Looking Ahead to CES: This Will Be a Big One
Jan 2, 2017 9:00 AM PT
CES week is here, and it's the one week of the year I look forward to looking back on. CES is a killer show -- not because you are up to your armpits in interesting new products, but because it is so spread out that it'll kill your legs as you hike all over the damn place. One year, I walked so much I actually ripped the soles off both shoes.
What is weird about this show is that it really comes too early for vendors to have much of what they intend to have in stores by the end of the year. So, it not only kind of messes up New Year's for a lot of people who have to prepare for it, but also fails to deliver the impact it once did.
However, it remains one of the most powerful tech showcases in the world, and this year we'll see a ton of things that likely will have us thinking more and more about the world of tomorrow.
I'll share more on that and close with my first product of the week: the unusual Phab 2 Pro Phone from Lenovo, the first Google Project Tango phone.
Flying cars are a big deal for me, because I first got involved with this technology in the 1970s with a company that started with a flying saucer. My father put down a deposit on one of the vehicles -- he died recently and clearly never got the car. This is how far the technology has come.
There was a showcase a year ago of an autonomous flying car that is actually a people-carrying drone, suggesting that Uber one day might fly to your house rather than drive, at least in rural areas.
Folks apparently realized that if you could get a car to drive itself, and if you could create a drone capable of carrying large packages, then you could create one that could carry people. It is this idea of push-button flying that makes flying cars interesting. I know of several vendors that will be talking about this or showing prototypes at CES.
Microsoft last year brought forward the Surface Studio, a product that blends a high-resolution touchscreen with a digitizer to create a unique all-in-one. It makes the iMac look so last decade -- which, given it hasn't changed much in the last decade, wasn't a huge stretch.
This class of product has proven ideal for creators, and with the next version of Windows 10 designed specifically with creation in mind, the OEMs are stepping up. In short, there will be a ton of Surface Studio-like products at CES, each doing its best both to stand out against Microsoft's offering, and to showcase the power of Windows 10 Creator's edition. If you are a creator, this likely will be your year.
There will be a number of prototype cars at the event. One that recently came to light, Rinspeed's Oasis, is equipped with Harman LIVS (life-enhancing intelligent vehicle solutions). It showcases the advantages of a car that is designed to be driven by computer.
It's basically a living room on wheels, with the focus on entertainment, access and range rather than on handling or performance. Cool stuff includes active glass, a steering wheel that turns into a table, and a huge screen for both work and entertainment.
You'll see a number of these examples, showcasing each company's vision of the near-term future and the world of tomorrow. I'm a big fan of Rinspeed and have lusted after its Splash car for years.
8K HDR TVs and OLED
Yes, you thought that wonderful 4K HDR TV was the be-all and end-all, didn't you, and that you'd have at least three years before someone made it obsolete. Well, surprise -- there will be 8K TVs at the show. The good news is we don't even have much 4K HDR content, so your 4K HDR TV likely is safe for three years. These 8K sets likely will be wicked expensive initially -- so look, but don't worry about buying until sometime closer to 2020.
Closer in are OLED sets, which combine the marvelous blacks of the old plasma sets with the reliability and brilliant colors of LCD sets. The manufacturers appear to have fixed the problem of the early OLED TVs' short service life, and this year the prices of OLED, which have been up in the nosebleed range, should drop sharply. That could mean your new TV isn't that safe after all.
CES will be the big coming-out party for low-cost dedicated VR headsets and gear. The initial wave from HTC and Oculus was way too expensive, and the next wave is supposed to be far more affordable.
A lot of vendors will be showcasing their VR gear, so be ready for your kid or spouse to start signaling they want one of these things for their next birthday, and be thankful that it likely will be well below US$500 this round.
Drones Flying High
Drones will continue to dominate CES. The DJI Phantom 4 was the hot product in market last year, largely because it was so easy to fly. Now the market is moving to smaller, more portable, collapsible products, and I'm expecting to see a ton of drones that are both easier to fly safely and easier to toss into a backpack for transportation -- in other words, the FAA's worst nightmare.
There already are several times the number of private planes as drones flying today, and things are likely to get a lot more crowded as prices continue to drop and capabilities continue to increase. I have a small air force of drones myself, and I expect, I'll have a few more by year's end.
Invasion of the Amazon Echo Clones
The Amazon Echo Dot was my 2016 product of the year, but Amazon recently licensed the technology, we are likely to be up to our armpits in Echo clones this year. I'm personally looking for one that is set up to work outside, because I really would like a better solution for my swim spa than a Dot with a battery tied to huge Bluetooth boombox.
I wonder if all of these things will start talking to each other in the CES convention center after everyone goes home for the night. That could be kind of spooky.
Of course, we'll have tons of PCs, laptops, tablets, and wearable tech still looking for a market, as well as lots of tech accessories for cars, smartphones and other devices. This promises to be one of the most powerful tech shows yet, with showcases that will define not just 2017 but likely the rest of the decade.
From showcasing tech that will get you to work faster and very differently to showing off the tech that will entertain you on the trip, this promises to be a CES show for the ages. Now, if I can just find something that will ensure my legs and feet will survive it intact... . Here is hoping we all have a great time, and that by the end of the week, I'm still capable of walking by myself.
This is a weird smartphone and not the least of what makes it strange is that it is branded "Lenovo," not "Motorola," which is Lenovo's phone division.
This Lenovo Phab 2 Pro has a huge, 6.4-inch screen, likely because it is the showcase phone for Google's augmented reality platform, Project Tango. Now, there aren't yet a lot of apps out for Tango, but what it brings is a unique camera that allows you to position virtual objects in the real world.
From a practical perspective, this means you can buy furniture online after seeing what it would look like, to scale, in your office or room. You can play electronic games that run on your own table, and blend real and virtual elements to create a very unique experience.
While the lack of AR apps for the phone hampers it at the moment, I have to say that the 6.4-inch display is rather impressive, and so is the battery life under normal use. The phone has -- and needs -- a big battery for AR, but that battery also helps it out as a phone, making it one of the better phablets on the market.
It uses the top-of-line Qualcomm Snapdragon 652 processor, and it comes with 64 GB of memory. It has impressive Dolby Atmos Audio with 5.1 audio capture (3 microphones) and voices noise canceling (which makes it easier for folks to hear you in a noisy environment.
Be aware that there is always a bit of pain associated with being cutting edge, but if you want a phone that is impressively large, is a showcase for Project Tango, and has really impressive battery life and performance, check out the Lenovo Phab 2.
It is a precursor for what is coming in augmented reality. Because my first column of the year is about looking to the future, and the Phab 2 Pro is a future-facing smartphone, it is the obvious choice for my product of the week.