The International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this year was about the possibilities of Electric Vehicles, VR, AR, drones, 2-in1’s, ultra-thin notebooks and the return of film cameras and turntables. It was an unusual mix of scoping out the future and bringing back some of the best technology of the past.
Motoring is a key focus at CES
There were shifting sands in Las Vegas this year as carmakers hogged the limelight of what has traditionally been a technology-focused event. Seven of the top 10 carmakers put up booths and some even had widely attended keynote events. This is remarkable since CES is a week before the imposing North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit.
Upstart Chinese-backed Faraday Future kicked things off with a somewhat confusing unveiling of their FFZero1 EV concept car which was an imposing sight on stage. Basically an ambitious single-seater, the FFZero1 concept boasted a 1000 horsepower powertrain and a 0-60 mph acceleration under three seconds, theoretically, that is.
Faraday Future wanted to make a big splash and while the hype and braggadocio leading up to their event was substantial but the keynote basically revealed the company had poached talent from many top technology and automotive companies, Nick Sampson, FF’s chief architect was formerly with Tesla (as well as Jaguar and Lotus) but he seemed to be more concerned at throwing shade on Elon Musk’s company and achievements than defining FF’s business plan.
As for the FFZero1, it’s a stunning idea that is right now purely the stuff of concept vehicles and while it is the first electric supercar, Faraday Future is still likely five years away from releasing a mass produced EV.
Volkswagen hoped to earn back some goodwill in the wake of Dieselgate, and decided to resort to the power of nostalgia coupled with the hype for an EV vehicle. The result, another concept vehicle named the Budd-e which could or could not be the spiritual successor of the Type-2 Kombi Microbus, which is nearly as iconic as the twice rebooted Beetle.
The BUDD-e won’t be sporting any sinister ‘defeat device’ or diesel engine, it will be a fully electric vehicle and this means tons of space to move things around on the inside. VW’s vision is that the plug-in electric BUDD-e is powered by a 101 kWh battery with a claimed 600-kilometre range that can be recharged to 80 per cent of its capacity in 15 minutes. Right now though, this is very much in the conceptual stage.
Aside from all the EV goodness, the Chevy Bolt is replete with all the tech modern families could desire. 4G-LTE is built in, OnStar, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto onboard, a 10-inch touchscreen with a MyLink system and a companion smartphone app that keeps drivers apprised of their Bolt’s charging situation.
The Chevy Bolt is a statement release, the latest show of force that traditional carmakers may have more of what it takes to build affordable and desirable electric vehicles than tech startups do. It is ironic that the Chevy Bolt fits the endgame that Tesla was going for (and is still three years away from producing). Tesla famously opted to release expensive EVs in limited quantities first, and gradually bring their price down, while increasing volume. The target is a ‘People’s Tesla’ priced under $40,000.00.
How serious is Chevrolet about the inevitable EV future? “The Bolt is more than just a car,” GM Chief Executive Mary Barra said. “It’s an upgradeable platform for new technologies. This isn’t some science project.” Boom! Microphone dropped.
Shadows of the Microsoft Empire
Microsoft no longer participates at the International CES but its spirit is everywhere. Looking at what PC manufacturers had to show off, we saw at least half-a-dozen Surface Pro clones. Everyone from Dell, Toshiba, Lenovo, HP, ASUS and even Samsung has a tablet-first, 2-in-1 device with a removable accessory keyboard.
It’s strange to see Microsoft hardware starting a trend, but we should have known how viable the Surface Pro platform was when Apple jumped into the fray with the iPad Pro.
CES is also traditionally the type of show where Apple’s inspiration is easily seen even if they don’t participate. The past CES shows saw tons of iPad copies, dozens of MacBook Air clones and endless rows of accessories for every conceivable product.
The 12-inch MacBook with Retina Display, which was originally laughed off the stage for being pricey, only having one measly and non-standard USB Type-C port, plus a ‘hobbled’ processor, is now the template and poster child for what PC notebook makers want to emulate this year. Lenovo, LG and HP have jumped right in with their versions of the MacBook and have even got various popular colors like silver, black and the now ubiquitous gold. Yes, these MacBook clones have the same Intel Core M processors and also use USB Type-C ports but come at a cheaper price point.
No major smartwatch announcements were made except for a few updates from Huawei, and more notably, Samsung. Their new Galaxy Gear S2 watches come in titanium and gold and these once-closed system Tizen-powered devices will play nice with Android smartphone and even iPhones.
Drones and fitness trackers littered the trade-show floor as well as Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality demos. The AR/VR hardware is still clunky, looks uncomfortable for prolonged periods of use and the content is of course still limited, but interest in this segment is swelling and it is only a matter of time before everyone in the industry has a product in the mix.
The news that pleased me most from CES 2016 proved that technology doesn’t always have to look forward and it can sometimes look back. Kodak employed industrial designer Yves Behar (he designed Jawbone speakers and UP wearables) to create a Super 8 digital camera that works shoots on film and which can be developed as well as digitized.
This re-imagined Super 8 has all the makings of the iconic camera used and loved by film students, documentarians and avant-garde artists of the past but with the necessary modern touches such as an SDCard slot, USB and HDMI-out input. Pricing for the camera is at around $550 when it comes later this year.
Responding to the surging popularity of vinyl records, Panasonic is re-releasing the beloved SL-1200 direct drive turntable, long considered by audiophiles and DJs to be the pinnacle of record players. Yes, there was a time when products were made to perfection and once this was achieved, they just stayed that way.
The SL-1200 was inexplicably discontinued in 2010 despite a huge following from turntablists everywhere and with vinyl record sales up 77 per cent last year, it makes smart sense to release the very best turntable in the market.
Panasonic has made some refinements and included a new motor in the updated turntable, which is designed to be quieter and less prone to vibrations than previous models for even better sound quality.
All-in-all, there were a number of surprises at this year’s CES and while focus seems to have shifted from the mainstream technology and gadgets space into other ecosystems such as smart homes and electric cars, it is becoming evident that technology will truly permeate every aspect of our lives and how we deal with it will certainly be a challenge.