CES 2020: 6 things that will dominate this year's show

From new devices to health boosts to cord cutting to securing your privacy, tech has new stuff to convince you it can make your life better.

Jason Hiner VP of Content, CNET Labs; Editor in Chief, ZDNET
Jason is Vice President of Content for CNET Labs and the Editor in Chief of ZDNET. From CNET's world-class testing facilities, the CNET Labs team designs tests to quantify the best products worth buying.
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Jason Hiner
5 min read
CES welcome arch
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CES 2020 will do what CES always does best -- preview future products and reveal the trends that will shape the year ahead in tech. Of course, some of the products that make headlines at CES are sneak peeks at real products, while others are more like concept cars that may never come to market. We expect to see plenty of new concepts, prototypes and experimental flights of fancy at CES 2020 -- including ideas about what your future phones and computers could look like. 

Watch this: CES 2020 preview: Surprise booths, slim screens and smart home everywhere

But CES also gives us a bigger picture of how the tectonic plates are moving in the tech industry, and the new ways technology is going to improve, encroach on and transform our lives. Over the past month, the CNET team has been diving deep on a lot of the stuff that's coming at CES 2020, so we've got a good sense of trends that will dominate this year's show. 

Here are the big six.

1. Services

The tech industry doubled-down on services in 2019. While Apple and Disney led the charge with services that grabbed a lot of the headlines, there was a broader expansion of services across the industry and a lot of new mojo in startups focused around services. 

There are now services that will deliver food from restaurants, send you meal kits you can cook yourself, ship you new clothes to try, help you meditate, find you a ride, protect your security and privacy online and a lot more. Because services and subscriptions are a much more sustainable business model than physical products, look for them to pop up in almost every category in tech and in new ones we never knew we needed -- and probably don't. And yes, this will make subscription fatigue a bigger issue than ever for consumers.

Read more: All the trends we expect to see in subscriptions and services at CES 2020

2. Ambient computing

This is a very jargon-y name for the idea that technology is blending into our lives in more subtle ways. Think of it like this. Two decades ago, the way we dealt with technology and the online world was by sitting down at a mouse, keyboard and monitor. A decade ago, the smartphone put most of it in our pockets. Now, it's moving beyond our computers and phones. 

This is where voice assistants like Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant come in. It's also where new air gestures like the ones with the new Google's Nest Hub Max show up. And it's also where technology like UltraSense -- which could make a splash at CES -- could turn all kinds of traditional surfaces into touchscreens. Ultimately, our homes, cars and offices will become smart in new ways, so that we're not glued to our devices so much. And wearable technology such as smartwatches and connected clothing will certainly have their say in this trend.

Read more: Google is poised to make another blitz at CES 2020

3. Health and wellness

The fastest-expanding category at CES in recent years has been health, fitness and wellness. Once scattered across the sea of different pavilions at CES, this category now takes up nearly half of Tech West -- where most of the newest and most innovative vendors make their pitch. It features technology to help you eat better, sleep better, exercise more efficiently, monitor your health better and a ton of other new takes on health and wellness. There are bands that claim to track how many calories you take in (rather than logging your meals) and mini bikes to help kids stay fit while playing video games

The bottom line is that after years of arguably making us less healthy by getting us addicted to more and more screens in our lives, these health and wellness products are trying to reverse the course of the past decade by using tech to fight tech.

Read more: How CES keeps gadget enthusiasm going amid the backlash against Silicon Valley


The Peleton Tread (read CNET's review).

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

4. Privacy and security

Plenty of tech analysts and pundits have been raising red flags for years about the ways tech companies have been running wild with user data and not doing enough to keep us secure on their platforms. Consumers mostly ignored them. But we seemed to have reached a tipping point where enough people are paying attention to privacy and security that companies such as Apple, Google , Amazon , Facebook, Twitter and others are jockeying with each other to show you how they're protecting your data, keeping you secure from hackers and integrating digital wellness features to give you peace of mind. 

Yes, much of it is marketing and spin. But, at CES 2020, look for it to have an impact on the way all tech vendors now market their products -- because it's not only consumers who are taking notice. More and more governments, including the US, are expected to come after big tech in 2020 and put it under greater regulatory scrutiny. Tech companies want to look like they're starting to clean up their own act.

Read more: At CES 2020, surveillance tech will find a prime spot to make its pitch

5. Streaming and cord cutting

CES has transformed over the past decade to include a lot more stuff -- from cars to exercise machines to home products. Still, the heart of the show remains TVs . That's confirmed by the fact that Samsung remains the biggest, flashiest and best-known booth at the show. (See Shara Tibken's preview of what Samsung has in store for CES 2020.) But what we watch on those TVs and the way we watch it has been revolutionized by Netflix, YouTube, Hulu , Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus and other streaming services -- along with streaming boxes such as Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV.

Two of the eight keynotes at CES 2020 are being headlined by streaming services -- Quibi and NBC Universal, which is expected to focus on its Peacock streaming service that launches this spring.

Read more: What to expect from the TVs of CES 2020... bigger, brighter and 8K-er


Disney Plus (read CNET's review).

Disney/Screenshot by Morgan Little/CNET

6. 5G scenarios

While most of the 5G announcements and excitement will be targeted for Mobile World Congress in Barcelona at the end of February, there's no way that 5G won't elbow its way into CES. It doesn't hurt that AT&T just launched its low-band 5G network in Las Vegas in recent weeks, so there will actually be real-world 5G phones in use by CES attendees (T-Mobile also has some 5G in the city). The focus at CES will likely be on the everyday scenarios that are going to be changing because of 5G -- everything from video movie posters to new ways of newsgathering that will change the stories of the future, to driverless cars to mobile entertainment to true augmented reality that can overlay the world with online information.

And naturally, there will be some civilization-level examples of the way 5G will usher in new eras in health care, transportation, energy and public safety -- but most of those are still years away after 5G becomes more viable and widespread.

Read moreExpect more killer cameras, 5G and foldable screens from phones in 2020

What 5G can do for you besides fast phone downloads

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