CES Trends We’ve Seen Will Make a Difference in 2016
The Consumer Electronics Show concludes this week in Las Vegas. Every year, tech companies get together to showcase all of their coolest pieces. For the most part, it’s not as cool as they think. However, some trends give us an idea of what we can expect from technology in 2016.
High-quality virtual reality headsets will be released this year if you’re willing to pay
The Oculus Rift was an amazing futuristic toy for early adopters around the world, but most normal people didn’t really have a chance to use it. HTC is also working with Steam on the Vive , which is also a standalone VR device with the added benefit of a camera so you can see the real world with VR elements on top of it . Both should go into the hands of consumers this year.
The Oculus Rift will retail for $ 599 when it starts shipping in late March. If you can’t wait, pre-orders opened on Wednesday . This is one of the first high quality virtual reality headsets to hit the market. The HTC Vive doesn’t have a release date or pricing yet, but the company says it plans to release it around April 2016 (although it’s worth noting that they also planned to release it in 2015, so take that well).
Both of these VR headsets will offer the first VR experience in the home. Until now, the only options you were left with were the all-plastic Samsung Gear VR or DIY cardboard kits. While they are convenient for understanding what virtual reality is, many pixels are required to render realistic virtual reality , so virtual reality on a phone will never be as good as specialized systems. Oculus and Vive are the first to significantly push this category of devices forward.
The important question: Do you really want it? The first version of the $ 600 Oculus Rift will be difficult to sell to many. The Oculus Rift also has serious system requirements . Oculus sells Rift-enabled PCs with prices hovering around $ 1,000. You can probably get rid of this if you build your own , but don’t expect to buy the Rift without spending a few extra hundred dollars upgrading your system. In the short term, the virtual reality headsets that use your phone will be more affordable, and going forward they will be more accessible to the average user.
Once you get it, there will be a question about applications. VR headsets are primarily gaming devices, and graphics-intensive games are notoriously expensive. There’s a reason there are hundreds of equally suitable clones of Flappy Bird , but first-person shooters are harder to find. Developing games for Oculus will take time. Think of it like releasing a new console. There will likely be a few big games when it is released, but the huge library will take time to grow.
Of course, there are non-gaming uses of VR as well. Oculus already has an app store which, while mostly filled with games, has several non-gaming uses. You can explore some street view locations , watch panoramic YouTube videos , watch drone videos, and even use a virtual desktop . Netflix, Hulu, and Twitch also have apps that offer a full range of in-head viewing options . While it might seem silly to put on a headset to watch Netflix, it’s a neat personal cinema that won’t get in the way of other people.
This will be an important year for the development of virtual reality, but it is also difficult to immediately tell that it will go “mainstream”. The price of entry for high-end desktops alone can keep them out of many hands. The fewer people can accept it from the start, the less incentive there will be for developers to create new interesting applications. Valve is working on Vive, so this is at least one major developer for this platform, which is great. Let’s see how many others follow. However, mobile virtual reality systems are also becoming widely available, so early adopters and casual users alike have plenty to play with. All of these can make a big difference to the virtual reality landscape. Or the whole idea could fail and die as soon as ordinary people get their hands on it. Anyway, if you are interested in virtual reality, now is your time.
Cord cutters enter the golden age of internet television
A consumer electronics trade show is usually about what else? Consumer electronics. However, Netflix decided to come out in early 2016, completely taking over all of your TV watching habits. To begin with, Netflix is now available in 130 new countries (that is, most of them ) starting this week. This is a huge new audience. They will also add 600 hours of new content this year. By comparison, if you watched Netflix two hours a day, you would have something new to watch 25 days of every month of the year. That’s a lot for a non-television company. And that’s just the original content. So many things that we started tracking all the original shows that streaming sites put out and it’s a daunting task. If you want to cut the cable, now is the best time.
Just in case you’re worried that Netflix is the only company in the world that can do internet TV well, Sling also announced that its Sling TV service will get a new interface . Which is great, since the interface was one of the worst parts of a decent service. The company is also adding ESPN3 to its existing library, which already includes ESPN and ESPN2. That’s as many as three ESPN sports (and, in many cases, live broadcasts, the curse of cord cutters all over the place) over the Internet!
NBC has also joined the comedy service Seeso . For $ 4 a month, you can get unlimited access to clips and episodes of shows like Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock, Parks and Rec, and Monty Python. This is another in a long list of highly targeted video services. If you’ve ever dreamed of picking the channels you like and only paying for them, you seem to have fulfilled your wish.
Everything just announced this week at CES. Over the past year, we’ve gotten Hulu ad-free, YouTube ad-free , Amazon made a big leap in original programming , Crunchyroll dominated the anime streaming market, and HBO Now finally lets you watch Game of Thrones without cable.
Most of us watch at least a few shows and cable TV is not getting cheaper. Fortunately, the industry has finally realized what we’ve all been saying for most of a decade: the Internet is the future of television. If you thought about cutting the cord, now is the time to do so.
