The first week of January saw the most incredible show of future tech return to Las Vegas for CES 2016. This year, the Consumer Electronics Show gave us a taster of some great innovations that may drastically transform the way we use technology at home, at work and on the go.
To give you a round-up of the trends that dominated CES 2016, let’s take a look at the five top trends showcased at the show.
Wearables and sensors got their fair share of attention at CES 2016, but what really got delegates excited was the rise of a potentially more sophisticated form of connected device: the drone. In this realm, a few star attractions truly stole the show, captivating both businesses and tech enthusiasts.
Parrot Disco, the company that brought drones into the mainstream, has created a new consumer drones category: fixed-wing drones. Disco is capable of flying at 50 mph, 50 metres high (depending on local regulations) for 45 minutes. Its front camera will provide a view of the flight, whilst the fixed-wing configuration makes it inherently more stable and smooth to operate.
The Ehang 184 is the world’s first self-piloting drone that carries a passenger on board. At 200kg and 1.5 metres tall, this drone can be controlled by a tablet or smartphone, to make it fly at a top speed of 62 mph. The Chinese company behind it claims that these air taxis could be the future of transportation. But for now, such passenger drones would be illegal to fly in many countries, including the UK.
Google is developing high-altitude and long-endurance flights through its newly acquired company, Titan Aerospace. Mark Zuckerburg is planning to build and launch a fleet of solar-powered drones, to provide robust internet access to various underdeveloped parts of the world. These initiatives indicate the widespread application of drones for commercial as well as civilian purposes in forthcoming years.
However, the biggest announcement for the category actually came from Intel, with the arrival of Yuneec Typhoon H. Fitted with a module that uses Intel's RealSense technology for automated collision avoidance, it’s designed to address some of the concerns surrounding drones. That said, mobile app developers will have to deal with the challenging task of integrating the drone’s delivery mode into their app design.
It will not be long before we could see our skies swarming with drones that carry groceries, medical supplies and gifts. Surveillance of railroad bridges and highways are just some of the applications where drones could be an efficient and cost-effective source of real-time information. Even in agriculture, large scale farmers might soon engage drones to monitor crop growth and look after livestock.
2. OLED Display
One of the coolest innovations for 2016 was unveiled by LG: an 18-inch Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) display that can be rolled up like a newspaper. This 1mm-thick prototype screen has a resolution of 1200 x 810 pixels, with a curvature radius of 30R, and can be rolled up to a radius of 3cm. Want to watch your favourite TV shows on the go? Soon, you’ll be able to bring your TV with you!
The second screen from LG was a 55-inch OLED display. As one of the largest OLED designs, it provides 40% transparency compared to the standard 12-15% we see with LCD panels. This display is designed for use in a commercial or retail setting, with LG suggesting it could revolutionise the way we use in-store televisions when they eventually hit retail outlets.
However, you don’t have to wait around to experience the latest technology. Leading the company's 2016 portfolio is its Super UHD TV range, available in 55 to 86-inch screen sizes. The displays boast advanced picture quality, better colour and colour capabilities, high dynamic range (HDR) and slim design.
Samsung also unveiled a line of transparent and mirrored OLED displays that it intends to sell to retail stores before bringing them into our living rooms. Its window-pane-thin transparent OLED screens got a lot of attention amongst retailers, although we struggle to see the benefit of these to the average Netflix fan.
Of greater benefit to consumers is the fact that new Samsung panels come integrated with Intel Real Sense, enabling gesture control via a built-in camera. Samsung plans to roll these futuristic panels out to retailers first, creating a "visually compelling, interactive closet," but they could arrive in our homes after their commercial trial run.
The Yoga X1 builds on the success of the YOGA series of laptop and its 360-degree hinge. The X1 series is military-tough, and at 14-inch and 1.2kg, this ultralight 2-in-1 computer is fast, flexible and comes with a beautiful OLED display.
Eager to keep up with its competitors, Dell has released its first OLED display. The Dell UltraSharp 30 OLED monitor brings the advantages of OLED technology to PC professionals working in colour-critical environments, such as graphic arts and photography. These new, ultra-thin OLED displays are going to enhance the user experience, raising the benchmark further and gaining Dell global recognition for innovation.
3. VR & AR
Virtual reality has come on leaps and bounds since the first prototypes were released a few years ago. This year, VR firms dominated the floor of CES, showcasing applications that spanned from gaming to health. Now, there are VR platforms for music, life coaching, personal movie theatres, training tools, education tools, social VR and much more.
Clearly, Oculus Rift and Google Glass 2 are going to set a benchmark for VR and AR. However, HTC has introduced its Vive Pre headset, with a front-facing camera that creates virtual walls around the user to warn them when they are close to the edge of the play space.
Meanwhile, Qualcomm announced a new partnership with NextVR, a leader in live-action virtual reality broadcast technology. Together, they will bring 360-degree virtual reality content to any mobile device, using the latest chip, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor. Mobile is the next phase of VR, and augmented reality (also known as mixed reality), is the third phase.
