The holidays are over, and now it’s time to recognize all the great, new gadgets you recently unwrapped for what they are: pretty much obsolete already. Sure, that’s a harsh judgement, but it’s a fairly accurate one. While most Christmas trees are still out on the sidewalks awaiting garbage pickup, the technology industry is about to show off its shiny new wares at CES 2016 in Las Vegas this week.
The world’s largest technology trade show, CES is where the latest trends and products are unveiled each year, just days after the holiday shopping season. But this time around, your new gear might be safe for a little while, as device makers and technology firms are indicating that the big surprises at this year’s show may come in categories where consumers mostly haven’t delved yet.
Not to worry though — there will also still be dozens of new televisions announced, a promise of glasses-free 3-D, and several everyday objects (like a fork or a belt) imbued with Bluetooth because it wouldn’t be CES without them. Otherwise, keep your eyes towards Sin City for these big possible stories:
1. Wearables smarten up
Though the conference runs Jan. 6–9, it unofficially kicks off on Tuesday, Jan. 5, and Fitbit will lead the way with a 7:30 a.m. press conference. The leading fitness tracking device company has fended off the Apple Watch so far. Expect Fitbit to defend its turf with clever new capabilities at a minimum, and slicker devices at most.
Beyond Fitbit, wearables should get smarter this year, says John Curran, a managing director with Accenture, which researches and monitors CES every year. “Last year at the show, we saw a real emphasis on aesthetics and the fashion aspects of wearables,” says Curran, referencing visually appealing devices like the Withings Activité Pop. But this year, Curran thinks companies will focus more on the services that these devices can provide. For instance, the apps that connect to these devices will no longer just count calories or steps, but will start doing the math for owners, telling them how to lose fat or gain strength.
2. Cars become the must-have gadget
Over the years, CES has become a car show every bit as important as the Detroit Auto Show. And with smartphone connectivity, in-car infotainment centers, electric vehicles, and self-driving technology making huge strides every day, all the big players from Tesla to Toyota will be there. And perhaps the most intriguing story to unfold at CES is the unveiling of Faraday Future, a secretive automotive startup. Gear heads and gadget fans alike should turn to their web browsers on Monday night for the earliest glimpse of what Faraday Future has in store.
3. Virtual reality becomes reality
According to Accenture’s research, 80% more virtual reality exhibitors will be at this year’s CES over the previous year, a sign that this white hot technology is about to go mainstream. “While virtual reality has been discussed at prior CESes, this is the first year where we will have a number of widespread, commercially available, consumer choices in virtuality,” says Curran. And from the Facebook-owned Oculus, to Samsung’s Gear VR, to Sony efforts, the big names are stepping up to make sure they capture some eyeballs early.
Beyond virtual reality, there will also be an augmented reality showcase at the event for the first time, with more than a dozen exhibitors showing off the technology. “This is augmented reality’s coming out party,” says Curran. “I think you’ll see a number of discussions about which technology will take off first and which will have a larger potential."
4. Attack of the drones
If any of your holiday presents are at risk of obsolescence, it would probably be your drone. Every year at CES, tech gets smaller, batteries last longer, and gadgets grow smarter — and this will be the perfect formula for success with drones, too. Big players like Parrot will look to outfly the competition. Upstarts tapping into advanced technologies will likely try to land heavily autonomous drones. And there’s speculation that action camera and virtual reality companies may also try to get into the space.
5. Security tightens
Security may not be a story that makes big headlines for gadget fans, but it will certainly be a hot topic amongst attendees at the trade show. “Security was a big storyline at CES for the first time last year,” says Curran. In the past for consumers, security concerns were mostly about e-commerce transactions and personal information hacking. But this year it's going to become bigger and linked to products, as connected home devices continue to go mainstream.
“Consumers are starting to see the Internet of Things as a possible source of security concerns, as companies are collecting ever-more data about consumers,” says Curran. “That’s going to be a focus at CES this year — discussing how we’re going to handle that, as an industry."
And on the showroom floor, security has been ramped up as well, with luggage restrictions and bag searches adding a new wrinkle to the already chaotic event. The measures are all in the name of safety, and speaking of which, hoverboards and other electric scooters have been banned from the halls. They were so last year, anyway.