This week sees the annual consumer technology extravaganza that is the CES 2017 show in Las Vegas. Once almost an afterthought, technologically speaking, consumer electronics have become increasingly important in driving the entire global tech industry. What products companies choose to bring to the show often represent an interesting tension between hard-nosed calculations and corporate wish fulfillment about the direction tech is expected to take in the coming months and years.
At CES 2017 we in the IEEE Consumer Electronics Society expect to see a reduced focus on drones compared to 2016. Drones haven't gone away, but there are few solid practical applications for most consumers. Still, small inexpensive drones could be a growth area as toys and hobby vehicles. Instead we expect to see a lot more focus on augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and home health. (And, or course, the occasional surprising and interesting product or announcement.)
There are many long- and short-form VR projects ongoing (both professional and amateur), helped by the availability of consumer versions of selfie-stick VR systems along with a variety of cameras. Social media sites and YouTube now offer 360-degree video support as a matter of course, also helping to drive adoption.
Wearables will be important, although the smart-watch market hasn't picked up as fast as many had hoped. These really need to find their killer applications (perhaps some AR application using phones and watches such as we’ve seen with Pokémon Go).
There will be an increase in Internet of Things (IoT) consumer applications (we look forward to seeing this year’s incarnation of the proverbial smart fridge) as well as cloud-based IoT offerings that provide services to consumers.
Wearable and cloud-based IoT services will also mean we’ll be seeing AI and machine-learning applications. These applications could be big enablers of new consumer services running on wearable devices as well as household voice-activated products from Amazon,Google, and other companies. For example, voice control will be a big theme at CES 2017 with new product introductions by Amazon, Google, and others. Machine intelligence will also make still and video images more useful with increasing capabilities for image recognition. Large enterprise companies with strong machine-learning capabilities will be showing how data from connected intelligent consumer devices will enable new ways to reach customers and offer them additional services.
I would also expect that there will be a greater focus on security and privacy, with the proliferation of connected consumer devices and recent reports that some of these devices have been hijacked as bots in denial-of-service attacks. Greater security and anonymity for shared content will be important safeguards to make sure that consumers feel safe with their connected devices and services.
Turning to televisions, 4K TVs now have a standard that takes full advantage of their potential, including expected HDR (high-dynamic-range images) as well as their resolution and color capabilities. Coupled with decreasing prices, these TVs should see greater pickup by both leading-edge consumers and the higher end of mainstream consumers. Many consumers are increasingly considering 4K TVs for their next replacement TV. So lower-cost 4K TVs will be a big presence at CES. In addition, UHD (ultrahigh definition) streaming services will be present, as well as Blu-ray disc UHD players that will provide content for viewing on these displays. (Almost all new content is captured in at least 4K nowadays.)
On a smaller scale, there could be more maker-oriented items as well as craft projects including microbrewing (both coffee and beer) at CES 2017, although I don't expect to see the big 3D-printer displays we saw the last few years. However, unusual 3D printing (printed pancakes, anyone?) could be sneak hits at the 2017 show.
Finally, automobile technology will continue to play a big role at CES as more and more autonomous driving functions are included in new model cars. This will also include tying consumer applications into automobiles and mobile activities.
Toward the end of the CES show, on January 8, the 2017 IEEE ICCE Conference will have a focus on Virtual and Augmented Lifestyles. The ICCE conference focuses on consumer technologies that will be the hottest thing three years from today. As a teaser of what’s to come, new for this year are tracks organized with the IEEE Biometrics and RFID Councils, the IEEE Cloud Computing initiative, and the IEEE Society for the Social Implications of Technology.
About the Author: Tom Coughlin is an IEEE Senior Member and Chair of the IEEE Consumer Electronics Society (ICCE) Future Directions Committee.