FIVE MAJOR TRENDS AT CES 2019
The Consumer Electronics Show 2019 saw a record number of 1,80,000 attendees, with around 4,500 exhibitors, in its 51st edition. The show will go on in Las Vegas till 12 January. But as is the case with most of these big technology conferences, all the major announcements are already done by the first or the second day. After covering this edition of CES 2019, five major trends have emerged. So let’s take a look at them.
PCs are thriving
Every few years, one keeps hearing of rumours of how the PC industry is stagnating or dying. While it’s true that the growth of PCs isn’t as exponential as the mobile phones, the category is in no ways dying.
CES 2019 proved that once again. OEM makers such as Lenovo, Asus, Dell, Alienware, MSI, Acer had news things to share on the PC front. It wasn’t just a refresh of the laptops with a new processor line up, but what we instead saw was companies experimenting with different form factors, going bezel-less, adding far field microphones on their PCs for voice-activated computing and more.
Lenovo had a bunch of announcements on that front. The Yoga S940 was easily my favourite Lenovo product announced this year. The workhorses ThinkPad X1 Carbon and ThinkPad X1 Yoga got their much-awaited refreshes. In addition to this, Lenovo has also thrown a challenge to Microsoft Surface Studio in the form of a Precision dial sporting Lenovo Yoga A940.
Asus ZenBook S13 was another stunner in the laptops department, with a thin bezel offering it a 97 percent screen to body ratio. So thin were the bezels that Asus has employed a reverse notch on the top flap to house the web camera. Huawei had, what could likely be a MacBook Pro competitor in the form of the MateBook 13.
Both Intel and AMD had announcements on its processor lineup. While Intel finally announced its 10 nm plans sporting the Sunny Cove architecture along with additions to its 9th Gen Core series lineup, AMD launched its Ryzen 3000 series mobile processors aka APUs – these are still on the 12 nm manufacturing process though. PCs based on these processors are coming towards the end of 2019. The AMD Athlon brand is also making a comeback in the mainstream laptop space and Ryzen should be seen in high-end laptops this year as well.
Bottom line: CES 2019 painted quite a rosy picture as far as the PC ecosystem goes.
All in on Gaming
The first major keynote this year was by Nvidia, where its CEO Jensen Huang unveiled the mainstream graphics solution – the RTX 2060 for $349. This brings the RTX platform which does real-time ray tracing, enabling super realistic lighting and reflection effects, to the mainstream audience. In addition to the desktop card being announced, gaming laptops sporting RTX 2060 were also quickly announced by all the major OEMs.
Not to be left behind, AMD also announced its 7 nm GPU based graphics card platform – the Radeon VII which is expected to go head to head with Nvidia’s RTX 2080. Shipping in February from $699 with AMD’s second generation Vega architecture, the Radeon VII is priced around the same cost as a standard Nvidia RTX 2080. Long story short, AMD is promising 4K gaming with the Radeon VII.
Gaming PCs of note that were announced at CES 2019 included Alienware Area 51 which is expected to come with the AMD Radeon VII graphics whereas an Area 51m laptop from Alienware will be coming with a user replaceable CPU and Nvidia GPU which can be upgraded in the future. The laptop looks like it’s built atop a massive heat vent. This laptop sure has its sights set on replacing your gaming PC.
The Asus ROG Mothership laptop comes with the RTX 2080 Max-Q graphics card inside and a radical design language which lets you detach the keyboard as well as have a support for aligning the display of the laptop Max-Q is Nvidia’s design solutions which lets top of the line Nvidia GPUs to be embedded in gaming laptops, keeping a slim form factor with optimal heat management. Out of the 40 models with RTX solutions expected this year, NVIDIA claims that around 17 models would be sporting the Max-Q design.
Samsung also announced its Notebook Odyssey gaming laptop which was a surprise. This one again sports a Max-Q RTX 2080 GPU. This apart you had your standard Alienware m15 and Razer Blade gaming laptops.
And I am not even getting into the interesting gaming peripherals being launched, from the Samsung CRG9 ultra-wide gaming monitor to the HP Omen X 65 Emperium to the HTC Vive Cosmos to Lenovo Legion’s bundle of gaming accessories.
Bottom line: The amount of love the gaming segment got, almost made us think that this was Computex and not CES.
Who will win the battle of the Assistants?
Google had no in-house product launches, but if you were in Las Vegas during CES 2019, it would seem as if Google had some major launch coming up. With every possible large screen advertising billboard as well as the Las Vegas Monorail trains plastered with ‘Hey Google’ adverts. Google even had a massive booth right opposite the Las Vegas Convention Centre to showcase its vast ecosystem.
Amazon in comparison hadn’t bombarded Vegas with advertisements, but it was as aggressively present on the show floor thanks to its multiple partners having some or the other Alexa related announcement.
