CES2016: What we expect

With the show just around the corner, it’s time to talk about what to expect at the International Consumer Electronics Show this year. Since bouncing back from recession-era lows, the show has grown totally out of control. Last year it was common to find 45-minute wait times at the taxi stand — and keep in mind this was with free buses and public transportation just steps away. The exhibit space grew to the entire convention center, the adjoining no-longer-Las-Vegas-Hilton hotel, plus the Venetian, Sands Expo Center and the Aria. Walking the entire show would have taken longer than the show was actually in session.

This year the show is inexplicably bigger in size, now encompassing the Wynn and Encore, but most folks will probably skip the Aria’s “Tech South” space and opt to stay in the Convention Center’s “Tech East” and Venetian’s “Tech West” hubs. With so much to see, I’m glad the show’s organizers have done a better job of clustering together the things that I really want to look at.

While I do expect there will be a huge splashy space devoted to large TVs, these products hardly carry the excitement level they did in 2006. There will still be focus because big TVs look fun and interesting, but since 2015 was dominated by lower-end TVs and most of CES2015’s TVs never made it to US stores, a certain amount of cynicism should be expected.

Look for a strong focus on mobile of course, as Samsung no doubt will roll out new products designed to jumpstart flagging sales. They won’t be helped much by CES, though, as the show is now featuring more Apple-centric products than ever before in response to improved iPhone sales. There will of course be other mobile manufacturers there who want to convince you that they matter too, but let’s be honest: they don’t. HTC, once the darling of the avant-garde techie, isn’t even showing up under their own name, and it’s possible 2016 will mark the last time we really talk about this prominent brand.

I do expect another lame attempt to make me care about wearables, but since it’s pretty obvious that wearables, like fetch, are just not going to happen. They’ll be around, but they won’t be the next big thing, probably not ever. The big story this year will probably revolve around small drones and so-called “hoverboards.” With drones expected to be regulated by the FAA by the end of 2016, this is the last big push for the big makers to sell stuff without forcing their buyers to get licenses. In the meantime, the tiniest of all the drones are not expected to require licenses and they’ve gotten both safer and more durable. Last year there were several manufacturers flying them in the hall and I think there will be about twice as many.

With 802.11ac finally coming into its own in 2015, I expect we’ll see even more products in the AC1900 and higher speed range, at really exciting prices. I also expect more routers to go “tall” not “wide” as you really do need a certain amount of size for those MIMO antennas and the 2015 crop of routers were all about twice the size of the 2014 models owing to that. Changing the form factor to make the routers taller should help.

3D printers, while huge two years ago, seem to have stalled in the marketplace until the quality improves and the price drops significantly. I don’t expect a lot of interest there.

Finally, there’s been a lot of interest in small robotics of all types and I expect to see more robot toys than ever this year. While electronics-based toys have always been a strong part of the landscape, I think there’s been a real improvement in robotics for younger folks, both programmable and non-programmable, and I think we’re edging ever closer to the idea where the kid’s teddy bear can also be its babysitter. New toys will start moving in that direction.

If you’re going to be at CES2016, leave a comment below if you’re interested in writing about what you see — I know it would be great to get another perspective!