The New Year is here. And that means CES is about to begin.
Around 200,000 people are about to converge on Las Vegas for the technology industry's biggest showcase of the year. This is the trade show's 50th anniversary, and the show floor will be jam-packed with products and services that would've been dismissed as science fiction back in 1967: everything from self-driving cars to voice-controlled personal assistants to swarms of flying camera drones.
Yes, all those sort of gadgets that seemed outrageously fantastic when employed by the likes of James Bond, Captain Kirk and George Jetson in the 1960s will be on display at CES -- mostly as products you can buy soon, if not right now. Oh, and anyone can share photos and live video of the latest and greatest products to a worldwide audience from a pocketable communications device. Welcome to 2017.
Of course, much of that same tech has already been on display at the show the past few years. CES is, after all, better viewed as an evolutionary process of trends that ebb and flow in three- to five-year increments. So, while many of these trends hardly sound new, they're often more mature and better realized then they were in years past.
To that end, these are the topics and categories we expect to dominate the floor this year.
Smart home tech will be everywhere
Expect smart home products to become even more ubiquitous. That means more everyday devices getting an "internet of things" (IoT) upgrade, whether that's useful or not. Wi-Fi connectivity and app control will be more common in small kitchen-counter appliances, and expect refrigerators, washers and dryers to get smarter too. The same goes for doorbells, lightbulbs, ceiling fans, smoke alarms -- and anything else you can think of.
Voice assistants and IoT platforms battle for control
Format wars have long been a part of the consumer electronics landscape, and CES in particular: VHS vs. Beta, HD DVD vs. Blu-ray, Windows vs. Mac or iPhone vs. Android, to name but a few. In the nascent smart home era, the newest format war is that of voice-controlled personal assistants and their underlying smart home platforms.
Look for companies to talk up compatibility with and the relative advantages of Amazon's Alexa/Echo platform -- far and away the current smart home leader -- as well as Apple's Siri/HomeKit, Google Home and maybe even Microsoft's Cortana. (Ironically, none of those four companies officially exhibit at CES.) Likewise, Samsung -- one of the largest exhibitors at the show -- could spotlight its recently acquired Viv assistant, too.
Read more: Is the Google Home growing up fast enough?
More self-driving and electric cars
The North American International Auto Show starts on January 8, just as CES is ending. But CES has been stealing more and more of the car tech spotlight with each passing year, and 2017 is no exception. Expect plenty of self-driving and electric car technology to be on display in Vegas, with plenty of news from such industry heavyweights as Fiat Chrysler, BMW, Ford, Toyota, Nissan and Hyundai. We also expect an update on the status of Faraday Future's electric vehicle plans, as well as auto-related tech news from companies such as Nvidia, Continental, Harman and Delphi. CNET's Roadshow will be covering it all -- before heading out to cover all the news in Detroit, too.
Read more: Self-driving cars to headline CES 2017
TVs get bigger, brighter and better
The Las Vegas Convention Center is dominated by ever-increasing ginormous TV screens every year, and 2017 will be no exception. Samsung, Sony and up-and-coming Chinese brands like TCL and Hisense will be showcasing LCD-based technologies such as quantum dot, all of which is designed to take down OLED, the picture quality king that's currently the sole province of LG (and its licensees).
4K resolution, HDR technology and still more built-in streaming tech (be it Roku, Chromecast, Android or other) will continue to drop towards mid- and even entry-level status on many models. Oh, and expect some demos of crazy next-gen display technology -- and some cool projectors, too.
Read more: 7 TV trends to expect at CES 2017
A sea of new laptops
For whatever reason, the CES show floor is nearly empty of PC vendors. But nearly all of the familiar brands piggyback on the show with offsite events, announcements and hotel suites in Vegas throughout CES week. Look for a cavalcade of new laptops and two-in-one laptop-tablet hybrids from the likes of Dell, Lenovo, Asus, Acer and HP, nearly all of which will be real-world products you'll be able to buy early in the new year.
You can also expect some more offbeat futuristic concepts (we're looking at you, Razer), as well as news and possible prototypes from chipmakers Intel and Qualcomm -- especially now that Microsoft has announced Windows 10 support for that latter company's ARM chips.
Chinese brands take the global spotlight
China has long been a manufacturing hub for the consumer electronics world, but the CES show floor has seen a rise of China-based brands in recent years, too. Look for companies such as Xiaomi, TCL, Hisense, LeEco and Huawei to use the spotlight of the CES show to give their brands a bigger halo as they look to further expand outside of their home market.
Preparing for Trump
In some ways, the CES show floor is really just a distraction from the real action of the show, which takes place in bars, restaurants, hotel suites and blackjack tables as companies wine and dine prospective clients, partners and -- yes -- journalists, swapping all manner of information both on and off the record.
And you can bet the main topic of conversation this year will be the incoming administration of Donald Trump, who takes office later this month. That means a huge swath of laws and regulations that directly affect the global tech industry -- everything from trade policy, tariffs, information security, network neutrality rules, tax policies, encryption, financial regulations and immigration, to name just a few -- could well be changing, some radically. Even if the pace and extent of the regulatory change is less than expected, however, companies need to brace for a new world in which a presidential tweet could send their stock price soaring -- or crashing.
Everything else we'll see at CES
Those are the highlights of what we expect to dominate CES week -- but hardly the only thing we'll see. You can also expect:
Talk of artificial intelligence, machine learning and computer vision. These won't be products, per se, but rather features that help make networked products "smarter" and more usable.
Virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality. Expect to see more products and services building on the mass-market acceptance and familiarity in this category that 2016 products like the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, PlayStation Now and Pokemon Go helped pioneer.
Robots -- both practical (think: Roomba) and fanciful (plenty of C-3PO-style proof of concepts and showpieces).
Plenty of drones, large and small.
A good deal of medical and health tech; think wearables, but with more diagnostic and professional applications.
More pet tech -- everything from automated feeders to self-cleaning litterboxes to cat and dog trackers to networked pet toys.
Headphones, speakers and audio. Wireless headphones and speakers are the new normal, but plenty of high-end audio vendors will showcase plenty of old-school audio gear that embraces wires -- with luxury price tags, to boot.
Accessories, dongles and cases of all shapes and sizes. How do those $10 Lightning cables and cigarette lighter adapters make it to every Walgreen's checkout line? Those are the types of deals that happen at CES.
Beyond Vegas: Later in January and beyond
Expect a comparably light news cycle at CES for gaming gear, cameras, phones and wearables. Sure, plenty of these things will be found on the show floor in one form or another, and you may even see a surprise high-profile product launch or two -- especially from those aforementioned Chinese brands that are looking to make a splash.
But companies in these categories are generally keeping their powder dry for more focused trade shows in the coming weeks, such as the CP+ camera show in Japan and Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, which happen in late February and early March, respectively.
But in the meantime, stay with CNET for complete CES 2017 coverage all week, followed immediately by Roadshow's in-depth reporting of the Detroit Auto Show.
Read more: CES 2017: CNET's complete coverage
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