No surprises as TV and AI dominate
The world's largest consumer technology trade show, CES, took place in the city of Las Vegas, Nevada, last week.
The annual event, a bellwether of the world's major technology trends for the year ahead, attracted more than 3,800 exhibitors from over 150 countries who showed off their latest wares to over 175,000 attendees.
The Straits Times Digital team was there to look at what dominated the show, with TV technology and artificial intelligence (AI) the clear leaders.
Wearables showing no sign of being worn out
Despite the wearables market not doing as well as analysts expected, there were still many vendors on the floor showing off their latest smartwatches and fitness trackers.
Fossil Group announced that it will be releasing more than 300 smartwatches this year. During the show, Fossil showcased many smartwatches from brands such as Misfit, Michael Kors, Armani Exchange and Skagen, which the company owns or is partnering.
Garmin introduced its Fenix 5 series of GPS-enabled running smartwatches. The series comes in three models - the Fenix 5, 5s and 5X - with three different sizes. The Fenix 5X has an additional navigation function built in.
Casio unveiled its WSD-F20 Android Wear smartwatch during the show, while running-shoe maker New Balance announced its RunIQ Android Wear smartwatch.
Fitness-tracker market leader Fitbit did not reveal any new products at this CES. Instead, it launched the Fitstar Personal Trainer app that is aimed at enhancing the guided workout journey for users.
There were many start-ups that showed off the more unusual wearables like fitness-tracking rings and belts. There were also those which showed off smart shoes. However, we are not sure if we will see any of these smart wearables in the market any time soon.
That said, there is at least one company - sports-apparel giant Under Armour (UA) - which has been following up with its announcements. At last year's CES, UA announced one smart shoe model. This year, it launched three such models to cater to different running styles. Maybe Nike and Adidas should start thinking of coming up with something similar?
Autonomous-driving race among carmakers
There is a running joke among tech journalists that CES now stands for Car Electronics Show. Every year, carmakers will show off their concept car or some concept-car technology at CES.
This year, though, we have something slightly more substantial. The electric car start-up Faraday Future finally unveiled, at the show, its first production vehicle, the FF91. The all-electric crossover-style car has 1,050 horsepower that enables it to go from zero to 100 kmh in a mere 2.39sec.
But, given Faraday Future's troubled past, we will not be holding our breath on when we will see the final product on the road, especially in Singapore where the Tesla is yet to be officially available.
Autonomous driving seems to be the more over-arching theme at this year's CES. This is certainly so with Google and Apple all dabbling in self-driving cars.
Graphics-processor giant Nvidia announced that it is working with German carmaker Audi, Bosch and ZF to bring a self-driving car to the market by 2020.
Major carmakers such as Toyota, Honda, Ford and Volkswagen also showcased their concepts of autonomous driving this year.
Visitors were treated to a virtual reality experience of the autonomous driving solutions that the carmakers are creating.
But we think it will be a while before we see self-driving cars replacing Uber or Grab drivers.
Samsung makes its own quantum leap in TV tech
Samsung is doubling down on quantum-dot technology - that it dubs Qled (Quantum Light-Emitting Diode) - to produce bright and vibrant-looking television sets.
Not to be confused with the latest Oled TV sets by rivals LG, Panasonic and Sony at CES, Samsung's Qled versions are basically conventional LCD-based sets enhanced by quantum dots, which are nano-sized particles that can produce highly saturated blues and reds.
This technology enables the development of high dynamic range (HDR) TV sets, because, according to DisplayMate president Raymond Soneira, quantum dots are "precisely tunable during manufacture, which means they can produce the exact colours needed for high image and picture-colour accuracy".
Samsung and other manufacturers already have TV sets using quantum-dot technology, such as last year's SUHD sets from Samsung.
In other words, Qled is a marketing term coined by Samsung for its 2017 crop of high-end TV sets. While Qled may be more snappy than the previous SUHD branding, it can easily be confused with Oled.