Leap Motion is taking a two-pronged approach, showcasing both virtual and mixed/augmented reality innovations at CES. However, the company is tackling one very specific — and very complex — problem, which is recreating the natural dexterity of users’ hands. The user's virtual hands look and act much like real hands, displaying a high level of dexterity. Importantly, there's is just a 4 millisecond delay between doing something and seeing it happen, an achievement that no other technology can currently match.
It has been estimated that the VR headset market will grow to $62 billion in 2025, with a growing market for live sporting events, concerts, education, adult content, social experiences and movies, as well as a gaming industry worth $5.4 billion. The state of VR and AR today can therefore be compared to mobile phones 15 years ago. It’s widely believed that virtual and augmented reality are the next mega-tech themes through to 2030. Whilst VR will find a natural niche in gaming, already AR has much potential in business and enterprise applications.
Whilst the adoption of AR and VR will be somewhat limited in 2016, they will influence the entertainment and gaming industry, shifting some investment towards VR products. AR still needs to become lighter and less intrusive before it becomes viable for consumer use, but it will continue to prove valuable in areas like logistics, law enforcement, security and medicine. New headsets and new technologies will gradually make virtual reality a reality.
There is still a way to go before VR and AR find their way into our everyday lives, but the innovations demonstrated at CES certainly provide an insight into this exciting new dimension. Motion sickness is a problem for many users — and then there's the price tag. When paired with the right VR experiences, motion sickness should not be an issue. And as sales volumes increase, eventually we’ll see the prices come down too.
4. Smart Home Technology
Shortly after the launch of Echo, Amazon rolled out a set of APIs called the Alexa Skills Kit, designed to encourage the integration of Alexa’s voice capabilities into third-party products. CES 2016 showed that other companies are jumping on board.
Early in the week, Ford announced that its SYNC in-car technology platform will integrate with Alexa, enabling drivers to turn off house lights from their car, or to remotely start their car from the kitchen. Vivint, a home security and control systems provider, also launched Alexa integration at CES, enabling Vivint users to instruct Alexa to lock doors, enable and disable security systems, adjust the home’s temperature or control lights and garage doors via voice commands.
HomeAdvisor, the online provider of homeowner tools and resources, also launched Alexa integration at CES, allowing homeowners to arrange appointments for home repairs, such as plumbers or electricians, via voice command.
There seems to be a great deal of momentum for the Alexa voice-recognition platform, despite its small number of users. It wouldn’t surprise us to see a slew of smart home technology companies follow suit after CES, driving widespread adoption of Alexa.
Amazon isn’t the only tech company striving to become the hub of smart home technology. Samsung is heavily promoting SmartThings as its IoT platform, Apple wants vendors to use HomeKit, and Google is in the mix with its Brillo services announced last year.
In the midst of these developments, Dash Replenishment Service integration with appliances also seems poised to explode. Any device that relies on supply replenishment is a candidate for the service, but it’s unlikely that any manufacturers want to own the e-commerce part of the equation. Besides, appliance makers need continuous innovation and increased convenience to convince consumers to buy the latest and most expensive gear.
Smart home technology is getting more sophisticated by the year, but it needs to learn how to play nicely with others. The problem with smart home technology in 2016 isn’t a lack of intelligence; it’s a failure to communicate.
As new ‘smart’ devices appear — we saw a plethora of them last week at CES 2016, from smart showers to beds, belts, blenders, toothbrushes and more — the same stumbling blocks remain. All of them will talk to your smartphone, but most won’t talk to one another. This is a key challenge that software developers, device manufacturers and mobile app developers will have to overcome in the near future, to give things the interfaces to talk to each other.
Since it acquired SmartThings in August 2014, Samsung has moved aggressively towards expanding the SmartThings ecosystem and integrating the technology into its appliances. It has also kept SmartThings open to manufacturers and app makers, creating a network of more than 20,000 developers.
This year, the Korean electronics giant displayed several new appliances that work in the SmartThings ecosystem, including a line of smart TVs, a smart USB stick to plug into older sets, a refrigerator, an oven and the SleepSense - a disc-shaped sensor that sits under your mattress and can control devices automatically based on your sleeping patterns.
Samsung’s smart refrigerator made headlines as the most attention-grabbing connected home product to emerge from CES 2016. The Samsung Family Hub fridge has a giant touchscreen built into one of its doors, complete with an app that you can use to order groceries online. The app will also let you control your lights, thermostat and other connected products right from your refrigerator door.
One of the coolest features is a line of cameras within the fridge, which will send a picture to your phone when you're out shopping to show you what’s inside. However, with a price tag of $5,000 you may think twice before trading in your old fridge.
Manufacturers still don't know what features consumers really value in connected home products. A great way to get that information is to release new products, to see the user experience and adoption levels in action. For this reason, even the more weird and wonderful innovations of CES 2016 are worth keeping an eye on.
The most interesting aspect from the mobile app developers’ perspective is that the world is moving towards connected things through internet, mobile, virtual assistants and AI. However, the entire ecosystem revolves around application development to make this a reality. By combining quality hardware with advanced software, soon we may have our devices talking to us intelligently and offering solutions to everyday challenges.