Another year of the Consumer Electronics Show has come to an end, and it was an odd one: The weeks before were filled with cancellations from Omicron, leaving the show floor virtually empty. The keynote presentations lacked the usual spectacle; the splendor was overshadowed by the circumstance.
Nevertheless, I found myself surprised to realize that CES 2022 was a slightly better than average year for the show. No industry-shaking products had been announced and shipped — but that hardly ever happens at CES, and the expectation that it should have always been misplaced.
Instead, we saw some really good improvements in technology that will actually ship, which isn’t always the case at CES. Here are just a few of my favorites:
Dell’s XPS 13 Plus is a bold (perhaps too bold) reinvention of a classic laptop design. It’s a shame the company has mixed some interesting ideas with an obviously bad one: dropping the headphone jack.
AMD and Intel both had chip announcements that should lead to solid computers (although an M1 level revolution is not yet on the table for PCs).
- The smart home ecosystem is gearing up for a big year with more ambitious products designed to actually work with the new Matter standard.
- There is a curved monitor that you can rotate 90 degrees so that it floats over your head.
- A home robot that could be really helpful as it doesn’t try to do anything too futuristic, but just offers the service to help people with mobility issues transport stuff.
- New Quantum Dot OLED tech that should make OLED displays much brighter – plus there’s Sony’s CES intrigue announcing a TV with a Samsung-made panel before Samsung announced a TV of its own.
- A portable projector that solves the real hassle of portable projectors. It was almost as if the product manager used these types of products and understood their problems.
- A Chromebook that fits into the high-end spot that’s been frustratingly empty for about two years now.
Then there are the things that will probably never ship, but are worth examining as the concepts they are. Not because they’re inspiring examples of hashtag innovation, but because they reveal the identity of consumer technology: companies that would like you to believe they’re innovative and eco-friendly, and have multi-year roadmaps that are really realistic.
I am, of course, talking about electric cars. CES is as much a car show as it is a gadget show – and the cars are all gadgets now anyway.
There was one concept car that was just unabashedly fun because it was cool and no one pretended it was going to be a real product. That would be BMW’s use of E Ink on the body panels of an iX to give it the ability to change from black to white at the push of a button.
But we are in a strange time where every automaker has to seriously project that they are switching to electric, but most of them have yet to deliver electric vehicles on a meaningful scale. Which means CES 2022 was filled with more than the usual share of concept cars and wafer-thin promises made in [insert year here], the company will be all-electric.
So I’m obviously put off by the concept cars this year – but I also have a bit of sympathy because at this precise moment supply chain problems make ramping up something new difficult. CES is the place to be for a tech hype, so it’s not surprising that car companies are getting involved. But when the hyped technology is a category of devices that could be an essential part of eliminating our use of fossil fuels, my sympathy doesn’t go as far as it otherwise would. We need EVs are real and ubiquitous, so looking at concepts that are likely vaporware stings more than if it were a fancy monitor or some weird pretend robot.
But look away from the concept cars (except E Ink’s – that one is still cool). There were plenty of pedestrian laptops, wearables and various other gadgets that are sure to come out this year and certainly seem to be improvements over what came before. Nothing worthy of their own keynotes, but all in all, quite a distance for a weird year at CES.
Here’s a representative example: one of the staff’s favorite announcements here on The edge was LG’s 42-inch OLED TV. We loved it not because it was a huge TV, the size of a wall, but because it was small and handy. It fills a gap that needed to be filled – a TV with excellent picture quality that works in a smaller room (or, alternatively, a potentially cool gaming monitor option).
Here’s another one: L’Oréal has created a hair gadget that combines a paint pattern with a vibrating bristle brush. It handles the amount of dye and makes application much easier. It is not enabled for Wi-Fi. There is no app. It does not support Bluetooth. It seems great partly because it lacks those things — and the time that would have been lost building that technology was instead spent designing it for its real purpose.
That’s what I mean when I say it’s been a pretty good year for CES. There were more gadgets this year that seemed more useful, making the vaporware easier to ignore. Practical: what a concept.