For some people—roughly 170,000 of us—the new year doesn’t really begin until we descend upon Las Vegas for CES. WIRED’S editors and writers will be at the annual consumer tech trade show all week seeking out the latest trends, products, services, oddities, and absurdities that will help set the tone for technology in 2020.
As usual, our coverage comes with a caveat: Most of the new tech we see in Las Vegas won’t ship right away, or possibly ever. But strip away all the glitz and hype, and CES remains a good opportunity to get a sense of how tech-makers are thinking about the coming months or years. Here’s what the tech industry is buzzing about on the way to CES 2020.
Even after all the talk about how it’s going to change the way our devices connect to the internet and to each other, 5G was a bust at last year’s CES. Consumer electronics companies and wireless carriers alike were understandably excited about the potential of this next-gen wireless tech, and we did see a few 5G-ready, premium handsets hit the market in 2019. But even now, a year later, it’s hard to make sense of where real 5G exists in the US and who can access it.
CES 2020, then, will be an opportunity for tech makers to demonstrate that 5G will be an actual thing this year, and they’re not going to hold back. Some of these announcements will be around specific devices, like Dell’s 5G-ready Latitude laptop. Others will be around chipsets: MediaTek, for example, plans to roll out a premium 5G chipset for phones at CES, and Qualcomm will likely expound upon the announcements it made at its annual Hawaii summit back in December. Most importantly, expect infrastructure updates, as the US carriers continue to expand their 5G networks and show off how the fifth-generation of wireless will transform healthcare, “smart” cities, and autonomous vehicles.
AI All Day, All Night
We need to talk about AI toothbrushes. Not really, but if there’s anything that might be emblematic of the trend of “Artificial Intelligence” being infused into every product possible, it might just be the internet-connected toothbrush. Why must the miniature scrubbie for your nubs of calcium phosphate include machine learning? I do not know, but there are plenty of products at CES that try to answer that question, and CES 2020 is going to be quite the AI and IoT bonanza.
Thing is, there are very real, important applications for AI—see aforementioned autonomous vehicles, energy-efficient cities, and advances in healthcare. Big tech companies like Samsung and Google have committed billions of dollars to AI, with the goal of transforming everything from real-time language translation across the globe to your average washing machine at home. Some technologists and analysts note that tech has effectively “disappeared” into our lives, which is to say it is everywhere; AI, which is largely intangible as a physical experience, is a big part of that.
But that also means that companies with less AI expertise will use it to market their wares, whether those are pet collars, lightbulbs, smart toilets, pill packs, gardening tools, or hairbrushes. The idea is that as these products “learn” your habits and get smarter over time, they’ll provide added conveniences. If that’s the actual outcome, then we’re all for it.
CES wouldn’t be CES without TVs. This year we’re expecting to see a bigger assortment of 8K models, as well as TVs and other displays that flex into a variety of cool form factors—LG has already teased a rollable OLED model that retracts into the ceiling between viewing sessions.
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