Every January, thousands of companies, journalists, and analysts from around the world descend upon Las Vegas for CES, the annual tech trade show that’s been around since 1967.
But don’t expect to see the most popular tech gadgets of the year at CES, like the newest iPhone or Samsung Galaxy phone. Companies like Apple, Google, and Samsung usually hold their own events for such unveils.
Although CES is full of product announcements, the show is generally considered to be a venue for observing the important trends that will define the coming year and those ahead.
“It’s a great place to spot trends and see which ecosystems are growing,” said Avi Greengart, founder and lead analyst at technology research firm Techsponential.
In recent years, CES has been flooded with new connected home appliances that can respond to your voice, funky robots, futuristic cars, and dazzling TVs. That’s expected to continue in 2020, although the show floor will provide a closer look at which companies are tackling these industries and how they’re doing so.
As the same trends surface year-after-year, the announcements made at CES can feel more iterative than revolutionary. But such steps are still very important for moving the industry forward, said Tuong Nguyen, a senior principal research analyst for market research firm Gartner.
“They’re stepping stones to something greater,” he said.
Here’s a look at what to expect from CES 2020, which officially starts on January 7 and runs through January 10.
More TVs with 8K resolution and micro LED displays
Eye-popping TVs from Samsung, Sony, LG, and other companies have dominated CES in recent years, like Samsung’s modular micro-LED set known as “The Wall” and LG’s TV that rolls up like a sheet of paper.
CES 2020 is expected to be no different, and technologies like 8K resolution screens and micro LED displays are expected to make a big appearance at the show.
Micro LED is a relatively new type of screen technology that’s designed to offer the benefits of organic light-emitting diode displays (OLED), such as great contrast and deep blacks, but at a less-expensive price. And 8K is the next evolution of 4K, which has become the standard for ultra-high-definition TVs.
TVs with technologies like micro LED and 8K resolution aren’t new to CES, but analysts predict that we’ll continue to see such trends persist and become available at lower price points.
“8K was really something to show off as the most expensive thing you could get,” said Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst at market research firm Moor Insights & Strategy. “You’ll start to see 8K become more popularized.”
Self-driving car technology, connected vehicles, and more electric scooters and bikes
There’s likely to be no shortage of auto industry announcements at CES in 2020, as companies such as Hyundai, Toyota, and Byton, among others, have scheduled press events set to take place during the week.
At this year’s show, we’re likely to see demos involving 5G connectivity and how the next-generation wireless network will impact the connected car experience, according to Greengart. There’s also a chance we’ll see more automakers bringing Level 2 self-driving systems to their premium vehicle lines, says Moorhead.
Level 2 refers to partially automated autopilot systems that can steer, accelerate, and brake in certain situations but still require a driver for tasks like responding to traffic lights and changing lanes. That’s as defined by standards from SAE International, a global association of engineers and technical experts in the aerospace, automotive, and commercial vehicle industries.
It’s not just carmakers that are expected to establish a big presence at CES in 2020. The show is likely to be filled with plenty of micro-mobility vehicles, like electric bikes and skateboards. That’s not necessarily a new trend to CES 2020; electric scooters and skateboards have surfaced at the show over the past several years. But we’re likely to see that only grow in 2020, says Greengart.
“Often times, CES is where you see the efforts of a technology and how it’s making its way into the market,” said Greengart. “So in this case, it’s the ubiquity of battery technologies and applying that to small electric motors.”
More companies trying to challenge Apple’s dominance in the wearables industry
Apple may be the leader of the wearable technology industry, but a growing number of competitors will be looking to challenge that at CES.
“The entire industry is trying to figure out, how do they compete with Apple,” said Moorhead. “Apple is more expensive yet it has the unit market share dominance, and that’s kind of unheard of.”
The popularity of Apple’s AirPods combined with new technology like Qualcomm’s system-on-a-chip for wireless earbuds will likely fuel growth in this area at CES, says Greengart. Qualcomm’s chip, which it announced last year, is designed to help companies quickly and easily develop small, wearable Bluetooth devices.
“I’m expecting literally dozens of wireless earbuds to try to compete with Apple at the show,” Greengart said. “I think this is probably peak wireless earbud year.”
Other than AirPod-like wireless earbuds, we’ll probably see plenty of health and wellness-oriented wearable gadgets as well — another trend that’s persisted at CES over the past several years.
Wearable devices that can measure a user’s caloric intake in addition to metrics like sleep and exercise could make an appearance on the show floor, says Moorhead, while Greengart added that we may see new devices that are meant to help those with hearing impairments but resemble everyday earbuds.
Google, Amazon, and Samsung will continue battling over the smart home
One of the biggest themes at CES in recent years has been the addition of voice-controlled assistants from Amazon and Google in just about everything — from your washing machine to your oven and television.
As voice assistants have become a stronger force at the show, companies like Amazon and Google — which traditionally haven’t had a huge presence at CES in years past — have slowly started to become the main attraction. Google even set up its own theme park ride at last year’s show to draw attention to its own digital helper, the Google Assistant.
“If you can put Alexa in it, you will,” said Greengart. “That’s definitely been a huge trend, and we’re going to continue to see that.”
Amazon’s dominance in this space is especially important because it essentially defines their presence in the consumer technology industry, as Moorhead notes. Amazon, unlike Google, Apple, and Samsung, doesn’t have a presence in the smartphone or PC market.
“What Amazon really wants is that lock into an ecosystem,” Moorhead said.
But above all else, CES is exactly what its original name implies — a show
CES typically serves as a hype machine for companies large and small, whether it’s the Amazons and Googles of the world or small accessory makers, to flaunt their products and show the world where they’re investing their time and resources.
In 2020, the industry happens to be in the middle of a cycle as it transitions to whatever the next major breakthrough may be, much like the transition from feature phones to modern smartphones. according to Nguyen.
What that next big thing will be is unclear — many companies have shown interest in augmented reality glasses and other wearable gadgets. But whatever it is, that breakthrough isn’t likely to arrive in 2020, says Nguyen.
“I think it will be a while, at least a couple of more years, before we see that next big thing that consumers will adopt in mass,” he said.