To improve on last year's TV sets, Samsung says it has introduced a new metallic alloy component to its quantum-dot technology, leading to deeper blacks and wider viewing angles. The new Qled sets are also much brighter than before with a peak brightness of 1,500 to 2,000 nits, and have a wide colour gamut with up to 100 per cent coverage of the DCI-P3 colour space.
Qled sets are likely to be more cost effective to produce than Oled ones. Samsung is probably betting that consumers will go for the less expensive option.
Home assistants in all shapes and sizes
One of the biggest trends of CES 2017 is the proliferation of digital home assistants - devices which connect to other smart devices in your home, and which serve as a hub for you to control all of them with just your voice.
Big brand names like Lenovo and LG are throwing their weight behind such devices and technology. Most of them are powered by Amazon's Alexa technology, a smart artificial intelligence software that recognises voice commands asking it to perform a variety of tasks.
Unfortunately, Alexa is not officially supported in Singapore, which means local users who find a way of getting such devices are limited in what they can do. They can't ask Alexa to book them a Uber ride, for example, as location services are tied to the US.
At CES, Alexa found her way into a number of devices, such as Chinese PC maker Lenovo's Smart Assistant. While functionally identical to Amazon's Echo - the first device to run Alexa - the Smart Assistant comes with better speakers and potential third-party upgrades from Lenovo.
Digital assistants are also evolving beyond looking just like cylinders and tubes. Companies are also moving into robotic assistants, such as South Korean electronics firm LG's Hub Robot, also powered by Alexa.
It does everything an Alexa-enabled device can do, but comes with a screen most of the other tube-like devices lack, with cute "eyes" that change depending on what it is doing.
Chinese Internet giant Baidu also entered the game with its "Little Fish", a robot with a mounted screen for the China market.
Networking vendors beef up Wi-Fi systems
Getting rid of Wi-Fi blind spots in your home is the top priority for networking vendors this year.
Major brands such as Asus, D-Link, Linksys and TP-Link all showed off Wi-Fi systems at CES 2017. These systems use multiple modular Wi-Fi routers that communicate with each other in a mesh network, instead of a single powerful router to bathe your home in Wi-Fi signals.
They were first introduced by networking start-ups such as Eero and Luma last year. Even Google launched a similar system called Google Wifi last month.
Netgear was the first major networking vendor to get into Wi-Fi systems with the Orbi. It is currently the only Wi-Fi system to be available in Singapore. We reviewed the Orbi last November, and found it effective at improving Wi-Fi coverage, though its speed fell short of that of the top routers in the market.
However, competition is heating up, with Linksys' Velop expected to be available this quarter. Like the Netgear Orbi and Asus HiveSpot, Velop has a dedicated wireless band reserved for connection between multiple units, which should lead to better Wi-Fi speeds compared with models from rivals that lack this feature.
D-Link's Covr and TP-Link's Deco Wi-Fi systems offer the option of using powerlines to connect the routers together.
It may also be easier to set up these Wi-Fi systems, compared with a regular router. Many of these systems can be configured via a mobile app, without the use of a PC. However, they tend to be smaller than a normal router.
The consumer is king as Lenovo listens
Lenovo is probably better known as a PC company that produces ThinkPad laptops.
However, it wants to be more than just a laptop or PC company. It intends to have a broad spectrum of products that helps to address every customer's requirements, according to Mr Ken Wong, Lenovo Asia-Pacific's president.
"You cannot have just one device to satisfy everyone," he said.
At CES 2017, Lenovo launched a myriad of laptops, which included the ThinkPad X1 Carbon business laptop, Miix 720 two-in-one detachable hybrid laptop, Legion gaming laptops and ThinkPad X1 tablet.
Lenovo also showcased the New Glass C200, a pair of smart glasses that mixes augmented reality (AR) with artificial intelligence (AI). It is still in the prototype stage and will be for business use, with capabilities such as recognising objects to help repair works or overlaying AR content for interior designers.
Mr Wong said Lenovo is very aware that the trend is for devices to be smarter.
He revealed that Lenovo is so set on AI that it will be hiring a new chief technology officer that has a deep background in AI.
