Consumer electronics or CE used to be straightforward—electronic equipment or machines that are intended for an individual’s daily productivity. These normally included computers, cameras, audio-video equipment, and the like. Nowadays, to define what falls under the CE category is like falling into a gray area. The 21st century came with an avalanche of new technology that turned simple electronics into something much more powerful: an ability to connect directly with humanity. Such was my takeaway from CES 2016.
Every year, CES aims to showcase the best in consumer technology; both fresh product releases and upcoming trends to watch for. This year was no different, with the trends moving toward smart devices becoming even more pronounced and covering a wider spectrum. There are four categories worth highlighting from this year’s show:
Drones. Gone are the heydays of the handheld video camera. Nowadays, if you are a tech geek, one of the things you would probably be tinkering with would be a drone—those flying contraptions that we used to only see in spy movies. While these are essentially toys, by nature, companies have begun to take on a functional approach. Besides being the best equipment for aerial observation by government units, it has become a photographer’s best friend, being able capture creative and previously unattainable outtakes. This allowed drones to enter the professional market, giving it a sustainable consumer shelf life.
This year, companies at CES showcased more advanced capabilities for the drones. Setting aside the more affordable but ultra-basic China variants, European brands like Hexe introduced drones that can be linked directly to your smartphone by Bluetooth 4.0 and let you pre-set the flying angle before takeoff. This was designed to enable the drone to follow the user through the Bluetooth link, within an allowable range, and takes away the need for a separate controller; thereby allowing the drone to capture angles that are physically impossible to spot.
Wearable technology. 2014 and 2015 introduced the age of the wrist-worn activity tracker, with basic capabilities such as monitoring your steps and heart rate, then translating it to how many calories burned. Such was the entry of brands like Misfit, Fitbit, and Jawbone. However, wearable tech has evolved to become truly wearable—thus, more relevant to a much wider market. Again, the point is technology becoming more in touch with humanity.
First, there was the obvious transition into apparel and footwear. This expansion was most visible in the Eureka zone of the show, where start-ups displayed and demonstrated their own take in terms of software. Consumers can now literally wear activity monitors as embedded into stylish sportswear and have a more direct link to the data that their movements generate.
Second, there’s an emphasis on location tracking, designed particularly for children and pets. This may not be applicable for the Philippines at the moment but its demand constitutes a solution for a very basic concern, especially for countries with high crime rates. This move also raises the bar on the care for senior citizens.
And third, the sleep monitoring feature in wearable trackers has become in-depth, with data that goes beyond basic restful sleep patterns. Technology for sleep is now complemented with accessories, both in-bed and out-of-bed, able to determine the effects of a night’s rest even when the person is awake. This kind of innovation answers the rising global concern on how stress in the workplace and one’s lifestyle affects the overall individual’s health and well-being. It also opens up medical applications for wearables.
Smart homes. Ironically, what encompassed the category of smart homes weren’t even personal devices, as consumer electronics were originally designed for. Last year (CES 2015), it started out simple enough—light bulbs that can be controlled by an app on your smartphone, a peephole camera that allows you to remotely see who’s at your doorstep, or adapters tied to your handheld device that shows your power consumption.
This year, the industry for smart homes took on a bigger footprint, literally and figuratively. The underlying concept remained the same—home automation, but integrated more deeply into even the minutest aspect of daily life. In home structures, almost every part can be controlled and monitored remotely through a handheld device, from the alarm clock that wakes you in the morning; the water pressure and temperature in the shower; to when the faucet in the kitchen sink turns on when it detects motion. In fact, companies like digitalSTROM from Germany demonstrated a switch technology that can be installed directly into your electrical supply to create an integrated control system throughout your home, while being virtually invisible but highly efficient.
Autonomous Vehicles. Remember the press release on Google developing a self-driving car? Well, this year, the automotive industry was at its strongest in CES, kicking off with the pre-show intro by Kia Motors.
While autonomy was the forefront and inarguably the talk of the show, companies like Ford made sure to touch on how its vehicles offer integrated applications for businesses and commercial industries, as well as better security features for the driver. Volkswagen, on the other hand, moved to remotely connect the driver with his home, through applications developed in partnership with LG Electronics. Surprisingly, even BlackBerry was present, highlighting the QNX software that can be used for vehicular GPS tracking and monitoring of the condition of the car.
CES is always an experience, especially if you’re a gadgets geek. In recent years, it has evolved to more than just a trade show for the latest smartphone accessory or the next headphone brand. It’s encouraging to see that the trend toward smart technology is aiming to answer some of the most basic and relevant concerns that we have as a society today. This shows that technology can never really be without the human touch and why it’s so important that people work closely with technology to continuously evolve and innovate.