I’ve been attending the annual, every-early-January, Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas, on and off, for over 30 years. This year’s show has been the strangest, and least impactful, of them all.
Last year’s show was cancelled and replaced with a “virtual” CES. That was a decision made well in advance, in July 2020, when concerns about Covid were at a peak. The almost-six months gave time for exhibitors to plan for an online style of show, which in the most part was little more than a coordinated series of press releases, and a few “maverick” hopefuls with hotel-room type exhibits in Las Vegas for anyone who might still be wishing an excuse to go to Vegas for a few days.
The outcome was of course disappointing, but it was still a show of sorts and reasonably well publicized. I wrote about virtual trade shows in general, and CES in particular, shortly after it ended, and had a roundup of what was featured at the start of that Friday’s newsletter.
A decision was made, during the lull in Covid cases in 2021, that the 2022 CES would be held as normal, in person. Even though Covid case numbers started to rise from the beginning of November, no official decision to cancel the show was made. As Covid numbers skyrocketed in December, some exhibitors, including major companies with “anchor” type exhibits, started announcing they were cancelling their participation. This created a negative feedback loop – with some of the anchor exhibitors cancelling, some attendees cancelled, thus making a less attractive business case for other exhibitors, who also cancelled, causing more attendees to also cancel, and meanwhile, Covid cases continued to soar.
A ridiculous announcement, late to recognize the reality of what was happening, suggested that CES would become simultaneously an in-person and a virtual show for 2022. What does that mean, you wonder? I’m still not sure.
Eventually, the show limped through its several days, with apparently about 40,000 people participating, compared to a normal year with more like 180,000 participants.
This was actually a great thing for those people who did go. Neither the show floor, nor Las Vegas as a whole, was as awfully crowded as it is, most years. Lines for taxis weren’t impossible, and hotel rooms could be had even at short notice, and not at the inflated prices that are often the case during CES.
There was one other benefit as well – the much hyped underground tunnel transportation system developed by Elon Musk, and comprising a fleet of not-self-driving Teslas shuttling between the Convention Center halls, was not as overloaded as it would have been if 4 – 5 times more people were at the show. Even so, at 25% of the numbers normally expected, it turned out to be a colossal failure. I’d earlier made some guesses that suggested there was no way the concept could actually handle the people likely to want to use it, and clearly that was the case, as shown in articles such as this and this.
Calling it a “death trap” might be a bit strong, but it is a curious omission, a bit like the shortage of lifeboats on the “unsinkable” Titanic, that there seems to be no planning or provision for problems in the tunnels – especially problems such as a battery exploding/burning and spewing out poisonous gases in all directions. Surely there have been safety standards and safety inspections that have considered what would happen in such a case, and some type of plan to respond appropriately?
Now, for what was featured at the show itself. I spent considerable time roaming the “virtual” presentations and groupings of exhibitors in “shows within shows”, and also did what any writer always does – read other articles about the show, trying to get a sense for what the big new things and buzz-creating innovations were.
Almost every CES ends up with a “theme” or focus of some sort or another. In the past, such things as 3-D televisions, notepad type devices in response to the iPad, eReaders in response to the Kindle, higher resolution televisions, Bluetooth devices, self-driving cars, drones and air-taxis, and so on have all had their “days in the sun”.
Yes, you might notice an interesting thing about that list. Pretty much everything on it has disappointed and failed to gain much traction, although 4K televisions have been a huge success, albeit with “higher resolution” now meaning 8K rather than 4K. Perhaps being the hot product category at a CES is not a good thing?
If that is the case, then most manufacturers can breathe easy this year, because there was no obvious “hot” product category for 2022. Just a bunch of stuff, going in assorted different directions. Well, maybe you could say that air purification type systems were semi-hot, and the curse of the CES hotness has already afflicted them, with Covid concerns and new case numbers visibly dropping in most parts of the world including here in the US, just as soon as CES finished.
Here is a miscellany of items I noticed, either because they are good or because they are ridiculously not-good.
Electric cars were of course present, with the latest year’s attempts at beating Tesla proudly being displayed. There’s been an exciting increase in range capabilities, with 400 miles no longer an extraordinary number to offer, and the Lucid Air Dream topping the list with a 520 mile range.
There were assorted claims of new and better battery technology, including some interesting graphene batteries that might start appearing in a range of devices at some point in the future. They claim to be less volatile than Li-ion batteries, don’t require as much (or possibly any) lithium, can be charged faster, and more times What they are conspicuously not claiming, however, is anything about their cost or availability.
