Expectations for CES 2020

We look forward to the first show of the new year

In an end-of-year special edition, we predict some of the technology on display at CES 2020.

Key members of the CCS Insight team will be beginning 2020 in Las Vegas for CES, the year’s biggest consumer electronics event. CES 2020 takes place at the turn of a new decade, so we expect the show’s organizers will be keen to demonstrate its credentials as a hub of futuristic, exciting and innovative technology, and cement its place as the curtain-raiser for consumer technology each year.

This won’t be straightforward. High-profile names such as Intel, Qualcomm and Nvidia are reducing their presence at CES, or choosing not to exhibit at all. This immediately raises questions about the value that CES provides to such companies, and throws down a gauntlet: the show must prove that its hugely broad scope, from automotive to wearables and robotics, is still relevant in the face of competition from a range of smaller, more-focused events. Although the breadth of coverage has historically been a strength of CES, the technology landscape continues to expand, and trying to provide a useful and joined-up narrative to the show increasingly poses a problem.

Nevertheless, we expect to see a wide range of exciting new technology on show, and we’ll be on the ground to cover as much of it as possible. Ahead of the event, here are some of the major themes we expect to emerge from CES.

TVs to get bigger, brighter and sharper

TVs might be one of the most mature product categories on show at CES, yet the event is still a hotbed of announcements of the latest in visual technology. The current focus on streaming services means the battle to provide the best screen to view content on is shaping up to be fiercely contested.

This year, 8K TVs are tipped to take the show by storm, with many manufacturers fighting to prove their devices are best in class. Several devices hit the market in 2019, but they were hugely expensive, and struggled to make much of an impact. CES could see many newcomers join the 8K revolution, and the focus on ever-larger screens looks set to continue. Features such as HDMI 2.1 could also become more widespread, appealing to uses with demanding refresh rates, such as gaming.

5G and foldables dominate the smartphone conversation

The race for 5G dominance is likely to be a major theme in the smartphone world, where phone-makers and networks are striving to deploy the technology as effectively as possible. Recent announcements such as Qualcomm’s unveiling of the Snapdragon 765 chipset demonstrate that 5G will be coming to mid-tier devices very soon. The move to bring 5G connectivity to more devices will accelerate take-up of networks, so it seems inevitable that it will be a talking point at CES. However we caution that 5G could also emerge as a generic label used liberally by exhibitors at CES in a similar fashion to previous buzzwords like artificial intelligence or the Internet of things. Some exhibitors are sure to bandy about the term without clarifying the tangible benefits that 5G technology will offer.

Following the release of the Samsung Galaxy Fold in 2019 and the announcement of the new Motorola Razr, we’re expecting to see several new foldable devices teased at CES. The smartphone arena looks set to be the main battleground here. OnePlus has hinted at a mystery device labelled the Concept One and promising an alternative design, fuelling speculation about a first foldable device from the Chinese company.

However, the applications for folding screens reach beyond smartphones. We expect flexible display technology to make the leap from smartphones to a wide array of other consumer electronics devices and to shape device design over the next decade. Don’t be surprised to see a wide range of prototype devices with screens on every surface, for example smart speakers with displays wrapped around them.

Smart home to take centre stage

The smart home was the central theme at CES in 2019, with Amazon and Google both going to great lengths to demonstrate their credentials in this space. Myriads of smart devices were on display from an array of manufacturers, each showing how they worked with Alexa and Google’s Assistant. Rapid growth in the number and types of device on offer points to further expansion in the smart home market, and we witnessed similar levels of investment in the sector at the IFA electronics show in September 2019.

We predict the smart home market to be a significant battleground at CES once again; however, the big question is whether this market can scale. The vast proliferation of devices in 2019 was frankly overwhelming, and we don’t believe the market is large enough to support so many disparate players. Consolidation seems inevitable in the next few years despite the avalanche of smart home products we expect to be showcased at this year’s show.

Streaming services and content providers come to the fore

Over the past year, we’ve seen services and content continue to grow in importance for most of the biggest tech firms around the world. Examples include developments such as Apple TV+ and Arcade, Disney+ and Google Stadia, and CES looks set to provide a platform for further developments.

The agenda for the week includes representatives from American broadcasters including NBC and HBO, both of which intend to launch proprietary streaming services in 2020. Given the explosion in streaming content on numerous platforms, we believe that a wide range of other attendees beyond content providers will use CES to articulate the value they can add in the streaming world.

Automotive tech in the driving seat

In recent years, automotive technologies have grown their presence at CES, and with the North American International Auto Show now moving to a later date in the year, we expect the industry to focus even greater attention on CES. We expect to see developments in every area, including self-driving and connected cars, further integration of smart assistants, and possibly even flying cars, as Hyundai has stated it will have a “personal air vehicle” on show at CES. We expect that technologies including 5G, artificial intelligence and the Internet of things will also feature heavily in the auto space.

Wearables and VR may struggle for attention

Given the numerous areas that we expect to steal the limelight at CES, some others will inevitably be thrown into the shadows. We believe that wearables and virtual and augmented reality will again take a back seat. Although wearable technology has proved a hit in previous years, this market has produced little in the way of exciting news recently. Apple appears to have the smartwatch market sewn up, and it would be remarkable to see anything at CES that poses a challenge to this dominance.

Our consumer research has shown that there is consumer appetite for VR, but it would be a surprise to see any significant new developments in this area at CES. Several new headsets launched in the past year, which means we expect no significant updates at CES, and although Sony may tease the arrival of the PlayStation 5 and updated PlayStation VR, we expect almost no concrete details until the official unveiling later in 2020. Some consumer-grade smart glasses are likely to be showcased at CES, but we believe products with mainstream appeal remain a few years away.

Sustainability an omnipresent theme

The growing importance of green issues and climate change leads us to expect that sustainability and environmental credentials will be prominent themes at the show. As we have previously predicted, this is going to be an important topic for all technology companies in 2020 and beyond.

Expect to see all major players citing their efforts in this area as part of keynote presentations and briefings at the event.

Sex tech surges along with the usual wacky gadgets

One area we predict will gain more prominence is sex tech. This is thanks to the show’s organizers deciding to permit sex technology products in the health and wellness product category on a one-year trial basis. Although such technology has been available on the fringes of the show in the past, this is the first year these products will be officially welcomed onto the show floor.

We also expect the usual plethora of weird and wonderful gadgets to be showcased at CES 2020 by countless start-ups and small Chinese companies. The theme has become a staple of CES over the past few years, with all manner of bizarre devices on display, from artificial intelligence-powered toothbrushes and a smart display embedded in a wooden plank to “smart” connected toilets and more.

Look out for our regular reports from the show next week!