo, which was designed just for a back on the back (or a scratch behind the ears). I have a concern for human care robots when we have so many people that will be displaced with them from industrial use. One of the best places for people to work in the future will be with other people in caring situations. Do we really feel so unsure about the human condition that we need robots to care for other people when we have plenty of people to do that with a real human touch?
As robots get closers to communicating, and more useful, we will need to figure out how and if they have a place in our lives.
Best of XR
HTC Vive Pro Eye
For the most part, VR remains the domain of HTC, Oculus, and Sony. The insertion of phones into headsets is a fading fade. The three leaders continue to improve their wears, but uptake remains slow. There just isn’t a compelling VR app that makes donning a headset a daily necessity.
CES 2019 saw the introduction of the Vive Pro Eye and the Vive Cosmos. The Cosmos brings a stand-alone VR headset to the HTC portfolio, while the Vive Pro Eye integrates eye tracking into the high-end headset. This will offer new user control possibilities, like focusing rendering and action on the places where a person is looking. Frustum culling moves from the virtual camera to where the wearer is looking, or foveated rendering (with adorable tech terms like these, no wonder people are having an issue finding VR cuddly). The bottom-line is more stunning video where it matters.
Other XR Players exhibiting innovations at CES 2019 included:
- Vuzix continues to make their products more elegant. This year they introduced the Blade, shrinking their Android hardware footprint so it almost doesn’t affect the design of the glasses. Still not a jump-in and go AR solution, but probably still not a general consumer product.
- Pico and their G2 and 4K headsets that create standalone VR experience.
- Verifocal VR Kit from Lemmis Tech, which helps combat VR eye strain, nausea and headaches by literally focusing on the vergence-accommodation conflict issues in VR.
- Nreal Light, lightweight mixed reality glasses
- Human Capable Inc. uses miniaturized components to drive the AR experiences in its Norm Glasses.
- 3dRudder continues to innovate with its foot-based interface now available to Sony Playstation VR users, but perhaps more cool is the companies new XR Millennium Chair, which will make people free like executives working in the world of Ready Play One.
- BeBop Sensors showed off its sensor gloves for virtual experiences.
- Finally, for those who want to complete their Ready Play One ensemble, consider the Teslasuit, full body apparel with haptic feedback, motion capture, climate control and biometric feedback.
Hyundai Elevate walking car
No Best of CES 2019 list would be complete without the Hyundai Elevate walking car.
Here’s what it looks like:
Here’s what it can do:
- Robotic legs with five degrees of freedom plus in-wheel propulsion
- Ability to walk in mammalian and reptilian style gaits for omnidirectional motion
- Capable of climbing a five-foot vertical wall
- Step over a five-foot gap
- Non-back drivable motors enable the legs to lock in any position
- A modular electric vehicle platform
All while keeping passengers happy, comfortable and safe inside.
Here’s the Elevate in drive mode:
Kind of want one. So many science fiction shows will too.
CES 2019: It’s a wrap
It is hard for any one organization to identify the absolute best from any CES. First, there is the matter of scope. Those focused on car audio versus personal computers will define cool differently. Second, is the issue of magnitude. Unless an organization runs an army of reporters checking out every niche meeting room on the periphery of CES and visit every booth, they will probably miss something.
Those who can afford public relations, of course, bombard press and analysts with ideas about what they are paid to make look cool, even if those press or analyst never get a chance to see the thing. I personally limit meetings at CES, as that is the worst way to take in this show. Every minute spent getting to and from a meeting is a minute less on the floor, less of a chance to see something interesting from one of the core 4,500 exhibitors.
This year I used my tried and true method for picking my best list. I identified and shared my scope. I ignored invitations that didn’t fit within my scope. When I attended press events or walked through the floor, I didn’t let myself get distracted by bright shiny objects that fell outside of my scope. I concentrated on things that looked like work-related AI, IoT, devices and accessories. And when something is sold for consumer use, I consider how it might migrate to the business environment. That’s why you have the very intriguing LG roll-up TV on the list. Save low adoption or high failure rates, that is a technology that will make it to the office in multiple ways.