In addition, Lenovo unveiled its Smart Assistant, an Amazon Echo-like device that is powered by Amazon's voice assistant Alexa.
Smart home devices, especially those with voice assistants, are going to be prevalent worldwide in the next two to three years, according to Mr Dilip Bhatia, global marketing vice-president of Lenovo PC and smart device business group.
Mr Bhatia said that 86 per cent of customers that Lenovo talked to felt that "voice adds value".
"Voice is just so natural. You do not need to type anything and just talk to the device," he said.
Smart home appliances by Lenovo can be expected in the future with the launch of the Smart Assistant, said Mr Wong, who did not name specific products or provide a product-release timeline.
But, more importantly, Lenovo is also listening to another kind of voice - the voice of the customer.
Mr Wong said Lenovo has recently undergone a major change in philosophy. In the past, it would come up with a product and sell it to customers. But now, the company is listening to customers first before coming up with a product.
For example, the new Legion line of gaming laptops, the Y720 and the Y520, is the result of constant interaction with customers.
"We have a gaming community that tells us what it wants," said Mr Jeff Palumbo, Lenovo's global strategic gaming manager. In fact, the name Legion was also suggested by Lenovo's gaming community.
"The 2018 (gaming laptop) models will be based largely on consumer feedback," Mr Palumbo said.
Bosch making push for smart home devices
German engineering and electronics company Bosch, which is known in Singapore for its line of consumer appliances like vacuum cleaners and coffee makers, wants to make the home even smarter.
The company unveiled its plan for connected devices and the Internet of Things (IoT) at this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES).
It also demonstrated how such devices can be extended to cars of the future, with a smart-car showcase packed with smart software and electronics at the convention.
"IoT, connectivity and the connected world are some of the most exciting new areas of opportunity to generate new products and business that conform with our vision," Dr Werner Struth, a member of the company's management board, told The Straits Times Digital.
Besides a number of new products such as smoke alarms and surveillance cameras that link up with Bosch's Smart Home app, the company announced a robot assistant named Kuri.
The 50cm-tall, oval-shaped robot rolls around the house and serves as a home companion.
Developed by its United States-based subsidiary Mayfield Robotics, Kuri comes with high-resolution cameras in its "eyes" and is fitted with microphones and Bluetooth-enabled speakers which allows it to send information to its user's smartphone. Sale of the robot is expected to begin in the US by next Christmas.
Bosch sees personal assistants as the next step in connected devices, said Dr Struth. "We want to offer smart products and services that act as assistants and partners to individuals," he said.
While there are no dates yet for a Singapore release, Dr Struth said the company's smart products will eventually be present in all "smart cities".
"A simultaneous rollout of the Bosch portfolio all over the world is a very difficult thing to do, so we need to have a step-by-step approach," he said.
Singapore is Bosch's Asia-Pacific headquarters and has a centre for its advanced robotics software capabilitieswhich focuses on research and development on connected robotics software and their associated user interface capabilities.
Bosch also unveiled an updated smart-car concept that is chock- full of electronics and connectivity.
It comes with a fully digital dashboard that relays information like speed and fuel, and also controls the entertainment or navigation.
Haptic feedback for the display and touchscreen gives each digital button its own unique feel so drivers can push the right one without taking their eyes off the road.
The car also shows off the company's Drive Monitor Camera, which uses facial recognition software to detect the car's driver and adjusts things like temperature, steering wheel location and mirrors to the driver's preference.
And continuing on the theme of the personal digital assistant, Dr Struth said Bosch expects vehicles to be the driver's personal assistant and companion, especially when self-driving cars take off.
CES 2017 round-up – top picks of the show
RAZER PROJECT VALERIE
Razer unveils a new conceptual "Project" every year at CES aimed at making gaming cooler than it already is. This year, the gaming hardware company showed off its craziest gaming laptop to date: Project Valerie, a laptop that opens up to three 17-inch screens for portable multi-screen gaming.
Razer says it uses an "automated deployment mechanism" that lets the two additional screens pop out with either the push of a button or a software command.