If I had a dollar for every amazing new battery I’ve read about, but which goes vague when issues of cost and production/availability are raised, I’d be a wealthy retiree.
BMW had an interesting concept – a car “paint” coating that can change color. Well, to be precise, it can change from whitish through some shades of grey to blackish. The concept behind it is that if the sun is shining brightly, the car should go white to reflect the heat away from the vehicle, but if it is cold, it can darken up to absorb such heat as may be available. The “iX Flow” uses the same type of eInk as is on an Amazon Kindle reader. It created a lot of comment, particularly by people who thought it could literally change color, rather than just go through shades of grey. But will we ever see it on a vehicle in the future? Unlikely.
Sony continues to tease us with a “will they/won’t they” ambiguity about their plans for releasing an electric car. They’d hinted they might in 2020, and now are making fresh and more positive sounds at possibly launching their own EV.
The strangest car concept was also from an electronics company – LG, with what they’re calling an Omnipod – something that can simultaneously be a car, a camper, an office, and “a user experience fit for the metaverse” (whatever that means). Details here.
Vehicle automation is spreading beyond the roads. John Deere showed a self-driving tractor. Other electric powered vehicles included a Ukrainian eBike with a 200+ mile range, many other makes/models of eBikes (but which ranges typically well under 100 miles), and electric motorbikes too.
Let’s hope the Ukrainian eBike is fast enough and goes far enough to outrun the possible Russian “incursion” into Ukraine – the one that President Biden seems to be okay with watching happen. The interesting thing about Biden’s blessing is the reason for it, which he twice stated at the press conference – he doesn’t want to get into a factional fight in NATO about what to do in response. So therefore, he’ll do nothing rather than confront the Germans – the Germans have already apparently banned British overflights transporting military supplies to Ukraine.
Perhaps this is the point where I mention an AI program and video creator on show. It claimed that it can seem so realistic that it could become a presidential candidate. I’ll not speculate as to whether this would be an improvement on the present situation.
Home health care saw some new and potentially very impactful developments. One of the “holy grail” objectives of devices such as smart watches is to be able not just to sense your pulse, and your heart rhythms, and now your blood oxygen concentration too, but to be able to read your blood pressure without you needing to put on a cuff. Two different devices now claim to have solved that challenge. If they prove to be practical and somewhat reliable, I’ll consider upgrading my increasingly-long-in-the-tooth (but still perfectly excellent for everything I need of it) smart watch and getting a new one that can monitor blood pressure.
A related longstanding objective has been a non-invasive blood-glucose level monitor, and a sample of a new product claiming to do that was also shown at the show. If it becomes real, it could allow a totally different approach to blood sugar level monitoring and control for diabetics and near-diabetics. I hope it makes it to commercial production.
There were many other high-tech personal health products, some more credible than others. There was a computer monitor with a build in breath-filtering system, for example, and a negative ion emitting device that says it combats positively charged Covid particles. More futuristic still was an “agglomerating” air purifier that uses ultrasonic sounds to cause virus particles to cluster together, making them bigger and easier to then filter out.
There were an abundance of “normal” air purifiers, too, increasingly offering some type of “intelligence” or “smart air monitoring” to tell you about the air purity.
I was mildly interested in the concept of portable and battery powered air purifiers, although it is important to appreciate their limitations – they only exchange/purify a small amount of air, slowly, and are certainly no good at all in open spaces, although there’s really no need for air purifiers in the open air, anyway.
A clever product is a hand drier that claims not to blow the germs off your hands and into the bathroom area.
A mask that amplifies your voice is something I’d probably be embarrassed to wear, but there are sure to be some people (probably already cursed with terribly penetrating voices) who feel the need for still more volume. It costs $150.
One company was advertising a Covid detector. That’s a bold claim to make, and I’d love to see the science and testing that confirms its efficacy. It costs $800 and also needs to replace its testing unit every two to three months, so I don’t think I’ll buy one to test out, myself (and in any case, who has the ability to test such a unit against known Covid levels?).
One more “interesting product” is this one, claiming to use a radar technology to detect microvibrational frequency patterns being emitted from the body, and being able to make all sorts of meaningful interpretations from this.
Personally, I’d prefer not to have a continuous stream of microwaves directed at me all day.
