CES 2019 preview: Setting the stage for the year’s technology trends

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Here’s what you can expect to see and learn from this year’s CES.

CES hasn’t been an acronym for years now; it’s no longer the "consumer electronics show." CES is far more theoretical than that. It’s about showing off new technology and identifying trends for the coming year, more so than launching market-ready products. We’ll see plenty of products announced, but we’ll see even more ideas simply floated out there to gauge public (and analyst and journalist) response and show what companies are capable of and working on for the year to come.

That’s what makes CES so interesting. You get a taste of what’s happening now, but an even bigger look at what’s happening in the future — both near and far. Here are the announcements and trends to keep an eye on at CES, which kicks off officially January 8.

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Smartphones

The massive scale of CES somewhat dwarfs the smartphone world, which has gradually pushed companies to launch smartphones at independent events or at MWC in late February. Still, we’re bound to see some smartphones announced at the show — both from smaller companies that don’t have the clout for their own event, and from larger companies rolling out their lineups of low- and mid-range phones for the year.

Don’t expect a ton of exciting phones, but new pieces of technology that will come to phones in 2019 and 2020.

Even though we won’t see a ton of finished phones announced, we’re going to see the next generation of technology that makes phones new and interesting in 2019. We’re going to see white-label vendors and known smartphone companies alike demonstrating proofs of concept for new screen cutouts, screen notches, foldable phones, dual-screen phones, crazy multi-camera arrangements and more.

Some of the most exciting technology at CES is being shown off behind closed doors, with suppliers talking to smartphone companies and selling technology to be licensed or integrated into phones launched in the second half of 2019.

Smartphone accessories

CES will, of course, inundate us with smartphone accessories of every type, in a volume you could never imagine. Most of them, honestly, won’t be great — there are lots of Chinese companies getting their foot in the door with brands to try and take up the low-end of the market with inexpensive products and push them to stores. But there will also be good products from the names we know.

Some of the biggest trends are truly wireless headphones, portable batteries with USB-C Power Delivery, faster wireless chargers, camera lenses for smartphones, new car mounts and so many more. If there’s an accessory from a memorable that you enjoyed in 2018, there’s a good chance it’ll be refreshed for the new year at CES. And yes, there will be phone cases. So. Many. Cases.

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5G and advanced Wi-Fi

This kind of lands in the smartphone category, but CES 2019 is going to be massive for 5G. Following announcements at the Qualcomm Tech Summit late last year, CES is the first time carriers on a global stage will be able to talk about everything they’re doing in 5G. Being in the U.S., we’ll hear most from Verizon and AT&T, which are leading the 5G charge here, but expect to hear from T-Mobile and Sprint, as well as some of the big international carrier conglomerates, about how they plan to roll out 5G in 2019 and what technologies they’ll use to do it.

Though AT&T has already launched a 5G network and Verizon is right there with them, you’ll also hear a lot of confusing talk about other "5G" advancements at the show as carrier scramble to one-up each other. Most of it is hype, but for the first time, we’re actually going to see substantial 5G developments and real roadmaps at CES 2019.

Woven in this 5G discussion is new Wi-Fi routers that use similar technology to offer even faster Wi-Fi coverage in your home. D-Link already announced one 5G router, and we can expect to see dozens more from all of the big names. Devices don’t support these new routers yet, but they will starting in 2019 — this will be a huge improvement in speed and latency, which is super-important for streaming and gaming in particular.

Chromebooks

If you’re a fan of laptops of any kind, CES is a wonderful show to survey the year’s upcoming options. Our friends over at Windows Central will be covering all of the Windows laptops, but if you’re a Chromebook fan there are lots of announcements you can look forward to seeing here. Expect to see new models from all of the usual brands like Acer, ASUS and Lenovo — plus some slight refreshes of previously announced models.

The average Chromebook will get more capable and more expensive to match.

You can look for companies to make a move back to Intel processors across the Chromebook world as new processors become exceptionally inexpensive and dethrone ARM chips, even in low-end and thin-and-light models. Continuing along that line, expect Chromebooks to move another notch upmarket, killing off most of the "budget" $200 models, as manufacturers follow industry trends for better trackpads, touch screens and higher-end specs that offer a fluid Chrome OS experience. That will also create room in the top end of the market for high-specced "enterprise" models for businesses that want to be able to deploy Chromebooks across their entire organization and demand higher-end machines.

We’re going to see an incredible number of convertible or 2-in-1 machines as well, leaning on the sales pitch of versatility and touch-enabled apps. Don’t expect to see a ton of touch-only tablet devices yet, though, as Google still struggles to refine that experience with Chrome OS.

TVs and home theater

4K? Old news. How about 8K. And even 16K. Yes, TV companies still love to use these trade shows to convince everyone they’re the leader in panel technology. 8K content isn’t really here yet, but that isn’t going to stop Samsung, LG, Sharp, Sony, Vizio, HiSense, TCL and every other TV company from showing off their consumer-ready 8K panels at (relatively) affordable prices.

We’re going to see consumer-ready 8K TVs, with AI and smarts inside to match.

But beyond the panels and all of their technical capabilities, be on the lookout for improvements in processing and software that actually make the TVs run. "AI" (of sorts) will improve processing that aids in things like content upscaling, virtualized surround sound and more. A great panel is only as good as the brain behind it serving up the image data.

Every TV company is further driving a stake in the ground with its suite of "smart" features, and that’s increasingly leaning on Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant — this is only going to get stronger as each ecosystem grows in the home theater space, and TVs themselves get more powerful. The trick, as ever, is to figure out which company ties its smart ecosystem together the best.

Be sure to follow our very own CordCutters for all of the biggest TV and entertainment news from CES!

Smart home

This year’s show is going to see more companies finally choosing sides: step into Amazon’s Alexa platform, or into Google’s Assistant platform. In order to have a great, integrated experience, smart home device makers need to be able to choose one and lock in on that experience. Cross-compatibility of smart home gear is a sore spot, but the least these companies can do is make everything work perfectly if they lock you in to one system or the other.

The interesting part about these decisions between Alexa and Assistant is that they run on every platform imaginable — from your phone up to your TV — so it’s a real opportunity for vertical integration of a smart platform. Amazon Alexa has a big head start, but Google has a compelling argument to play nice with its systems considering Assistant is pre-installed on every Android phone. And Apple is … well, it’s doing a few things, but they’re honestly nowhere near what Amazon and Google are offering in the smart home.

Gaming

CES has become a good showcase of new gaming tech, at least beyond the big consoles and AAA title releases that come out later on in the year. CES 2019 will be another year of accessories for your consoles, plus lots of new tech to augment your phone gaming experience.

No big consoles or games, but a whole host of accessories to make them work better for everything.

On the PlayStation front, expect to see lots of new third-party gamepads and gaming-focused hard drives to store all of the latest huge games. We’ll see new PlayStation VR accessories, and whole-room interactive lighting to use with PlayStation games and streaming videos from the console.

For mobile gaming, we’ll see new (and better) gamepads, clip-on cooling accessories for long gaming sessions, and full-on gaming docks to turn your ordinary phone into something more purpose-designed. We’ll also get a view of new WiGig-based game streaming accessories to try and help untether your phone.

What are you looking forward to?

CES is going to be huge this year, and some of the biggest announcements will be surprises, too. What are you looking forward to at this year’s show? Let us know in the comments below!

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January 5, 2019 at 04:56AM