The 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas has drawn to a close and gone with it are the incredible exhibitions of technology trends that aim to make a major impact in the lives of consumers across the globe. Although official statistics will be released when the Consumer Electronics Association publishes its audit of the 2015 event later this spring, more than 3,200 exhibiting companies and 150,000 industry professionals attended the event held last week at the Las Vegas World Trade Center, the largest gathering of people and tech developers that the CES has yet seen.
Our coverage of last year’s CES brought us into close contact with many interesting areas of technological innovation which proved to be recurring themes in our coverage of inventions filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. This year’s event is no different as many growing trends were either unveiled or improved upon by many of the electronics companies attending, from major players like Sony and Samsung to small startups which are still trying to develop commercially successful flagship products. Improvements to 4K television, the Internet of Things and drones all made strong showings this year. Wearable tech and 3D printers may not have induced the same consumer craze as those other areas of innovation but some strong showings were experienced there as well.
4K Television Brings Ultra High Definition, Sling TV Threatens Cable
Televisions and streaming TV services are always a major focus in consumer electronics and the 2015 CES was no exception. Many major electronics manufacturers and broadcast providers brought forth some truly innovative products and services which may revolutionize what we view in our living rooms, from color quality to intriguing new services that may disrupt traditional cable even more than Netflix and Hulu already have.
This is not the first year that 4K television was on display at this industry event in Las Vegas; our coverage of the 2014 CES discusses advancements in 4K unveiled by Sony and others. This year featured a growing cast of players in the 4K TV sector, many of which have banded together to create the UHD Alliance, a corporate consortium of companies working to standardize Ultra High-Definition (UHD) technologies. Samsung, Sony, Netflix, DirecTV and Dolby are just a few of the members involved in that program.
Sony’s X900 C Series 4K television offers the incredibly high resolution that most manufacturers are pursuing along with the Android TV platform and voice search capability, At 0.2 inches wide, this model also bears the title of the thinnest 4K TV developed for consumer use. Of course, now that 4K has been around for a year or two, there are some electronics companies that are working to make that obsolete already. Sharp, whose Free Form Display technology for LCD screens was already featured in our coverage of automobile innovations at this year’s CES, also introduced the Aquos Beyond 4K Ultra HD TV, which has a maximum resolution of 7,680 pixels by 4,320 pixels. This resolution, which offers up to four times the sharpness in picture quality of other 4K TVs, contains about 42 million subpixels more than typical 4K TVs as well.
Perhaps the newest buzzword in television innovation being discussed by attendees and the media alike at this year’s CES was quantum dot technology. Quantum dots are nano-sized crystals that greatly increase the range of vivid colors that can be displayed on LED-backlit LCD televisions, which can’t easily replicate the color quality of plasma or organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays. The quantum dot crystal layer is disposed over the LCD layer to fine tune the picture that is displayed. Samsung, LG and TCL all introduced LCD televisions with quantum dot capabilities at this year’s event.
At a time when on-demand video streaming services have already been converting a large percentage of younger viewers away from the conventional cable television model, Dish Network promoted a new service called Sling TV that gives users access to broadcast content from major television providers like ESPN, TBS, TNT, Food Network and more. The subscription price is $20 per month and it would allow users to watch live broadcasts and on-demand content from those channels. Some have noted a lack of network TV available through the service, and competing programs from Verizon and Sony are coming on the horizon, but this does represent an intriguing and continuing shift away from traditional television models.
Internet of Things Continues Its Prominence at the Consumer Electronics Show
There is a fringe concept in computer science known as the Singularity, a point in time at which computer-based artificial intelligence becomes much more powerful than a human’s biological thought process. While that particular idea is still as futuristic and improbable as the flying car on The Jetsons, it does strike this writer that the Internet of Things (IoT), which again stole a lot of focus at the Consumer Electronics Show (read our coverage of last year’s IoT CES coverage here), seeks an interconnectedness among things that is at least reminiscent of the Singularity concept.
There were 900 exhibitors at the 2015 CES who introduced products and services in the Internet of Things sector; by 2020, the market for this industry alone is expected to rise to $7.1 trillion. Just about every conceivable consumer product was featured with IoT circuitry, from home appliances to bicycle pedals to tennis rackets. There were even light bulbs developed by Sengled which double as Bluetooth speakers and WiFi repeaters.
Corporate alliances within the Internet of Things sector have been growing in recent months. The Work With Nest developer program created by Google for its Nest home product connectivity platform announced an additional 15 partners in its program. Samsung has also been building up its SmartThings platform and Apple, which hasn’t presented at CES in more than two decades, has its HomeKit platform for which some CES exhibitors touted product compatibility. Interconnectivity is becoming more robust as well. In one example, owners of telephone products from Ooma, one of the Work With Nest partners, can receive alarm calls if Nest sensors detect carbon monoxide or smoke. It could also call a user if other Nest sensors don’t detect motion in the home during a time when children should be home from school, in another example.