To end the review of high-tech healthcare, the French have an interesting product. An electric toothbrush that claims to clean all your teeth at once. It says a complete clean takes only ten seconds, and it also comes with six different vibrating modes. For the teeth cleaning, I presume? It also offers online connectivity, but I can’t start to guess as to why that would be helpful or necessary.
More “Smart” Stuff
Something that might not be beneficial to most of us is Tide Infinity. That’s a new detergent from Tide, designed for use in a closed-loop water system such as the International Space Station, where currently astronauts can not wash their clothing at all.
On the other hand, a problem the astronauts don’t have is waiting for their bath tub to fill with lovely hot water. But if that’s too much of a challenging chore for you, back here on earth, Kohler have the solution. Their new “PerfectFill Smart Bathing” allows you to automatically prepare a bath at your preferred temperature and to your preferred level, just by a simple voice command.
The cost of the remote filler is surprising, though. $2700.
Other domestic “smart” things include a self-heating lunchbox from the Netherlands. It takes 15 minutes to heat the food inside it up, and can be remote controlled via a Smartphone app. It is due to appear here in April.
An increasingly prominent part of new smart device specifications is mentioning they will be Matter-compatible. Matter is the new semi-universal standard that claims to allow different types of smart devices to be compatible with each other (for example, Amazon Echo and Google Smart Speaker devices). It will be great if this actually ends up working as hoped for.
I’ve noticed how Alexa Echo devices have become “softer” over the years, and now most of the models are fabric covered, as are Google’s Smart speakers too. A Japanese company is taking this to its logical conclusion, offering “calming” smart speakers made out of wood and with flowing designs rather than a crassly functional appearance.
Also appearing are automatic cocktail makers that use capsuled flavorings a bit like a Keurig or Nespresso machine. Bartesian.com offers these, as does also Black & Decker (because cocktails are the logical accompaniment to power tools, I guess?).
There were assorted accessories to make video conferencing better – improved speakers and microphones mainly, but also one product I could immediately see a benefit from – a camera that can be placed anywhere on your monitor rather than needing to be placed above/below/to the side. If you have a large monitor (I’ve a 43″ monitor) it is hard to place a camera somewhere so that you can look at it more or less directly during a video call – this new camera would solve that problem.
There was also a possibly too good to be true product, not yet released, that promises to somehow send sound only to your ears and not to anyone else in a room. Just the thing for open-plan offices.
There was an interesting device from Samsung – an “Eco Remote”. It claims to be able to power itself by collecting the energy from radio waves around it, eg, from your Wi-Fi devices. It also has solar cells to get power from light, too, so it is unclear just how much of its power will come by collecting radio energy.
Of course, a remote uses extremely little energy anyway, so it probably will work, even if 99% of the energy comes from solar rather than radio energy.
Samsung claim they could save 99 million batteries over seven years if they eliminate the batteries from all the remotes they sell. The Eco Remote should start appearing with new televisions later this year.
Talking about televisions, there was very little notable or new with televisions – some slightly improved screens and that was about all. But Sengled had an interesting product – what it calls its “Video-Sync TV Light Strips”. You mount them behind your television, and they will synchronize their colors to whatever colors are being featured in the content you’re watching on the screen.
Personally, I prefer an unchanging neutral grey around my television, but I dare say some people will be attracted by the novelty value of this, use it once, then unplug and forget about it.
The most underwhelming product was probably these headphones, with this as a most unappealing marketing description
these badass headphones are set to completely disrupt the market through their sleek and premium design with innovative features that are perfect for travelers, audiophiles, fitness junkies, gamers and more.
The primary featured boasted about are “magnetic interchangeable memory foam speaker pad sets” and “multicolor synchronous RGB LED lights (eight color options total) line the earphone housing and the headband”.
Flashing lights on your headphones? Not something you’d see yourself, but it will surely make you unpopular with other people on an overnight flight if your headphones are flashing lights at them all night long. What a stupid idea.
Also stupid is the claim they offer 7.1 surround sound. Let me count – the headphones have two music sources. That would be a 2.0 setup. How you get from that to 7.1 is a marketeer’s fancy, not a sound engineer’s fact.
But, hey, if you’ve $330 needing to be spent, I’m sure they’d love to take your money from you.
While I’m not sure how you make a bed smart, smart beds were being promoted. As was this bedroom accessory, an, ahem, Satisfyer. The mind boggles at the type of demonstrations that may have been offered at the show for that product. It is probably best stored in one of these containers when not in use.
It will be interesting to see how many of these products successfully make it to market in the year ahead. If past years are any guidance, very few.