The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is a playground for inventors. From giants like Samsung to unknown brands being thrust into the spotlight for the first time, this trade show is massive – not to mention a technophile’s dream. If it has a battery, a power cord, screen or Wi-Fi, you can bet it’s welcome at CES. Despite the absence of big players like Google, Apple and Facebook, the technologies shown at CES give people a glimpse into the future – and it can be a pretty weird future. But that’s okay. CES is ridiculous in all the best ways.
While the most important part of CES may be backroom meetings held by executives, this year’s CES proved, once again, to be utterly fascinating. Not everything shown at CES will be our future (thankfully), but every new product embodies a specific vision of the future. Everything has potential. Here’s the lowdown on everything that went down during one of the craziest weeks in tech.
Nikon stays true to its roots, and surprises
Historically, Nikon is a fairly rigid, traditional camera maker, but you wouldn’t have guessed it by their CES showing. Relying on professional DSLRs that target a niche audience and memories of their point-and-click camera succumbing to smartphones still in our heads, Nikon had something to prove this year. Not only did the company stay true to its roots by announcing the insanely impressive D5 with an ISO that blows the competition out of the water, but it also moved forward into uncharted technological territory. For instance, the new D500 has SnapBridge technology to sync photos over Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. It’s Nikon’s answer to a generation obsessed with instant gratification. In its most surprising move, Nikon announced a 360 Degree action camera called the KeyMission 360. Absurd name aside, the KeyMission 360 moves Nikon into a new market to take on GoPro directly.
A few days after Nikon announced their 360 degree camera, GoPro announced that it would release a 360 degree action cam itself, but didn’t have a product to show. Were they planning that all along? Or was it a response to a surprise announcement? We may never know, but it’s clear Nikon got a bit of a jump on GoPro. It looks like 2016 will prove to be an interesting match-up between the two camera makers.
Fitbit has a tougher week than it expected despite new wearable
To succeed in the world of wearables, Fitbit knew it wouldn’t be able to make simple fitness trackers forever. With the threat of smartwatches that also double fitness trackers, Fitbit saw a future where no one would need a Fitbit anymore if they bought an Apple Watch or Android Wear. So what’s Fitbit to do? Announce its own smartwatch of course! Called the Blaze, it’s the most traditional wearable Fitbit’s ever made. It looks like a watch, but sports a fitness-focused approach to differentiate it from “traditional” smartwatches which market themselves as productivity increasers. Unfortunately, the Blaze didn’t get great critical reception because of its bulky design, Fitbit’s stock plunged more than 15 percent and, in separate news, Fitbit was sued for inaccurate heartbeat monitoring. All in all, a rough week for Fitbit.
Virtual reality is closer to becoming a reality
Though not part of the official CES schedule, Oculus began taking pre-orders for its Oculus Rift during CES this year. Regarded as the most anticipated piece of VR hardware in 2016 and the device that will bring VR into the mainstream, Oculus was able to capture headlines while the whole world was watching. Unfortunately, it wasn’t for all of the right reasons. With a price tag of $600, many excited VR enthusiasts had their bubbles burst.
But if the Oculus let you down, HTC’s Vive headset was shown off with a cleaner, more finished design, and Samsung renewed its commitment to VR devices powered by cell phones with new VR controllers for its Gear VR. Paired with Nikon’s KeyMission 360 and GoPro’s eventual 360 degree action cam, there’s little doubt that there will be more content for these headsets in the near future.
Kodak goes neo-retro by relaunching the Super 8 camera
File this one under something we did not see coming. Partnering with Yves Béhar of Fuseproject fame, Kodak is bringing back the iconic Super 8 camera. And yes, it uses film, meaning there will be a slew of new devices to buy as the film ecosystem returns. Nostalgia is a powerful marketing tool and it’s smart of Kodak to have found this opportunity after abandoning its film business a decade ago. Time will tell if anyone actually wants to buy back into the film (literally), but here’s to hoping that it inspires at least one burgeoning filmmaker to become the next J.J. Abrams.
Headphone maker Audeze fuel rumors that the iPhone 7 will ditch the 8mm headphone jack
Audeze makes some of the finest headphones on the market. Using planar magnetics, Audeze’s offerings are surprisingly crisp, loud and futuristic. At CES, they announced two new models: the $499 Sine headphones and the EL-8 Titanium headphones. Both of these announcements would be great stories on their own, but the most important part of their initial showing wasn’t their sound quality; it was that they used Apple’s Lightning port instead of the 8mm headphone jack. This could very well be the first sign that your next iPhone will have one less hole in it. The idea isn’t all that farfetched given Apple’s tendency to simplify their devices and encourage the use of Apple products. Given that Apple is rumored to be launching wireless earbuds as well, this could be one of the important glimpses into the future CES offered this year.
Drones begin to look like planes
If you’re annoyed that drones don’t look quite enough like planes, there’s good news: Parrot announced a fixed wing drone to supplement its quadcopter designs already offered. Amusingly (and bewilderingly) called the Disco, Parrot’s latest drone can speed across landscapes at 50mph for up to 45 minutes at a time. Fixed wing drones have long been used by government agencies for environmental monitoring (and war combat), and we’re sure that filmmakers will be able to create some incredibly professional looking shots with the Disco.
Samsung’s secret lab has a strap that will turn any watch into a smartwatch
CES is the perfect place to show off crazy ideas like this. If you aren’t satisfied with the current smartwatch designs, fret not. Samsung’s R&D team showed off its first experiments from its Creative Lab and one of them is a ‘SmartStrap’. Attaching to nearly any watch, it vibrates to deliver notifications and even uses bone conduction to let you listen to calls by placing your hand to your ear. We may never see this become a reality since Samsung’s Creative Lab is more interested in ideas than consumer products, but it’s fun to imagine a future where any watch can get a little smarter while staying decidedly old school.
3D printing sticks around
If 2015 proved anything about 3D printing, it was that 3D printing is totally awesome and totally not for everyone. Makerbot struggled to turn 3D printing mainstream for many reasons (namely price and usability) and we didn’t quite get to the idealistic future of anyone printing spare parts for their Ikea furniture. We did, however, get a 3D printer from Polaroid (of all companies) that will launch in Europe early this year. CES may be the year of, “What’s old is new again,” and Polaroid is hoping to use some its brand cache to establish itself in a new market. But Polaroid wasn’t the only brand with 3D printers present. A slew of other, lesser known brands were all vying to become the next big name in 3D printing. On top of that, we got a slew of custom, 3D printed treats including eyeglasses and prosthetics. People love custom. Anything “made just for you” feels that extra bit more special. Based on 3D printing’s showing at CES this year, 2016 may not be the breakout year we want it to be – but 3D printing certainly hasn’t gone away.
And, just for fun, here’s some of the weirdest stuff that was announced:
- SleepNumber announced a “smartbed” that would track your sleep without the need for a wearable.
- Segway announced a personal butler that can deliver you drinks. It’s terrifying.
- A drone that looks like a soccer ball made out of Styrofoam tried to solve the problem of drones’ exposed blades.
- Corning, maker of Gorilla Glass, thinks that one day the walls of your home will be screens. They announced new, highly durable tech to turn your bedroom wall into a massive touchscreen.
- US Marshals raided a “hoverboard” booth from a Chinese manufacturer. It wasn’t a publicity stunt.
- Samsung is still trying to put screens onto refrigerators.
- A new form of Wi-Fi is coming called HaLow. It’s pronounced like “halo” and hopes to kill Bluetooth by using less power.