The largest and most prestigious technology conference of the year, CES, has rolled around again. The trade show, which dedicates itself mostly to consumer electronics, is always the place to see the brightest, best, and most bizarre offerings from the world’s largest technology companies – offerings that in some cases will dominate and lead the market for years to come. 

The show usually brings together businesses, investors, journalists and visitors under one (massive) roof, with endless stands, giveaways, talks and after-parties. Of course, this year is different. Coronavirus restrictions means the event takes place virtually, in what is undoubtedly a gargantuan logistical effort.

Nonetheless, the show is still big news and demonstrates what is already clear: the tech industry shows no sign of slowing down, despite all the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns. It’s also something for the tech enthusiasts of the world to get excited about – a nice diversion in dark times.

Personal devices

Laptops bucked a long-term downward trend in 2020, with shipments within the global PC market going up by 25% last year, according to analysis firm Canalys. That is likely attributable to the demand for up-to-date models for home working. 

The BBC quotes Canalys as saying that the data shows the sector’s biggest annual growth since 2010 and that it was “singlehandedly driven by notebooks and mobile workstations”. Analyst Rushabh Doshi told the BBC: “It is going to be extremely difficult to write off the PC as some of us did a few years ago. PCs are here to stay.”

With that in mind, some of the new rollouts at this year’s CES look particularly interesting. CRN reports that many of the new laptops revealed this year have innovative features clearly aimed at the work-from-home market, while many others are even thinner, more lightweight and more portable than ever before. Intel garnered some press coverage, too, for a new “ultraportable” gaming laptop released at the show.

5G

There’s a lot of – arguably unfounded or premature – hype around 5G, and this year’s CES delivered with more promises. Verizon devoted an hour-long presentation to innovative use cases, including an interactive tour of the Met Museum. 

Hans Vestberg, Verizon CEO, said in the presentation that 5G “isn’t just another tech innovation. It’s the platform that makes other innovations possible.” He added that 5G will enable a “fourth Industrial Revolution,” Variety reports. The company also announced a new partnership with big-name organisations including the NFL.

However, not all were so impressed by Verizon’s promises – with BBC technology correspondent Leo Kelion suggesting most of the gimmicks presented by the company at CES “could just as well have been delivered by wi-fi with a decent broadband connection”.

Smart home

The Fourth Industrial Revolution that Vestberg speaks of is expected to largely take place in the commercial and (unsurprisingly) industrial sectors. But where people might notice it most prominently is in their homes – where an ever-increasing number of devices connect to the internet and do things in a “smart” way. 

Sometimes this leads to a certain amount of needless “innovation” – internet-enabled bins and so on – but there are gems, too. CES 2021 provides a few examples in both categories.

In the “useful” category are several releases from Samsung. Wired opines that the JetBot 90 AI+ – a security camera and robot vacuum in one that uses object recognition and sensors to clean efficiently without snagging cables or other objects – will likely be a handy device around the house. But the company’s “really exciting bots”, Wired says, are the Bot Care5 and Bot Handy6, which aren’t yet out. The pair are designed to help out around the house, and Wired suggests their early versions look promising. 

One small thing

One quirky, interesting product is a Bluetooth shower speaker powered by water. Ampere’s Shower Power will be able to run off the shower water, and some of its parts are made from recycled ocean plastic. Not exactly an essential, but an interesting innovation nonetheless.

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