Every year, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) brings us countless new products. Of course, most of them don’t matter or even make it to market. Most of them are just, like, shoe polishers with 3D glasses and Netflix support. But look closely and there are always gems hidden among the thousands of products that launch during this one week in Las Vegas.
Here are my picks for the best products, and ideas, at CES 2018. (See my worst picks here.)
Seeing Better With Augmented Reality
A prototype out of Samsung’s Creative “C-Lab,” the Relúmĭno smart glasses are an augmented reality headset aimed not at checking your emails in your eyeballs but at improving accessibility to the world around you. Designed for people with impaired vision, the glasses add outlines to objects to make them more discernible, and they can also automatically invert colors (like black text on white paper, to white text on black paper) to make printed words more legible. It’s my favorite accessibility project of CES, though this emergency airbag belt to prevent senior hip injuries came close.
Takeaway: AR’s earliest killer apps may be about accessibility, not connectivity.
Self-Driving Stores On Wheels
Autonomous vehicles won’t just change the way we commute; they could change the way we shop, eat, and party, too. That’s the idea behind the E-Palette, an autonomous, electric vehicle being developed by Toyota. It’s essentially a room on wheels that could serve a variety of purposes. But just what might those purposes be? You might take a cue from some of Toyota’s big-name partners on the project: Uber, Amazon, and Pizza Hut. In other words: everything and anything. The e-Palette will debut at the 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo, but going mainstream will likely take a lot longer.
Takeaway: Big auto is thinking about autonomous vehicles in ways that could reshape cities altogether.
Displays That Disappear
Displays–whether TV screens or digital ads–are eyesores. They’re black boxes that are omnipresent in our lives, no matter when or where we are. Manufacturers know that, though, and they smell an opportunity in making those displays disappear.
At CES, LG debuted a 65-inch OLED TV that literally rolls up like a scroll. The demo required a spooling mechanism that the company hid under a white box, but imagine the possibility of rolling your TV down into your media cabinet at night. Or even better, what if you could carry a display with you, like a blueprint, and unroll it anywhere at will? Meanwhile, Sony debuted an ultra short throw projector–that’s a projector that sits right next to the wall it projects upon–that’s simply jaw-dropping by all accounts. Projecting an image as large as 120 inches at 4K resolution, I like that its form factor is that of a side table that can hide in the corner of your room.
Takeaway: Even flat screens will feel obtrusive soon.
A Smartphone . . . Laptop
Earlier this year, the world gasped at an Apple patent for the ultimate iPhone dock–an entire laptop. You’d stick your phone in where the trackpad goes, and it would serve as the brain (and the trackpad) for the empty shell. Now the company Razer, well-known for its wild designs including three-screened laptops, is building just such a gadget called Project Linda. It’s a laptop that runs on a Razer smartphone–and unfortunately, it’s just a concept for now.
Takeaway: Smartphones and laptops still haven’t converged as one usable platform . . . but that’s not stopping the industry from trying and trying again.
Good Standalone VR Headsets Are Coming
HTC debuted a wireless Vive headset at CES. That’s exciting, but you still need a powerful PC to run it. What’s more exciting is that Google also showed off a completely standalone Daydream headset it developed with Lenovo called the Mirage. It’s right in line with the $199 standalone Oculus Go headset that Facebook and Xiaomi teased earlier this year. Details are limited on the Go, but we know the Mirage will have 6DOF tracking. What’s that mean? It means you get full VR immersion in XYZ space. Basically, it’s the good VR, and it’s been limited to room-sized rigs until now.
Takeaway: The hype around VR may seem like it burned out early, but don’t underestimate its potential once the UX of getting inside VR is solved. And it will be shortly.
A Wearable You Might Really Wear
“Wearables.” It’s a word that gives me shivers. But at CES L’Oreal, alongside MC10 and Fuseproject, debuted a landmark wearable product–nail art, actually–called the UV Sense. It’s the size of one of those button candies, and it sticks onto your nail to measure UV hitting your body. Not only is it tiny, it doesn’t need a battery to sense the sun or talk to your computer. And that’s all possible because it’s just a simple sensor, and not much more.
Takeaway: The Apple Watch wanted to do everything. But maybe wearables will be unbundled as discrete sensors that track very specific concerns.
Inclusive Mannequins Take Shape
People come in every shape and size, but mannequins–the tool the fashion industry uses to design clothes–tend to be static forms. Now a startup called Euveka has developed a mannequin that can be reshaped in seconds, with features like broader shoulders and narrower hips. The mechanisms at play aren’t entirely clear–it seems to be liquid or air pressure driving the system–but for designers of any garment, the leasable Euveka systems seem like a great way to craft clothes, or technologies, that truly fit anyone.
Takeaway: Innovation will continue to happen around people, not in spite of them.
Plugging in your phone and other gadgets both small and large may soon be a thing of a past. Why now? For a long time, the wireless charging industry has been split between two competing and incompatible standards. Following Apple choosing a side with one–Qi–with the iPhone X, a major manufacturer called Powermat gave up and joined the Qi standard at last at CES. Such consolidation will incentivize more companies, from phone makers to peripheral designers, to support charging through contact with a base station alone. No wires.
And perhaps even more excitingly in the long term, a company called Energous promised to beam energy to devices like laptops up to three feet away–no base needed. The company just got FCC clearance for its first product at the start of CES.
Takeaway: Wires tether much of our gadgets today. But we’ll be able to unplug, at least a little bit more frequently, soon.