These myriad platforms and protocols for IoT technologies has created its own obstacle in the way of further development of these products and services. Companies like Apple, Samsung and Google want to be the gatekeepers to the Internet of Things, and that has resulted in the creation of different communication protocols that are incompatible. Those corporations have been building some interesting coalitions but there will likely come a time when those alliances pose a boundary to future development in the Internet of Things.
A Dubious Showing for Wearables at the CES
We’ve focused on the rise of wearable tech here on IPWatchdog in recent months and the popular trend had a large following among exhibitors at the CES. Despite the incredible number of companies bringing forth wearable tech options, most came away from the event without the feeling that a true flagship product for the industry has been created yet.
True, smart watches have been a major area of research and development focus for many electronics companies. Withings unveiled an analog wristwatch which offers fitness tracking capabilities and a greater degree of fashion than bulky and sometimes boxy digital wrist displays. Some clones of the yet-to-be-released Apple Watch could also be found among the rabble.
There were some notable attempts at expanding the idea of wearable technology from wristwatches and fitness trackers into some intriguing new territories. Temp Traq presented an adhesive patch which can monitor a baby’s temperature once affixed to their skin to send temperature updates to a mobile device. There were also some smart shirts on display, such as the XelfleX technology developed by Cambridge Consultants which contains fiber optic sensors that can generate data to create 3D models of the movement of an athlete wearing XelfleX clothing.
Despite the incredible number and scope of wearable technologies at this year’s CES, there were those who felt that most of these ideas were more conceptual and not necessarily ready for commercialization. Perhaps this is because of the relative lack of functionality offered by those products. For a few hundred dollars, anyone can purchase a smartphone or tablet that can be configured to complete an incredible array of activities for both work and play. The Withings watch mentioned above was dropped to a retail price of about $150, but only tracks health and fitness data. The fashion of that particular watch may increase its intrinsic value, but not every electronics developer in this field has that development capacity.
More Buzzing About Drones, but Issues Abound
We’ll be touching on recent developments in drone technology in subsequent articles here on IPWatchdog but drones were enough of a feature of the 2015 CES that we wanted to devote a little space to those developments here. Smartphone app control and 4K image capture are just a few of the innovations profiled by 16 different drone manufacturers at this event.
Ranging in price from a few hundred dollars up to a few thousand dollars, there was a great range of drones on display at the CES. The Phantom 2 Vision+, created by DJI, retails for just over $1,000 and offers smartphone integration for control from an Android device or an iPhone. DJI’s software development kit (SDK) has been opened up to other companies who have been creating applications for drone fleet control, package delivery as well as search and rescue operations. Quadcopter drones and miniature units, which were displayed by Syma, Lifehawk and Hubsan, also garnered some attention.
As we discuss in our other drone coverage, regulatory issues continue to cast a pall over the possibilities of increased drone development. Obstacles posed by short battery life have also stymied some companies; many drones carry batteries holding a maximum charge which only supports about 15 minutes of flight time or less. However, some intriguing advancements for drone systems were also unveiled, such as a Qualcomm drone powered by its Snapdragon chip technology which supports depth perception in image capture.
3D Printers Making Everything from Fashion to Food
The development of 3D printing has the capacity to revolutionize an amazingly vast array of manufacturing, creating products as varied in scope and size as airplane wings to dental crowns. The Consumer Electronics Show this year may not have prominently featured 3D printing technologies but there’s enough activity to suggest potential growth in this field over the coming year.
One interesting development in the area of 3D printing announced at CES was a greater number of filaments that can be used to create products with certain printing systems. Typically, these systems utilize plastics that can be melted down and formed, layer by layer, into practical items. A lot of buzz was generated by the Proto-pasta product being promoted by Protoplant; this product utilizes magnetic iron or other conductive metals which could support the 3D printing of circuit boards. MakerBot, one of the major players currently in the 3D printing industry, announced its own development of filaments that can be used to replicate the look and feel of limestone, wood, bronze and more.
What companies were using 3D printers to create showcased the dramatic versatility of these systems for making any consumer product. Some firms were displaying clothing items created by their 3D printing systems and we noticed everything from dresses to outdoor hiking gear. The 3D printing of fashionable items and not just utilitarian clothing pieces was a major focus, as is evidenced by the number of high heeled shoes, purses and other formal wear on display.
Foodies might even rejoice (or rebel, depending on their perspective) at the development of 3D printed candies and other foods. At this year’s CES, 3D Systems unveiled its ChefJet series of 3D printers which can create a variety of snacks. Mostly, these are just small candies, so there’s no chance that we’ll be eating 3D printed osso buco any day soon. But it’s intriguing to note that the printing materials offered by 3D Systems for the ChefJet come in different flavors, such as watermelon, cherry, sour apple, chocolate and vanilla.
There are so many great things about the Consumer Electronics Show that make it an interesting topic for anyone interested in the state of technological innovation in our world. Make sure to check in with our various corporate patent profiles published in our Companies We Follow series throughout the year to see how these trends will continue to develop in the coming months.