CES, the massive consumer electronics trade show that takes over Las Vegas for the first week of the year, is full of cool new gadgets ranging from UItraHD TVs to wearables to drones, but how much of that stuff is genuinely useful and transformative?
Here are a few technologies that we probably won’t see at CES this year – at least not in a big way – that could really revolutionize the consumer experience in the years to come.
Non-reflective displays. We live in a world of glass screens. Everything from our mobile phones to our 80-inch televisions interface with us through a membrane of reflective glass or plastic, which makes them difficult or impossible to use in direct sunlight. The only exception to this are ebook readers like Kindle that use a technology called digital ink, which renders in high contrast on a matte finish, non-reflective screen that Amazon calls “paperwhite.”
Unfortunately, this tech only really works in black and white; the refresh rates for color digital ink and e-paper are too slow to accommodate the demands of ordinary computing, much less power-hungry display scenarios like HD video. But imagine the possibilities if a company could get this right: bright color displays with no glare, no eyestrain, and no need to position the TV or monitor away from windows to get a clear view.
Investments and acquisitions have been happening in this area for a while. Will they bear fruit in 2016?
Seamless retail checkout. For more than a decade, we’ve been promised a “future of retail” that involves grabbing the stuff we want off the shelf and walking straight out of the store. Sensors and mobile payments systems handle the tiresome checkout process, and a receipt appears instantly in our email.
Nearly all the technology to make this real exists today; the issue is operational implementation. You used to need to tag everything with RFID chips, a huge pain for retailers and their vendors. Now cameras and motion sensors are precise enough to figure out what people are putting in their carts. Amazon, at its retail bookstore in Seattle, has an ingenious system where customers have to scan items with their mobile phones to get the prices, which allows the retailer to associate online customer data with the customer in the store. There are even evolving data algorithms that can help stores focus their loss prevention efforts by spotting suspicious behavior patterns.
Very soon, someone will put all these pieces together, and the effect will be fundamentally disruptive for the entire retail economy.
Display-aware content. Two trends are colliding: mobile devices are becoming the primary way we access digital content, and mobile screens absolutely suck as landing points for digital advertising. Is there still a way for publishers and marketers to monetize their content without driving mobile readers away?
Sure. However, doing so requires thinking of the mobile device not as a venue for ads, but as a sensor that triangulates three important bits of information: personal identity, location, and proximity to other displays. In essence, the phone tells the cloud, “I’m me, I’m here, I’m interested in these things right now, and so please send useful content to the most appropriate screens nearby.”
That’s not just a consumer-tech play. It requires a fundamentally new approach to systems architecture: basically, a new operating system for the world that combines physical and digital. We’re starting to hear a few big OS vendors talk in these terms. It will be exciting to see the results if they start to make this actually happen.
Calorie counting wearables. Most wearables say they count calories, but what they mean is that they keep track of calories based on information that you provide. That’s helpful but not as convenient as something that automatically keeps track of calories in (from what you eat) and calories out (based on your metabolism and activity) to give you a running total.
Last year, a crowdfunded project called GoBe (from HealBe) raised some eyebrows by promising implicit calorie counting based on non-intrusive biometric measurement using electrical currents. It debuted at CES last year amid a flurry of controversy. After a year in the market, its Amazon ratings are an inverse bell-curve: 38% one-star, 33% five-star, with much of the dissatisfaction focused on usability and design issues.
If someone can get a product like this to work as advertised, it is the holy grail of fitness wearables. Is it possible? Can issues like battery life and accuracy be overcome? Perhaps CES 2016 will provide an answer.
Roombas for everything. If ever there were a task made for robots, it’s housework. The Roomba from iRobot developed a huge fanbase for its ability to automate vacuum cleaning floors and carpets, intelligently navigating around obstacles and taking the most efficient path to cleaning the entire surface, spawning a whole line of purpose-built devices for routine maintenance tasks.
Last year at CES, I saw a robot that the vendor claimed was a Rumba for cleaning windows: just affix it to the inside or outside of a glass surface and it would do the rest. It seemed promising but a little too specialized and inconclusive, and is now apparently discontinued.
Next to this company in the robot area was a company called Pleo, selling robot dinosaurs that “hatched” from an egg, then went through a developmental learning process as it wandered around your living space figuring out where everything was. Again, a cool product, but kind of niche.
Will 2016 be the year that CES will debut a robot dinosaur that wanders around your house cleaning windows and picking up laundry? If so, I’m almost sorry I won’t be there to see it.
This article was written by Rob Salkowitz from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.