In these heady days before the biggest U.S. tech trade show of the year, the Internet is awash with CES 2012 predictions.
It's amazing how many there are. Hell, the CES hashtag has been featured already on the Twitter Discover tab since Tuesday--a full week before the show formally opens. At CNET, we've been writing about our predictions for weeks in our special CES 2012 package. Netbooks, ultracheap laptops, amazing OLED TVs. It's all there.
Out of curiosity, a colleague looked up the CES schedule for the next 10 years--yes, it exists, with dates selected for CES through 2022. Now, there's been plenty of speculation about whether the entire concept of a tech trade show will exist that far in the future in a world of increasingly aggressive, Apple-style, one-off press events. But for the sake of this exercise--and because I happen to believe it--let's say that giant trade shows do exist in the future because people who are excited about technology want to meet, learn from, and do business with other people who are excited about technology.
Let's imagine what the technology at CES in the early 2020s might look like.
The flat, black box will be gone
I'd like to talk about how so much tech today is flat, rectangular, with a black bezel. Think about it: your TV, your smartphone, your tablet. Flat, black. Rectangular. In 10 years, let's hope that the ever-shrinking bezel will have simply disappeared. The flexible screens, the translucent monitors we've been promised (by "Minority Report," yes, but also by real science) will have arrived, and they'll be everywhere--on your sleeve, in your table, rolled up, and stuffed in your pocket. Who knows, maybe we'll even have disposable screens, thin as paper, that we can use as needed and recycle.
Televisions won't be televisions...
...so much as they'll be connected media screens to be installed anywhere you want them. Roll one out on your kitchen counter, stick one to your wall. Connect it to your data stream, load content from brands that you trust by simply speaking in natural language--think Xbox Kinect in everything (and expect some really early versions of this type of TV at CES 2012). There will be no "channel surfing," unless roving from streaming video to live streams of newsrooms to scrolling headline tickers is channel surfing. (It's worth noting that the winner in the media space will be the brand that can best communicate to a broad audience what content it produces and why that content matters in a universe where the concept of "channel" is obsolete.)
Mobile devices will rely on detached screens
By 2022, I think we'll have mobile gadgets largely stabilized. A handful of mobile devices will rule the world and will exist only as tiny, highly portable "brains" that channel and interpret the content and software that appears on the aforementioned ubiquitous screens--the ones in our cars, in our bathrooms, our featherlight tablets, and mobile displays. Roku is taking early steps in this direction with its dongle-based TV brain. Technologies like Swype and all varieties of speech recognition will have rendered keyboards largely unnecessary. (For the record: I don't think all input will happen through speech technology. Just imagine living in a wold where we all talk to our machines as much as our friends. Creepy.)
Still, gadgets won't be dead
Sure, consumer technology a decade out may be much more about the media than it is today. We talk a lot at CNET about whether the rises of the app store, the tablet, and the smartphone are all harbingers of the death of the gadget. And certainly, the burgeoning techno-media ecosystem will be huge, both at CES 2012 and beyond. Harry McCracken predicts as much in this piece and CNET's own Next Big Thing Supersession will take a very deep dive into the topic.
But we are humans, after all, and--perhaps to our detriment--we like to own shiny objects that amaze us and make us look good. Each of our many screens will take on a style and life of its own. We may have clothes with display technology, or cameras that instantly "print" to the closest screen. We'll still want the very best headsets and sound equipment, and we'll still crave the devices with the cleanest, most elegant interfaces.
Home automation will have arrived, really
And we'll want the robots to do everything for us, of course. By CES 2022, I predict home automation gadgets will be getting much more attention. We've started moving in this direction already, with smart-but-basic ideas like the Nest Thermostat and the new Lowe's home automation kits. But networked appliances are just the tip of the iceberg. The "Jetsons"-style robots we've been promised for so long will arrive, along with integrated systems for running just about every aspect of a household and transferring lists, media, and security profiles seamlessly from home to car to wherever you happen to do your work.
Of course, this is all the stuff of my imagination, where I see the technology of CES 2012 going if it continues on the same trajectory. What do you think is coming? Let your imaginations run wild and share your predictions in the comments.
And please, God, can we please please please have universal, inductive battery charging? That'll be done by 2022, right?