In my function as a tech writer, it’s kinda my job to look forward. But as a regular Joe Thumbs who is engaged with technology every waking minute of my day, looking forward just isn’t what it used to be.
Take CES, for example. Year after year, the annual Consumer Electronics Show arrives to ring in the new year with a weeklong showcase of vanguard technologies ready for the marketplace. Its sprawling purview takes up thousands of outlets and encompasses every department of your local big-box: from health and wellness to housewares, from entertainment and sports to autos and robots. And like anything else that happens in Vegas, a gambling vibe looms over the proceedings.
Just Google back a decade and take a virtual tour of CES’s pavilions of plastic promise, and you’ll see a starry-eyed tech press coming to grips with a tech-world changing under its thumb tips, as the smartphone era came roaring into being, the appscape opened up for exploration, and the glory days of the 3G era reached full charge.
In 2009, Palm (who?) was blowing minds with its Pre (what?); Windows 7 was only just booting up for its long run of OS supremacy; tiny projectors were all the rage for some reason; Netflix was just launching its campaign to take over your new HDTV; and people were still trying to make things like belt massagers and Blu-Ray happen. Oh and cameras and phones were falling in love, but still kept separate places.
Since then, the Internet of Things has found ways to connect everything with everything, the “there’s an app for that” culture of development has run out of conveniences to offer, and every imaginable front of our daily lives has been, for true lack of better words, disrupted by innovation.
As such, the CES offerings of the past few years — and from the forecasts, this coming installment — have felt a little static, as though the next big paradigm shift is still buffering.
There’s the reliable crop of cool products and under-the-hood technology annually recognized with CES Innovation Awards — including a Bluetooth waterproof speaker water bottle that I want for some reason, an unreasonably foxy countertop dishwasher, and a “2.0 beehive.” And while it wouldn’t be CES without an array of innovations that no one needs — there’s genomic testing for cats, headsets that train your brain to sleep, and augmented reality strip clubs (I’m not linking to it, so don’t ask) – the subtext of recent installment seems to be the struggle to find needs that haven’t already been met.
Indeed, the trends buzzing the loudest before the door opens do feel a bit like a delayed flourish of bells and whistles — upgrades to innovations we’ve already adopted.
Your 4K Ultra HD TV will ostensibly look like cave drawings next to the forthcoming wave of massive 8K sets coming from LG, Samsung (whose first 85-inch model will run $15,000), and likely others including Vizio and Sony. And your phones are also due for their semi-regular numerical bump as well, with manufacturers offering first glimpses of 5G devices (and a lot of talk about the possibilities) well ahead of the global rollout of the technology set for 2020.
The realm of autonomous vehicles seems similarly stalled in traffic (though forward-thinking Hyundai is bringing a vehicle called the Cradle that looks designed to navigate the world sometime after it ends); but as this technology becomes more real, so too does consumer interest in what drives these cars. This year’s CES will find auto-makers foregrounding the background by showcasing things like sensor technology, onboard entertainment concepts, and high-performance batteries.
And of course, the smart home and gadget sector of CES will continue to clutter all the room it has for improvement with more Internet-of-Things things, including speakers and screens from which Alexa can surveil you. Expect everything including the kitchen sink to get incrementally smarter than it is now (expect also to feel incrementally dumber).
It seems that until that 5G switch finally gets thrown and a new set of floodgates open, the consumer tech world will be making do with jazzed up versions of what it already has — i.e. cooking with leftovers. This may leave tech-hungry types like me hankering for something more satisfying; but in the meantime, I guess, at least this dishwasher makes cleaning up feel a little cooler.Michael Andor Brodeur can be reached at mbrodeur@globe
.com. Follow him on Twitter @MBrodeur.