CES 2021 WFH Innovations. CES 2021 wrapped. I’m not sitting at the Venetian, just inside from the Sands Convention Center, exhausted from trying to embrace that final leg of CES after days at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Although I am not at the Venetian, I am a bit exhausted. I did not find the virtual experience as useful as it could have been. I also found that after various searches, many of the companies I expected in the Exhibitor list did not opt-in to the virtual exhibition. I ended up spending several hours piecing together a story from clips, and browsing through isles of logos, most of which did not say what the company did. The search engine allowed searches by category, but some vendors appeared multiple places, and until you entered and read everything in their virtual, it was impossible to tell why they where in one place or another. For some vendors that I know made announcements, no search led to an exhibitor page. It did not help that the search engine failed to recognize strings, so searches for “Western Digital” turned up anything Western or Digital. It was the first year of a virtual CES, and that they pulled it off at all is amazing. Hopefully we call meet in Vegas next year, but if not, the tech team at CES has a year to prepare for an improved user experience.
During the physical show, I get intrigued by pretty whirling things that catch my eye, by buttons that invite me to touch them, by ever-bigger experiences tucked inside ever tinier packages. I knew it would be hard to find announcements focusing on working from home (WfH), so I decided to narrow my search for those categories and products that fit that use case. So, unlike previous years, where I shared everything that caught my eye (with hope it would catch yours as well) I turned to the practical. But practical does not mean boring as you will see.
Large Widescreen Monitors
Widescreen monitors are made for gamers with hot graphic boards churning out billions of bits of resolution with their GPUs. But those with lesser ambitions, like visualizing a really big spreadsheet, creating a mind map, or orchestrating a content stream without staking windows…need big screens too. I live on my now aging 34-inch LG ultra wide curved monitor. As cool as it is, it’s now tiny compared to the screens announced by the likes of LG and Samsung. The Samsung Odyssey comes in120Hz and 240Hz models. The later checks in with a 5,120 x 1,440 resolution within its 48-inch frame. That means multiple documents open at the same time without overlap. Although just a concept, the LG 48-inch 4K Bendable CSO (Cinematic Sound OLED) display morphs from flat to curved at the push of a button. On-demand immersion. LG also showed off a number of transparent displays that make most current science fiction appear it will date sooner than its creators intended.
The LG Bendable OLED Display
ViewSonic took portable to a new level with the VA3456-MHDJ 34-inch ultra-wide multimedia monitor and its native WQHD (3440×1440) resolution. The 21:9 aspect ratio provides extra screen space for more content. And it will only cost $349.99 when it ships in February 2021. The VG2440V integrates webcam, speakers and a microphone to support video conferencing scenarios.
Those looking for more portability at an even more modest price should consider the TD1655 and VG1655 15.6-inch portable HD Monitors. The TD1655 includes touch and writing support with the included stylus. Both monitors offer 1080p resolution in a 2 pound package. The touch-enable TD1655 will likely run $239.00 and its more passive sibling, the VG1655, runs about $179.00.
Mice and keyboards
Keeping with the “gaming is good for productivity” theme, consider the Razer Pro Click mouse and Pro Type keyboard. Razer teamed with Humanscale to bring enhanced human factors engineering, and the devices looks as good as I hope they scrolls and type. The mouse sports a 16K sensor, and keyboard shines with backlit icy blue keys.
Apple’s innovations always drive the accessory market. From iPad cases to AirPod wraps, from Apple Pencil holders to MiFi certified cables, dozens, if not hundreds, of companies sell aftermarket accessories for iPhones and iPads. Enter the resurrection, of sorts, of MagSafe, the new charging and accessory platform built into the iPhone 12 series. It charges, it attracts, and it does both. CES saw a wide variety of MagSafe charging announcements like the Satechi Aluminum 2-in-1 Magnetic Wireless Charging Stand and the Belkin BOOST↑CHARGE™ PRO 2-in-1 Wireless Charger Stand with MagSafe. It also saw other MagSafe accessories like car mounts, cases and wallets. The combination of technologies will result in viewer charging options on the desk, and perhaps more safety for the devices as they are less likely to fall if attached to a magnetic stand or mount.
