You’ll find certain themes running through every CES, so for example when everyone was pushing 3D a few years back the theme was “sheer panic”. CES 2016 has been a happier affair, but some very clear themes have emerged this year too. From photocopying to flying machines, these are the top trends of CES 2016.
This year CES featured more drones than a Muse video. As you’d expect Parrot had lots to show us, and the most interesting was the Disco: instead of the familiar quad-copter design it’s more like a traditional aeroplane, with fixed wings and an autopilot feature. But would you trust a drone to carry you? Ehang, Inc. hopes so: its 184 drone can carry a passenger for up to 23 minutes, and all you need to do is set a flight plan on its tablet before barking “take off!”. Yours for around $250,000.
We suspect that for many people fitness trackers are like gym memberships: something you get really excited about in January and forget all about by March. Perhaps that’s why so many firms are looking at health monitoring instead, or maybe it’s because of the riches possible from helping baby boomers live longer. Either way we saw all kinds of health kit, from Under Armor’s Healthbox platform to Withings’ Wi-Fi thermometer.
The year of home automation is rather like the year of desktop Linux: we’ve been promised it since about 1939. But CES exhibitors reckon it’s time to take home automation seriously. Some products were more gimmicky than others - Samsung trotted out an internet fridge, a CES stalwart since around 1947 - but LG’s multi-standard home automation hub looks useful, Aerial’s Wi-Fi “sensing mesh” for smart homes is intriguing and Insteon had more home automation products than you could shake a smartwatch at.
From Casio’s rugged, outdoorsy WSD-F10 Smart Outdoor Watch to the Misfit Ray and Fitbit Blaze, wearables were everywhere at CES. But they weren’t just limited to smartwatches and fitness trackers, as good as those devices are. We also saw hight-tech shoes from New Balance, the Varia Vision, an augmented reality headset for cyclists, and BMW showed its concept for a motorcycle helmet with a built-in heads-up display. BMW promises that the helmet isn’t vapourware and will be in production “within the next few years”.
- Read more: The weirdest CES 2016 gadgets... so far
4K HDR and 8K
TVs have always been a huge part of CES, and this year was no exception: LG was showing off ultra-thin 4K OLED displays up to 77 inches diagonally, and it also revealed a production-ready 8K TV. Don’t get your credit card out just yet, however: it’ll cost northwards of $100,000. Meanwhile Hisense continued its push to bring 4K to the masses with TVs costing as little as £270 for 32-inches.
This year’s big acronym was 4K HDR, with a new scheme bringing “Ultra HD Premium” stickers to sets from Sony, Panasonic, Hisense and others. The pitch is that HDR’s colours and contrast makes more difference to what we see than just flinging more pixels into panels, and the logo should reassure you that your new HDR TV will work with everything - something that wasn’t always the case with the first 4K sets.
The car industry is in transition, with oily bits becoming electric bits, software becoming as important as engineering and many firms throwing all kinds of ideas out there in the hope that something takes off - literally in Ford’s case, as it’s working with drone maker DJI to develop drone-to-vehicle technology for drones that fly from your car. Volvo offered voice control via Microsoft’s Band 2, and Nvidia unveiled its “supercomputer” for self-driving cars. But the star of the show was the Faraday Future, a Batmobile-esque concept from the firm that many people think is a front for Apple. The teaser video suggests the actual car Faraday is building is more like a three-box saloon, sadly.
Is VR the future of everything or the tech turkey of 2016? Manufacturers are hoping it’s the former, with Oculus finally accepting pre-orders, HTC unveiling a new Vive Pre, HP showing off a PC designed for Vive applications and Sony staying uncharacteristically quiet about PlayStation VR. One thing is clear, though: at first VR is going to be for early adopters with deep pockets. The Oculus headset is $599 without controllers, while HP’s Envy Phoenix is $1,700. Oculus/PC bundles shouldn’t cost more than $1,499, but of course that’s still a lot of money.
The future of tech often looks very like the past: this year we saw retro-styled devices including a Super 8-style camera from Kodak combining “analogue magic with digital convenience”: you shoot on film, send the cartridges off for developing and get the results as digital copies or 8mm film. Film! We also saw a smart turntable from Sony that looks decidedly old-school but that upscales vinyl to high-definition audio for playback elsewhere. We also saw a DJ legend come back from the dead: the Technics SL-1200 turntable, canned back in 2010, is back with a bevy of improvements. Unfortunately it’s back in a strictly limited edition of 1,200 units, and it’s unlikely to be cheap.
Seasoned CES watchers are familiar with the phenomenon of this year’s PC laptops looking like last year’s Macs, but Lenovo was particularly brazen this year: in images that soon went viral, it not only copied the design and colours of last year’s MacBooks but even imitated the product photography, right down to the camera angles and laptop positions. It wasn’t the only offender, either: about the only thing Samsung didn’t nick for its newly unveiled TV display interface was the name Apple TV.