I’m on my way out to CES 2019 — previously known simply as the Consumer Electronics Show — where thousands of companies will announce new gadgets for the year. The massive show floor at the Las Vegas convention center technically opens on Tuesday, but news from the show will officially begin on Sunday and will continue through Friday.
CES is where we see all kinds of electric-powered doohickeys, from the most advanced new TVs to robots and more. But this year might have some additional spice thanks to the expanding rivalry between tech giants Amazon and Google.
Here’s a taste of what I think we’ll see. But CES can be surprising, and sometimes a single company can steal the show with an announcement that blows everything else away.
A heated Google and Amazon rivalry
Google and Amazon are going to make a big splash at the CES 2019.
They’ve had a big rivalry, and not just because they compete in businesses like cloud services and ads. Amazon and Google also sell rival smart speaker systems, including the Echo and Google Home, and rival streaming TV products, such as the Fire TV and Chromecast. Both companies are fighting to be the “operating system” of our homes, and it has played out publicly. There was a time, for example, when Amazon didn’t sell the Google Chromecast and when Google blocked YouTube on the Fire TV and Echo.
And, according to data from Canalys in November, smart speakers from both companies are nearly tied for market share. The Amazon Echo had a 31.9 percent market share in Q3 2018, while Google was just a hair behind with 29.8 percent. At CES, we’ll see how both companies are working to expand through partnerships.
In September, Amazon revealed new developer tools that allow its partners to include the Amazon Alexa voice assistant in pretty much anything they can dream up, including microwaves. Amazon has already confirmed it will use CES to show its vision for “Alexa Everywhere,” which means there are going to be a lot of new products from its partners. If it runs on electricity, there’s a good chance someone will try to stuff Alexa inside.
Google, which has a similar strategy with its Alexa competitor called Google Assistant, will also have a big presence. Google had a large, three-story experience center last year and, this year, says it will triple the size of its booth, which is smack in front of the Las Vegas Convention Center.
Like Amazon, I think Google’s partners will reveal new products that run on Google Assistant. I’m not sure what else the company has in store, but it’s expanding its presence for a reason.
Don’t just expect to see these assistants in regular items like smart speakers. I think we’ll see them deployed in all manner of gadgets, from home appliances to televisions. But I also think they’ll pop up in strange places where voice assistants don’t even make sense. In other words — and I’m only half joking here — I would not be surprised to see someone launch a smart toothbrush with Amazon Alexa just for the heck of it.
American carriers will try to tell us why 5G matters
American cellular carriers will also probably talk a big game: 5G, the faster data network standard that’s replacing 4G LTE, is already starting to roll out in select cities around the U.S. But carriers haven’t really told us a lot about why we should care about 5G yet, aside from helping to boost internet speeds at home and on mobile devices.
This rolls a bit into my next section, but I expect a lot of the discussion around 5G will involve how it can help self-driving cars, from providing faster data connections to the computers on board to helping riders stream high-quality video anywhere the car goes.
There may be a few 5G gadgets, too. When 4G LTE started rolling out, we first saw so-called hotspots that create Wi-Fi points and let you connect laptops and other electronics to the new networks. I don’t expect to see the first consumer-ready 5G phone just yet, though. But we won’t have to wait long after CES to see the first major 5G smartphone. Samsung’s next flagship phone, the Galaxy S10, is rumored to support 5G.
The future of driving … and flying
CES always has a huge area dedicated to cars, and part of the parking lot has even been used by companies like Audi, BMW and Ford to show off the latest driving technology, from new electric cars to all sorts of self-driving vehicles.
This year, Audi and Disney are holding a joint press conference where the two companies will talk about the future of in-car entertainment.
I have no idea what that means yet. Huge screens that take over the windows? VR headsets? But in a future where drivers no longer need to watch the road, and passengers want to be entertained, there’s going to be a lot more gadgets inside automobiles. Companies like Disney want a slice of that.
Flying cars will probably be yet another theme. Last year, Intel showed off a flying “volocopter” at CES, and this year Bell, known for its helicopters, has its own booth. Bell already has a concept of a flying taxi and expects its vehicles to be on the market by the mid 2020s. Maybe we’ll learn more this year.
To be clear, these aren’t flying cars out of “The Jetsons.” They’re called vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) vehicles. They’re closer to personal helicopters than a futuristic flying car.
Lots and lots of TVs
CES is always used as the launching ground for new TVs that hit the market later in the year (and beyond). Samsung and LG have massive booths showing off the thinnest, brightest, most colorful TVs on the market. Last year, LG revealed a concept of a TV so thin that it can roll up, and I’m hoping that there’s news about that finally coming to the market.
But also expect to hear about the software that runs on these TVs. LG, for example, already unveiled some new sets that have Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa included. Again, it sounds like those two companies are going to fight in as many corners of the show as possible.
One of these years I think we’re finally going to see a real home robot assistant, an actual version of the Rosie the Robot Maid from “The Jetsons,” but maybe not yet. Still, CES always has unique new robots. Last year, it had one that automatically folded your laundry, and one year there was an eerily human-looking android. I’m expecting to see more of those this year, and the official CES official schedule suggests there may even be a focus on care-giving bots.