CES 2020: Your Ultimate Preview

Here's what you can expect from the biggest consumer technology show of the year

CES 2020

 Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

CES is arguably the biggest and most important consumer technology event of the year. It spans at least two major convention halls in Las Vegas, attracts almost 5,000 companies from at least 160 countries, and boasts an estimated 175,000 attendees.

When it kicks off next week, I’ll be a dot among the throng of semi-somnambulist tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs, buyers, and reporters, wandering endless halls and vacuuming up terabytes of mental data about the coming year in technology. Represented will be virtually every tech product category you can imagine, with a concentration on:

  • 5G
  • Smart Technology and the Internet of Things
  • TVs
  • Health and Fitness
  • Wearables
  • Automotive Technology
  • Robotics
  • Gaming
LG OLED TV
Expect to see more ultra-big, ultra-thin displays.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

What CES is Not

In my 15 years of attendance (CES has been around for over 52 years), I’ve seen products make their mark and others flame out in spectacular fashion. It’s where HD-DVDs famously battled Blu-Ray and lost, though it was a pyrrhic victory for Blu-Ray, which is now supplanted by streaming 4K content.

I still remember stumbling on the Taser booth at CES 2004, stunned (pun intended) at the non-lethal weapon’s appearance between hard drives and display technology.

CES is where Palm (no, not the new Palm), made its last mobile device stand but failed to recapture its former glory, Windows Phone showed false promise, and 3D temporarily ruled.

It’s where Microsoft used to hold court, unveiling Windows 7 and the original Xbox.

Toyota People Mover
Cars, AI, and people-movers were popular in 2018. Obviously, we have yet to see Toyota's e-Pallete concept on the road. Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

CES Now

It’s no surprise that CES is no longer the land of the really big reveal. Instead it’s a sea of updates, variations on old themes and countless smaller but perhaps no less momentous innovations.

My happy hunting ground for the most inspiring and, often, the oddest tech gadgetry is Eureka Park, a growing corner of the Sands Expo and Convention Center populated by hundreds of companies from dozens of countries demonstrating barely functioning prototypes. In previous years, I’ve discovered rocking beds, robot cats, and weather-aware umbrellas.

Many of these products are fun to try and talk about, but the majority of them will never make it to market.

Paving the real tech road map for 2020 will be an array of tech heavy hitters, including:

  • Dell
  • HP
  • Samsung
  • LG
  • Haier
  • Hisense
  • Google
  • BMW
  • Whirlpool
  • TCL
  • Lenovo
ASIMO
ASIMO made a big splash at CES 2007.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

All the Gs

Last year, 5G was arguably the biggest story of CES, with companies spinning fantastic tales of cars chatting with cars and cars chatting with street lights, a virtual web of high-speed communication, all designed to make our lives better and safer.

After a year of fairly traditional 5G mobile broadband deployments (from all the carriers and at varying speeds), I wonder if this year's CES 5G focus will be a bit more practical. Either way, expect many more 5G announcements and at least a few more wild promises about how it's going to change our lives.

Talk to Me

Appliance manufacturers will show a wide array of smart, chat-friendly ovens, fridges, and smart kitchen setups. And expect to see more self-aware home appliances as well.

One of the companies with a major presence at CES is Google. Last year they created a sort of fun house ride in the Los Vegas Convention Center parking lot to highlight their products and smart assistant services. I expect something equally as immersive from them this year.

Digital Health and Fitness

There will be new techno products addressing everything from sleep apnea, dyslexia correction, and smell detection to new exercise paradigms, laser hair growth caps, menstruation pain management, and sexual health.

One year, when fitness trackers were still a novelty, my colleagues and I competed to see who would take the most steps at CES. I still walk miles each year, but now that our iPhone and Androids track everything from our steps to our heart rhythms, no one really cares anymore.

Auto Technology

The Las Vegas Convention Center’s North Hall has long been home to CES’s automotive companies, but the focus on massive sound systems and accessories has shifted demonstrably to tech integration. CES is, after all, the first place I ever sat as a passenger in a self-driving car. There will be more autonomy this year, as well as electric vehicles, augmented reality (AR) displays, car bump detection systems, and air-free tires (for cars and bikes).

Five years ago, CES was all but overrun with hoverboards and other personal mobility devices. I still expect to find one or two self-balancing boards in the far reaches of the Las Vegas Convention Center’s South Hall, but I think there’s more interest now in foldable electric scooters and moped-like ebikes (of which I expect to see a half-dozen or more).

Don’t Forget Computers

Before I started attending CES in the early ought’s, I frequented COMDEX, a massive computer technology tradeshow that died shortly after the turn of the century. CES picked up most of the PC slack and is now an excellent showcase for a wide variety of mobile and desktop computing technology and peripherals.

There will be new laptops and even some form-factor surprises that could, for the first time in years, generate a little buzz in these venerable categories.

It’s no surprise that CES is no longer the land of that really big reveal.

And while CES is not a gaming event, there will be gaming systems, peripherals, and especially more big, curvy gaming screens.

Software companies exhibit at CES, as well, but often struggle to generate interest with a bunch of screens demonstrating their latest coding acrobatics.

Automatons

CES is still a place to find the latest, if not the greatest, in drones and a wacky collection of robots many of which have more in common with science experiments than actual consumer products. What I can count on, though, is at least one or two truly creepy, uncanny valley bots. Those are my favorite.

Accessories

With so many major product announcements happening outside of CES, a substantial number of product introductions are devoted to accessorizing the best products from companies like Apple, Samsung, and Microsoft. Smartphone cases are common, though some of the designs are decidedly uncommon.

Talking Tech

In addition to all the product announcements and demonstrations, CES is also a traditional conference, full of keynotes, panels, and fireside chats. Many of them focus on tech policy. FCC Chair Ajit Pai and FTC Chair Joseph Simons are both scheduled to speak. In addition, the Trump administration is sending special advisor to the President Ivanka Trump, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, and Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios.

So What

As for me, I’ll be running from meeting to meeting (starting with CES Press Days on January 5 and 6) and hall to hall, sharing as much of it as I can on my Twitter and Instagram feeds and reporting the highlights to you in newsletters and on Lifewire.com. Stay tuned to all of them so you don’t miss a thing.

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