Five Trends from CES 2016

With CES over for another year, Crowd DNA creative delivery exec and self-confessed tech addict Tom Eccles takes a look at five key trends coming out of this year's show...

In the world of technology, January means one thing: CES. The Consumer Electronics Show, now in its 48th year, is a showcase of everything up-and-coming in tech, ranging from the regular (televisions, headphones and computers) to the not-so-regular (autonomous vehicles, drones and virtual reality). It is a seemingly endless few days of product launches, demonstrations and conferences. Here’s a look at five key trends coming out of this year’s show.

Virtual reality finally takes off

After being on the horizon for years, it seems like 2016 will be the year that VR finally takes off. Oculus, having launched on Kickstarter back in 2012 before being snapped up by Facebook for $2bn, has finally announced the start of pre-orders for its Oculus Rift VR headset. The goggles go on sale in April, and retail for a hefty $599 – probably out of reach of the mainstream consumer, but an unmistakable step forward for the technology. Along with it comes a raft of competitors: namely the HTC Vive, and the PlayStation VR – both planned to launch this year.

As the technology powering VR moves forward, so too do the applications it is used for. While the most obvious application is gaming, VR is beginning to expand to other realms such as education and retail. Audi, for example, plans to outfit dealerships with VR headsets, allowing potential buyers to virtually customise and explore any Audi model to their liking.

Wearables MK2

Rewind to last year’s CES, and wearables were all the rage. It was the year of the long-awaited Apple Watch, the year wearables would finally grow up and be adopted into the mainstream. Initial releases, however, fell short of expectations. This year, tech innovators have moved towards single-application devices, designed to do just one thing – and do it well.

New products include the Digitsole, a shoe that houses an in-built fitness tracker, and the Samsung Welt – a digital belt designed to detect bloating, and warn of your impending weight gain. Wisewear’s SOS bracelet turns an innocent looking bracelet into a personal attack alarm, with a double tap sending a distress signal and GPS location to a friend via text message.

Game of drones

Drone tech reached new heights at this year’s CES. From the carbon fibre Yuneec Typhoon, equipped with a 4K camera, to the world’s smallest and lightest drone – the Mota JetJat Nano – drones are clearly well on their way towards the mass market. As drones become smaller and more affordable, they also become more advanced – able to automatically follow owners for the ultimate in-action selfie, avoid impending obstacles, and keep out of restricted areas.

Not content with drones only being used for aerial photography and small deliveries, Chinese company EHang became the first to unveil a drone capable of carrying human cargo. Equipped with in-built 4G WiFi and air-conditioning, the EHang 184 can hold one person and fly anywhere within a 23-minute radius. The passenger simply inputs their destination into the onboard tablet, before being whisked away. The EHang 184 could be yours, for only $300,000.

Connected automobiles

Despite only exhibiting at CES since 2007, auto manufacturers have taken the show by storm – demonstrating the continuing convergence between vehicles and technology. With a 200-mile range, and a relatively cheap $30,000 price tag, the Chevy Bolt could be the electric car to finally break through. BMW’s Air Touch allows drivers to control their vehicle’s infotainment system using gestures, while Ford demonstrated integration with Amazon’s Echo voice recognition – allowing drivers to issue voice commands such as “close the garage door”.

The journey towards driverless cars was also centre stage at CES. General Motors announced a $500m investment in ride sharing service Lyft to create a network of driverless cars, while Kia took to the stage to promise a fully-autonomous vehicle by 2030.

Smarter homes

The ‘Internet of Things’ has long promised a home full of connected devices, from fridges that automatically replenish food, to intelligent thermostats that adjust the temperature based on your proximity to the home. Despite an apparent lack of consumer appetite for such products, manufacturers unveiled a raft of new connected devices at CES. With Samsung’s new smart fridge, you can view inside the fridge remotely – allowing users to check the contents while in the supermarket. It can even alert you to food about to pass its expiry date.

Other smart home devices are simply improvements on already existing products. The Netatmo Presence is a connected outdoor security camera. Where it differs from competitors is a smart algorithm enabling the camera to distinguish between people, cars and animals.

If anything, the latest CES shows us that 2016 will be a year of refinement, rather than brand new innovations. It will be the year that long promised tech, such as virtual reality, finally delivers – while the quest for an all-in-one wearable will be parked in favour of multiple devices, each focusing on one function. Drones, having finally become affordable in 2015, will continue their flight towards mass market adoption; meanwhile, our cars and homes are both gradually becoming smarter, promising to interact with each other and respond in ways previously only seen in science fiction.