Breaking down CES: The big-picture for tech in 2015

By Johnny McCabe

(Kate Ter Haar/Flickr)
(Kate Ter Haar/Flickr)

2014 was a landmark year for consumer technology, continuing the trend of each new year surpassing the expectations set by the previous, only to be dwarfed itself by the following year. In 2014, the iPhone got bigger, the smartwatches got smaller, and murmurs began to surface about a mythical promised land of “higher-than-high” definition known only as “4K.” True to form, the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada doubled down on all of these fronts. If last year’s show was a proof of concept, showing consumers what was happening at the furthest fringes of development and research, this year was undoubtedly the sales pitch – the onus was on the industry to show how the newest and most innovative tech was not just around the corner, but downstairs in the living room, the kitchen, and even the garage. With the “Internet of Things” and self-driving cars front and center, 2015 is shaping up to bring the future closer than ever before.

CES is often characterized as a proliferation of everything at the bleeding edge of science and technology; this proven even more, true in 2015, as TV capabilities seem to have literally doubled. TV manufacturers such as Toshiba, Panasonic, Sharp, and Samsung had all the manner of gargantuan, 90-inch displays, ranging from curved to 4K to the previously unheard of “8K;” a rather ironic progression, seeing as CES 2015 also witnessed the birth of “the Ultra High Definition Alliance,” a multi-company task-force of sorts designed to combat the confusion and vague lack of standardization behind the less-than-stellar performance of current 4K TVs. Adding to the mix was the emergence of so-called “quantum dot” TVs, which thankfully seems to have replaced 3D as the go-to gimmick and are actually no more complicated than a more efficient way to light the pixels which make up the screen.

More thematically unified than the CES’s TV offerings was the omnipresent “Internet of Things,” an abstract but all encompassing brand concept that essentially boils down to things that communicate with each other. If 2014 was “the year of the wearable,” hardware manufacturers would very much like 2015 to be “the year of everything;” companies like Google, Fitbit, and Microsoft have taken the risk to prove that there is a very profitable market for fitness and lifestyle trackers, and with Apple, the Godfather of tech, poised to step into the ring with its own wearable offering, the industry as a whole seems to be enthusiastically committed to the idea of a suite of gadgets and gizmos which all operate in a digital ecosystem of convenience and automation. Whereas attendees at CES last year might have balked at the occasional Bluetooth fridge or electric unicycle skateboard, CES 2015 was home not only to the predictable deluge of smartwatches but a veritable army of appliances, sound systems, wear-ables, and stand alones, ranging from music playing light fixtures to motion-sensing yoga mats. And for the record, the unicycle skateboard returned this year, as well.

Perhaps of greater relevance than all of these miniature devices was the show’s host of self-driving and electric cars. Arguably at the forefront of both the technological zeitgeist and of the CES’s staple offerings, automated automobiles were better than ever before. BMW showcased its prototype i3, which could both stop itself before a crash and act as its own valet. The company’s M4 hybrid sports concept model featured adaptive OLED laser headlights, which detect other drivers and organically adapt to prevent blinding while also highlighting hazards further down the road. Mercedes also debuted its concept for a completely driverless car, the garishly named “F 015 Luxury in Motion,” while Android Auto compatibility was as ubiquitous as electric and battery powered cars.

For all of its overt and profit driven artifice, the CES 2015 nonetheless carried with it a certain romantic retro-futurism. What began as cautious poking and prodding at the fringes of the smartphone bubble has ballooned out into a wacky, no-holds-barred hack fest, with the end goal of making the smart homes of the 1950s a reality. Of course, there’s always going to be insincere, kitschy, cobbled-crap, but for every ten ugly smart bands or buggy drones there will be at least one truly great, revolutionary idea – something that could truly change the way we go about our lives. If CES was any indication, 2015 might just be the year that happens.

Johnny McCabe is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]