This year’s Consumer Electronics Show features over 3,600 companies,  attendance equalling last year’s event which was reported as the biggest ever.  To date, the show has never failed to provoke excitement, surprise and desire. We predicted that PC presence would continue to drop off, but the level that this trend has reached has surprised a lot of people. A look at the main show floor reveals a notable absence of Dell, HP and Lenovo (all of whom are tucked away elsewhere), with Microsoft taking a subdued role compared with last year.
With even the legendary Redmond tech giant sitting on the sidelines, the question of what pushed them away from the centre of attention burns brightly. After decades of PCs being at the heart of our relationship with computers, do we just not care anymore? “There’s a tremendous amount of apathy,” said Gartner analyst Steve Kleynhans, “and a general feeling of irrelevance associated with the PC… people just aren’t really thinking about it.” It seems that as device users, we’ve fallen in love with tablets and smartphones to such an extent that the traditional mainstay has moved into the shadows.
Probably the item which will have the most impact (both for mobile and PC) is one of the most boring to look at: Intel’s long awaited sixth generation processor is based on a new architecture called “Skylake” which will offer better CPU and GPU performance at a lower level of power consumption. This was demonstrated in Microsoft’s new Surface Book, a device based on the Surface Pro and a great example of how even devices which scream “laptop” often aren’t actually laptops.
The blending of tablet and PC is a trend being adopted by a number of manufacturers to maintain sales in an increasingly mobile-oriented world.
Acer’s Aspire Switch 12 S and the new X1 Yoga from Lenovo’s Thinkpad X1 family, rely on a similar ‘2 in 1’principle, using a detachable screen to allow the device to function properly as either a laptop or a tablet. These hybrid devices are proving extremely popular this year, pulling attention from phones and conventional tablets. The added utility of these devices seems very well-received, as they deal with the problem of an awkward touch input system that plagued touchscreen laptops by allowing people to use the screen as their main input device.
For most consumers, though, the CES is more about all of those devices which fall outside the ‘laptop, smartphone and tablet’ group, in which visible innovation is fairly rare. This year, wearable technologies have been out in force. Biofeedback devices aren’t very new, but the OMbra (a sports bra designed to monitor heartrate and breathing) took the freshest approach we’ve seen in some time. The Reliefband was an interesting departure from monitoring and reporting, as it actually actively treats nausea by stimulating the P-6 acupressure point with a mild electric current.
Another wearable which looks to make a big splash is Japan/California-based Logbar’s ‘ili’, a glossy white necklace (resembling an Apple remote control) which will translate between English, Japanese and Chinese without the need to connect to a translation server. This should allow users the sort of constant access which is necessary for a translation device to be reliably useful to them.
Other more interesting devices included the LG Styler (which looks like a fridge but steam-cleans clothing), the Fridge Cam (which attaches to the back of your fridge door, snapping a photo to relay to the user’s phone every time the door is closed), and the Somabar (a machine which has nothing to do with fridges, but can automatically mix 300 different cocktails).
Most interesting in my opinion though is a device which accomplishes the apparently impossible: The GoSun Stove is essentially a barbecue which cooks food through solar power alone. Insulated tubes heat food up to 200°C and can apparently cook a meal for eight in under an hour on a sunny day.
This year then, the trends of tablet hybrids and wearable technology have continue to dominate. While the relative absence of excitement in PC tech this year was a surprise, the sheer volume of new technology coming to the floor provides a pretty good explanation: we’re just too excited about the newest innovations –especially the idea of having a sci-fi style personal assistant strapped to our wrist – to fawn over the next generation of laptops this time around. PCs aren’t on their way out, but there’s so much stuff on the way in that you’d be forgiven for worrying that they might be.