While in terms of numbers, Amazon claims to have sold around 100 million Alexa enable devices, Google said that it has crossed a billion devices with ‘Hey Google’ support. Now you have to take into consideration the fact that every Android device sold nowadays comes with Assistant support built in, so unlike Alexa products, Google hasn’t necessarily sold 1 by Google Home or Home Mini or third-party devices supporting Assistant.
In terms of product categories, Assistant and Alexa support was announced by multiple brands across TVs, headphones, speakers, smart home appliances smart locks, smart displays, smart lights to even smart bikes. Laptops with far field microphones on them were a common trend this year at CES as well. Google Assistant is now also supported on a product such as Anker Roav Bolt, a car charger. Assistant is now also baked into Google Maps and will also let you check into your flight, with just a voice command.
With both the companies have opened up their respective platforms to developers and third parties, this ecosystem is just going to expand. And brands don’t want to be exclusive or locked on to either platform. This was evident when I saw the head for Google Assistant speaking about Lenovo’s Smart Clock which supports Assistant, followed by Amazon Alexa executive talking about the Lenovo Smart Tab – one after the other. So both these companies aren’t shy to share space within the same third party brand’s ecosystem. This makes logical sense as that’s the only way these ecosystems can take off.
Bottom line: While there was no clear winner (unless you are looking at sheer brand presence) it is evident that virtual assistants are on a massive growth trajectory.
5G is coming soon – as early as mid-2019
5G has been a constant presence at all the major technology conferences such as CES, MWC, IFA and so on. While in the past, we have been seeing high-level discussions and platform announcements pertaining to 5G, at CES 2019, a lot of the stakeholders had sessions demoing 5G speeds on mobile devices. Lot of brands such as Samsung, Intel, Qualcomm are already doing field tests with carrier partners such as Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T in the US. Verizon has already promised to offer 5G mobile services on one device each from Samsung and Motorola within 2019. Intel demoed a live Skype call over T-Mobile’s 600 MHz 5G network.
5G wasn’t just limited to phone-related use cases. For instance, Samsung showcased its end to end 5G solutions which had use cases such as 5G connectivity in the home space, within a smart city construct, in stadiums and so on. Qualcomm had most of its booth dedicated to the Snapdragon 855 mobile platform and its 5G use cases as well, from mobile download speeds to use of 5G in smart cars an more.
If there is one product category that keeps showing us ridiculous products which seem too good to be true at times, then it has to be the TV segment. 8K TVs were all the rage at CES 2019. Everyone from Samsung, LG, Sony, Sharp, TCL, HiSense had some or the other 8K TV on display at its booth. While we are yet to get mainstream when it comes to 4K content, 8K content is a distant dream. But the 8K TVs being exhibited promised a lot of upscaling features thanks to their proprietary processors which could upscale Full HD or 4K content to near 8K resolutions.
Barring this deluge of 8K promises, LG announced its rollable display TV which just kind of rises up from its soundbar and retracts back in when not in use. This was shown off as a concept at last CES, but LG now claims that it will have this device selling this year. The price point wasn’t announced.
Not to be left behind, Samsung which has been impressing attendees with its ‘The Wall’ installations – this year’s being a 219-inch MicroLED display made using multiple 6×6 inch MicroLED blocks – announced a 75-inch 4K MicroLED TV. Samsung also didn’t announce any pricing details.
Apple was present, in spirit at least: Not a trend, but important development nonetheless
Apple has famously stayed away from the Consumer Electronics Show. But every year, there are Apple-related product announcements by third party vendors. This time around, while Apple tried to be snarky with it’s huge billboard trolling companies for not paying attention to privacy, it also had some announcements to make – via its partners.
Apple’s proprietary audio and video streaming feature, AirPlay, is now coming to Smart TVs from brands such as Sony, LG, Vizio and even Apple rival Samsung. This will let Apple users stream content from their iPhones, iPads, Macs to their big screen TVs letting them stream their iTunes libraries as well.
This was easily the most surprising announcement at CES, especially the timing at which it is coming. Apple CEO Tim Cook had announced dire outlook in future quarters and Apple’s device sales aren’t the highest. But considering its services segment has been on a growth path, it just made sense for the Cupertino giant to expand its locked in AirPlay feature (which so far was only available on Apple TV) to other manufacturers.
Apart from these six major trends, CES did see its share of quirky products such as internet-connected litter boxes for your cats, a virtual bartender, a smart bra, LG’s rollable TV and Samsung’s The Wall installation, Hyundai’s walking car concept and of course, the bread bot. These are products which may or may not launch this year or ever. But then, that’s also a very typical CES thing.
That’s it from this edition of CES 2019.