The 8 Hot Consumer Electronics Stories of 2023

2023 plants the seeds for trends set to grow rapidly next year

5 min read
Collage of different consumer electronics
Getty Images

Twenty-twenty-three was a transitional year for consumer electronics. It’s the year Twitter became X; the year Apple teased (but didn’t deliver) the next generation of augmented reality; the year drivers became both more aware and less optimistic of self-driving technology; the year COVID-19’s disruptions finally settled out; the year AI entered the mainstream yet, for many, remained a curiosity.

Our most popular stories reflect this mix of emerging trends. Readers tuned in for stories that focused not on what is, but what could be or has been, with few exceptions. But that doesn’t mean 2023 was unimportant. On the contrary, outcomes of trends sparked this year are likely to play out through the rest the decade.

The Inner Beauty of Basic Electronics

A cutaway photo of a cableEric Schlaepfer & Windell H. Oskay

IEEE Spectrum’s top consumer electronics story of 2023 (with nearly 140,000 views) was a comforting dive into the devices that surround us every day.

Eric Schlaepfer and Windell H. Oskay’s book Open Circuits: The Inner Beauty of Electronic Components emerged from Schlaepfer’s discovery of a shorted tantalum capacitor while repairing equipment. He polished down the capacitor to have a look inside, and while he didn’t find the problem, he was intrigued by this new perspective on a familiar component. Open Circuits explores the hidden world inside electronics, revealing the innards of high-stability film resistors, trimmer potentiometers, and more.

The article was just a sampling of a bigger and even more fascinating 304-page book. Readers can grab the book directly from No Starch Press or find it at major online retailers.

Camera Crushes Lidar Claims Startup

A colorful image of a sceneNodar

Our second most popular story challenged popular notions about the sensor technology be suited to autonomous cars. Nodar (see what they did there?) says its camera-based system outperforms Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) in autonomous vehicle technology. The company’s tests show a camera-based system can detect a 12-centimeter piece of lumber from 130 meters or spot a traffic cone from 200 meters away. Both results beat LIDAR.

This comes amid controversy over the safety of autonomous vehicles. General Motors’ autonomous vehicle division, Cruise, recalled its entire fleet of 950 cars in November after an accident involving a Cruise robotaxi and a pedestrian. Then, just this month, Tesla was forced to recall two million vehicles after an NHTSA investigation. Perhaps it’s no surprise that many are interested in new solutions for autonomous vehicles.

Flight Simulator Gave Birth to 3D Video-Game Graphics

A video game still from Microsoft Flight Simulator showing a red and white biplaneJosef Havlik

Microsoft Flight Simulator is over 40 years old, believe it or not, and over the last four decades it has continually pushed the cutting-edge of 3D graphics technology. In fact, the game essentially began as a moderately successful 3D software package for the Apple II and Tandy TRS-80.

The simulator has since proven an enduring testbed for new ideas. Weather simulation came in the late-80s, satellite imagery arrived in the 90s, and Flight Simulator 2000 became the first commercial flight simulator to map the entire planet. Today, the simulator uses artificial intelligence to populate the globe with fine-grain 3D terrain (like buildings). 2024 will give the franchise another chance to push modern computers, as Flight Simulator 2024 is scheduled for takeoff sometime next year.

Wow, Apple’s Vision Pro Is Full of Pixels

The Apple Vision Pro headset turned towards the user. A display inside the headset shows two mirrored images of a mountain landscape.Apple

Apple’s Vision Pro has yet to launch, but it’s already on everyone’s mind. There’s good reason for that. It’s packed with cutting-edge technology.

The Vision Pro has a pair of micro-OLED displays that pack 23 million pixels into an area no larger than a postage stamp. It also equips two top-tier Apple Silicon chips: the M2, which is also found in Apple’s MacBooks, and the R1, a unique chip that handles incoming sensor data from the headset’s many cameras.

Whether the Vision Pro will prove successful remains to be seen but, even should it fall short, the technologies and techniques that appear in Apple’s headset are certain to influence future devices.

Speaker Chip Uses Ultrasound to Crack Volume Limits

Two squares float above a black disk in front of a black background. xMEMS

Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) dominate microphones. Now they’re coming for speakers, too.

IEEE Spectrum’s Samuel Moore had the chance to hear the future for himself, going ears-on with a prototype noise-canceling earbud from xMEMS. The company’s Cypress chip uses ultrasound to overcome issues that hampered the quality of noise cancellation in prior MEMS earbuds. The chip is slated for mass production in late 2024 so, if all goes according to plan, the first earbuds with built around it could appear in time for the next holiday season.

Fresh From The Oven: Pi for Your Desktop

A green board on a pink backgroundRaspberry Pi Foundation

The Raspberry Pi 5 is (of course) the most powerful Pi yet, but founder Eben Upton says it’s still chasing his vision a low-power, general-purpose computer at an incredibly low price. Upton sees the Pi 5 as the continuation of the mission to create a general-purpose computing experience in the mold of influential early computers like the BBC Micro and Sinclair Spectrum.

The world has changed since the original Pi’s release, however, leaving the Pi 5 in an intriguing, though still enviable, position. It’s successful, so much so that many Pi models were difficult to source in the years following the COVID-19 pandemic, but faces challengers in the form of low-cost x86 desktops and numerous ARM single-board computers with more powerful processors.

In a way, the competition is a victory for Upton and the Raspberry Pi Foundation. The first Raspberry Pi brought single-board computers to mainstream attention. The Pi 5’s competitors prove the original’s success.

Decentralized Social Media Rises as Twitter Melts Down

A laptop on a table in a coffee shop. It's open, and the Mastodon server is loaded in a web browser.Matthew S. Smith/IEEE Spectrum

Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter (now X), and his subsequent changes to the platform, spurred unhappy users towards alternatives. Many flocked to Mastodon, a leading social media platform in a decentralized ecosystem called the fediverse.

The fediverse is collection of servers that “federate” over an open-source protocol called ActivityPub. The fediverse’s rise, exemplified by Mastodon’s success, shows a growing interest in platforms that give users more control over their experience and the option to take their account with them should they decide to migrate elsewhere. Meta’s new social media platform, Threads, demonstrated its first federated profile (belonging Instagram’s Adam Mosseri) in December—with plans to further integrate Threads with the fediverse through 2024.

Four Offbeat Gadgets from CES 2023 That You Might Actually Want

A CES convention hallSteve Marcus/Reuters/Alamy

The Consumer Electronics Show, an annual event held every January in Las Vegas, Nevada, is always a golden opportunity to peek at the latest and most buzzworthy tech. Tekla Perry’s 2023 round-up for IEEE Spectrum previewed paw-activated pads that can let your pet “talk,” upscale wearable audio tech, and genetically engineering houseplants that purify the air.

CES 2024 will no doubt introduce equally eccentric tech, much of it connected to what’s already emerged as the show’s central theme: artificial intelligence. Unlike the AI that made headlines in 2023, though, the AI shown at CES 2024 is likely to be more personal, more private, and more tightly focused on specific tasks.

The Conversation (0)