Forg­ing deeper con­nec­tions

Event gives glimpse of what con­sumers may ex­pect from elec­tron­ics

Orlando Sentinel - - BUSINESS - By Brian X. Chen

LAS VE­GAS — Like it or not, the fu­ture is con­nected.

Your next car will prob­a­bly con­nect to the in­ter­net. So will your TV and door­knobs. One day, you may even adopt a ro­bot com­pan­ion ca­pa­ble of an­a­lyz­ing its en­vi­ron­ment and re­act­ing to your ac­tions in real time.

That fu­ture, or at least a glim­mer of it, was on dis­play at CES, the gi­ant con­sumer elec­tron­ics trade show that at­tracted more than 170,000 at­ten­dees here last week.

This year’s an­nual event fea­tured more than 4,500 ex­hibitors, in­clud­ing tech com­pa­nies big and small from all over the world, and sprawled across 2.9 mil­lion square feet at the Las Ve­gas Con­ven­tion Cen­ter and other venues around town.

The con­fer­ence was a win­dow into where the in­dus­try is pour­ing huge amounts of re­sources and in­vest­ment, hop­ing that the year’s hottest tech trends — like ar­ti­fi­cially in­tel­li­gent vir­tual as­sis­tants, con­nected cars and fold­able screens — will be­come everyday fix­tures in our lives.

The enor­mous con­fer­ence was also an op­por­tu­nity for tech ob­servers to make pre­dic­tions about the in­no­va­tions that might be­come pop­u­lar and the gad­gets that will prob­a­bly flop in the com­ing years.

Among the ques­tion­able tech trends were fold­able screens, demon­strated by TCL, Len­ovo and Dell, among oth­ers. Len­ovo showed its ThinkPad X1 Fold, a Win­dows fold­able tablet. Un­folded, it mea­sured about 13 di­ag­o­nal inches, and folded up, it looked com­pact like a book.

Not ev­ery­one is op­ti­mistic about fold­able screens. Frank Gil­lett, a tech­nol­ogy an­a­lyst for For­rester Re­search, pre­dicted that fold­able de­vices would be un­pop­u­lar, largely be­cause of their high price tags and lim­ited use cases.

Case in point: Sam­sung’s Galaxy Fold, its first fold­able smart­phone priced at nearly $2,000, was a fail­ure af­ter early re­ports of the de­vice break­ing af­ter light use. Len­ovo’s X1 Fold will cost about $2,500 when it ar­rives this year.

“Fold­ables — the pun is too tempt­ing — will be a flop,” Gil­lett said.

Ama­zon and Google were among the big­gest play­ers at CES, each boast­ing about how awe­some their per­sonal as­sis­tants were.

Google said its vir­tual as­sis­tant is now used by more than 500 mil­lion peo­ple a month across more than 90 coun­tries.

Last year, Ama­zon’s Alexa-pow­ered Echo speak­ers dom­i­nated the global smart speaker mar­ket with about a 25% share, ahead of Baidu and Google, ac­cord­ing to Canalys, a re­search firm. And the mar­ket for smart speak­ers keeps grow­ing.

It is still un­clear, how­ever, whether con­sumers want to do much with vir­tual as­sis­tants as they con­tinue to get smarter. Stud­ies have shown that peo­ple mostly use Alexa and Google As­sis­tant for ba­sic tasks.

Still, Dave Limp, Ama­zon’s head of hard­ware de­vices, was bullish.

“Cus­tomers in­ter­act with Alexa bil­lions of times a week,” he said. “Even one of many things that they’re do­ing can add up to be a pretty big thing.”

Self-driv­ing cars are still far from fruition, but tech com­pa­nies high­lighted fea­tures that could help peo­ple drive more safely.

Sam­sung showed a car with its Exynos Auto V9 com­put­ing pro­ces­sor, which can run ap­pli­ca­tions on mul­ti­ple screens and pull in­for­ma­tion from up to 12 cam­eras. The sys­tem was de­signed to si­mul­ta­ne­ously pro­vide en­ter­tain­ment to back-seat pas­sen­gers while pro­vid­ing safety-as­sis­tance apps to driv­ers, the com­pany said.

ROBYN BECK/GETTY-AFP

At­ten­dees at the 2020 CES in Las Ve­gas ex­pe­ri­ence the LG OLED Wave made up of hun­dreds of 55-inch dig­i­tal screens.

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