As network protocols evolve, so too does the hardware that supports them. Wi-Fi 6 (also known as AX) brings connectivity and speed improvements that older devices won’t be able to leverage. Unless owners buy something like the D-Link’AX1800, a Wi-Fi 6 adapter that plugs into a USB port. Those who remember the world before built-in wireless will not find the device all that different on the surface from Bluetooth or Wi-Fi adapters of the past. The difference comes in the up to 1,200Mbps transfer speeds. Those speeds require access to a Wi-Fi 6 router, like one from the D-Link EXO AX series, or the Belkin Linksys AXE8400 Wi-Fi 6E Mesh System.
When the Vuzix Next Generation Smart Glasses arrive later in 2021, they will combine many smartphone and smartwatch capabilities into a pair glasses. The glasses were designed for roles that require hands-free connectivity as their wearers works in the real world. The Vuzix NGSG features a see-through 3D display powered by micro-LEDs with visual acuity augmented by Vuzix’ proprietary waveguides. The glasses work with smartphones via hands-free voice commands or gesture controls. Be it for work or lifestyle use, the Vuzix NGSG seeks to keep wearers engaged with their surroundings and connected to the digital world at the same time. The Vuzix Next Generation Smart Glasses (NGSG) received multiple CES 2021 Innovation Awards for outstanding design and engineering.
New Galaxy Phones
Just as CES was drawing to a close, Samsung dropped their new Galaxy S21 line. The Galaxy S21 ultra, the first S-Series with S-pen capability, will appeal as the phone for work scenarios. It’s 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X display challenges low-end tablets for screen real estate, and the S-Pen brings the flexibility of input required for a true phone-as-work-companion. The Galaxy S21 Ultra screen’s refresh rate adjusts to content needs, ratcheting up or down from 10Hz to 120Hz, optimizing experience and battery life. The S21 Ultra includes Eye Comfort Shield5 for reduced eye fatigue. The phone also supports rapid charging, reaching 50% after just 30-minutes.
Samsung needs to continue it work to build a ecosystem around the S-Pen in order to bring it the kind of apps that Apple users enjoy with the Apple Pencil–The form factor and the basic technology, falling now just at the low end of tablets, offers intriguing possibilities for integration with content development, engineering, and design workflows.
Just for fun: play some pinball made with a Whole Lotta Love
I also promised some fun. If you already have all the virtual experiences you ever wanted, you may want to consider a more physical experience–an old school physical experience. Stern Pinball announced a new line of pinball machines based on Led Zeppelin and its music. The Led Zeppelin pinball machines will arrive in Pro, Premium, and Limited Edition (LE) models. The machine will integrate pinball and concert experiences, with Zeppelin tunes, like Whole Lotta Love, Ramble On, and Immigrant Song. Prices start at $6,199 US. The LE model will run $9,199.
CES 2021 WFH Innovations: It’s a wrap
CES 2021 is over. Those with digital access can continue to explore the environment for a few more weeks. I think CES should consider making the annual meeting a continuous event. Instead of just being the focal point for consumer electronics and other technologies in January, they could offer a more continuous engagement model that could help consolidate the disparate channels that track technology between February and November. If CES doesn’t get back to Vegas in 2022, it will need a better UI for its experience, and a broader inclusion of vendors than they could attract in an off year. Several of the companies I went hunting for just weren’t there. One regular exhibitor said to me via e-mail when I reached out: “I tried to stay as far away from CES as I could! After 17 years in a row I needed a break altogether.”
I didn’t feel that way. I build relationships at CES, and I learn: innovation challenges assumptions, rewrites narratives, and fuels speculation. Those mental shifts sit at the heart of the work I do with my clients to differentiate them in evolving markets. CES remains a massive mind f*ck based on its colossal annual input overload. Without a World’s Fair, the world needs CES and other tech fairs to act as an exhibition of ambition and vision. As much as some worry about the dominance of technology over humanity, CES is a physical reminder that invention and its disbursement remain uniquely human experiences.
Serious Insights will continue to explore the CES 2021 WFH Innovations as shipping products arrive for reviews.
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Daniel W. Rasmus
Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.