Dumb smart gadgets keep popping up, but some don’t suck anymore
CES is where tech companies can showcase their latest smart gadget, which probably doesn’t have to be smart to begin with. Specifically, Samsung kicked off this year with a massive touchscreen refrigerator. This wasn’t Samsung’s first smart refrigerator . Unsurprisingly, the promise of the touchscreen didn’t make all of America ditch its refrigerators.
The hits don’t end there. A company called Polar has announced a $ 100 smart scale (which is mostly notable for being the cheapest smart scale ). Securifi has created a wireless router that is also a security system . This is a 9V battery for smoke detectors that can send push notifications to your phone. Here’s a rubber duck that connects to your phone via Bluetooth to let you know when your baby’s bath water is too hot.
Look, CES is weird, okay? There is a reason why most normal people don’t go, and not because it should be “just for the press.” While some big companies use it as a place to announce their new products, most of the smaller companies throw things against the wall to see what sticks and announce pairing software to make their mark. Some smart things are great. Others are forced to learn the word “Why?” It’s enough to make you think that all these “smart gadgets” are pointless and the phrase “Internet of Things” is meaningless. Well, okay, it doesn’t make sense , but some things in the world of smart devices are actually very interesting.
For example, wearable devices mature. Fitbit has released a trendy new fitness tracker that actually looks like a watch . Casio has announced a rugged Android Wear watch that coincidentally can act as a fitness tracker. It is also engineered to withstand sufficient wear and tear to be suitable for military use. Not bad. Wearables, while many of us have been carrying fitness trackers in our pockets for years, are still a new category and not everyone agrees on what they are for . However, they are not dead and people are actually buying more of them. Between the interesting (albeit dubiously useful ) array of data they can provide, and the easy convenience, wearable devices like smartwatches and fitness trackers are at least one of the other unnecessary smart gadgets.
Bottom line, putting a pair of sensors and a wireless connection into something doesn’t immediately make it better. If CES is good at nothing else, it is better at advertising fashionable smart gadgets that no one needs. However, some devices like watches, fitness trackers, connected TVs and audio systems should be made a little smarter. As we get closer to 2016, we better understand what we are doing and what we don’t want from our connected equipment, and manufacturers are paying attention to it. At first, they shackle their fists, as always, but everything will settle down, and this year we will begin to see the useful separately from the superfluous. If you’ve been skeptical about a device that didn’t have a computer before, but now for some reason, it might be worth taking another look. Just don’t wear a smart belt , okay? It is too far.
Drones are cool, even if you never have one
Technicians love to talk about drones, and they’re all over the place at CES, even though most normal people don’t need them . Although admittedly, it’s a really cool hobby . However, as drones become more prevalent, the controversy that surrounds them will begin to spread and affect everyone, in both good and bad ways.
Rules about where and when to fly drones are catching up. There have already been problems with the safety of drones. In one case, drones prevented emergency services from helping people burn cars . The Secret Service intervened when someone flew their drone too close to the president’s motorcade . These controversies have led to small local restrictions ( or bans ) in certain parts of the country.
By the end of 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration published its first regulations for the use of unmanned aerial vehicles . As more people use drones and more edge cases emerge, you can look forward to cases that challenge those rules and explore the gray areas. Everything that has been associated with drones up to this point has existed in the form of a kind of wild west of the rules. We will now begin to see how they integrate into society as a whole.
That’s a good thing because businesses are ready to start leveraging the power of drones to deliver cooler services. Amazon and Walmart are in a well-publicized race to get drones to the masses. Some real estate agents use drones to photograph homes , and at least one construction company wants to use drones to monitor workers outdoors . A Chinese company has a crazy idea to use autonomous drones as taxis . And I still hope for the Tacocopter .
Even if you don’t want to personally own a drone, chances are good that you, or someone you do business with, will want to take advantage of a service that uses drones in the near future. We’re still trying to figure out whether drones are capable of being remotely controlled or autonomous. This year, we’ll see what happens when the metaphorical rubber of regulation meets the road these drones fly over.
Laptops, tablets, TVs and phones – now, fortunately, everything is boring
Every year at CES, companies announce tons of new laptops, tablets, phones and TVs. It did this year, but with one key difference: the updates aren’t all that exciting. This high pixel count TV has a slightly smaller bezel than the other high pixel count TV. Another company made a laptop that looks a bit like a Macbook. Computers are a little faster than they used to be. Woo.
This is actually a kind of relief. We rely heavily on an increasing number of gadgets that are too fast. Now the most common technologies in our life are not in such great danger of being ripped out from under us due to obsolescence (planned or otherwise). Of course, before the end of 2016, you will undoubtedly see endless ads for the latest Macbooks , Surfaces , 4K TVs, and smartphones . However, most of them are repeated because technology gets better over time. Not because you need to upgrade now. If you’re happy with your basic devices, just enjoy them this year. If you are looking to spend some money on a gadget, there are better places. All interesting technology trends will go beyond simple devices. For example, this amazing turntable that Alan is so into .