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On Esusu 'Contributions' by @PemiAguda

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In American Short Fiction:
We have been practicing esusu for a long time. Our mothers did it, our mothers’ mothers did it. And probably their own mothers, too. We’ve never had a problem of this substance before, nothing so significant until this woman showed up. Nothing we couldn’t fix, anyway...[more]
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11 hours ago
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Ghana’s Handmade Movie Poster Boom

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When you walk into “Baptized by Beefcake: The Golden Age of Hand-Painted Movie Posters from Ghana,” an exhibition now at New York City’s Poster House, you are confronted by the stares of film heroes of the late Eighties and early Nineties—each with a distinctly Ghanaian rendering. For over a decade beginning in the 1980s, paintings like these—typically made using acrylic paints on recycled flour sacks—were an answer to the country’s lack of large-scale commercial color printing, as the show’s curator, Angelina Lippert, explained to me. Local interpretations of the original Hollywood VHS sleeves, or representations of scenes from the movies embedded with local symbolism, ushered in this genre of “Africanized” Hollywood aesthetics. Across a continent reeling from revolutions and counterrevolutions, characters like Rambo, Conan, and Commando particularly resonated with viewers inspired by their exaggerated strength and daring confrontation with the powers that be.
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19 hours ago
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#CES2020: Primordial Soup of Innovation

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CES continues to be an event where you can see the raw materials of the next big thing far more often than you can see the next big thing. Here’s a hopefully fun and critical eye at those raw materials.

Consumer Electronics Show 2020 (all photos by author unless noted)

This year’s #CES2020 was the usual spectacle of gadgets, gizmos, pleasant surprises, and near misses. Most of all CES continues to be an event where you can see the raw material of the next big thing far more often than you can see the next big thing. That so often frustrates people who hope for a romantic view of the old days “remember when they previewed the VCR or Atari?” If you expect CES to be that, you will have been disappointed for the past 50 years or so.

Instead, CES is a show where invention meets innovation — inventions are the ingredients of products, not necessarily products. An innovation is the result of an invention meeting the best execution of product, price, place, and promotion, usually taking many iterations from many companies.

CES is the primordial soup of innovation, not a shopping mall.

Then one day that cool invention, like digital cameras, once new categories get absorbed into a another invention and the cycle starts over.

Today’s world of instant communication, open development of products, horizontal and vertical integration of companies, and global competition put far more of this out in the open for all to see…and comment on.

CES is the primordial soup of innovation, not a shopping mall.

These show notes are for the lovers of change, innovation, risk taking, and critical thinking. There’s nothing in this report to click on to buy (and no sponsored links!) I’m just one person who has been coming here for decades who walks around, talks to the people staffing booths, and tries to take in as much as I can in 104,715 steps iPhone and notebook in hand. Mistakes in here are my own and if you DM me I will endeavor to fix them. I’m pretty tired right now! Also, there’s a disclaimer at the end.

Every single product, nearly or maybe literally, had USB connectivity. Every. Single. Product. Did anyone predict that? (tl;dr NO, not even the people that worked on USB.)

As I walked around this year I found my mind wandering back to inventions that made little sense to me at the time or whose implications I wildly underestimated. The list is almost embarrassing: digital cameras, GPS, USB. Or perhaps the places I spent too much time on thinking they would be big: universal remote controls, media servers, or home theater components.

As an example, every single product, nearly or maybe literally, had USB connectivity. Every. Single. Product. Did anyone predict that? (tl;dr NO, not even the people that worked on USB.)

When USB came out in 1998, it was designed to solve the problem of annoying PS/2 connectors for mice and keyboard. Intel, Microsoft, and a few others got together to solve the problem. There was an interesting launch showing how “simple” the new connector would be (if you could orient it correctly). It was a yawner of an announce at COMDEX and then CES, really (with a little booth representing the association in the middle of those big company booths.) Then Compaq announced a “legacy free PC” (Compaq iPaq, “i” was in everything that year.) And began to usher in PCs that ditched parallel, serial, PS/2 complexity. Soon that connector launched without much fanfare began to gain momentum but no one thought it all that exciting.

Then USB 2.0 came out and what should have been exciting became the source of industry-wide confusion — “is it high speed or not…how will people know”. BUT, as it would turn out then came USB storage. And all of a sudden the world was awash in little sticks of memory that were the savior for people sharing music, big PowerPoint decks, or bringing work home. I chronicled the rise of USB from the Intel booth to the component booths at the Hilton (Westgate now) to the ever-growing booths of Sandisk or Kingston. By chronicled, I mean I was puzzled at the scale of just how many companies could make thumb drives and have booths at CES.

Then inventors started adding USB connectors to all sorts of devices. USB networking. USB wi-fi. Even USB to add back analog modems. Then TVs mysteriously got USB ports. Then USB video adapters to connect your VCR to a PC. And on and on. Soon mobile phones started using USB to simply charge, rooted in the history of needing to connect a cell phone to a PC in order to download ringtones or “apps”.

All along the way, each year, many would notice the new features but nothing would seem breakthrough. Then there would be a big announce like a new connector or a new working group and some would be excited while others would bemoan the additional complexity that came from the addition. Micro, Mini (4 or 5 pin), A, B, C…then dongles, adapters, hubs (never enough USB ports should have been a sign!) All along the way, each year, many would notice the new features but nothing would seem breakthrough. Then there would be a big announce like a new connector or a new working group and some would be excited while others would bemoan the additional complexity that came from the addition. Now instead of the challenges of too little power, we have a USB plug that can literally power the most powerful consumer electronics devices we need. Heck, there are home outlets with USB-C in them now that you can buy at Home Depot.

Yet here we are at CES in 2020, more than 20 years after USB was introduced and can safely say it was a big deal.

That’s what CES is really like. Replace USB with digital camera, WiFi, LCD, and more and the story would be the same. Excitement, under-estimation, confusion, complexity, then ubiquity. Or maybe it goes the way of 3D TV or media servers.

That’s why I go to CES. That’s also why it is so difficult to really know what is the next big thing. Innovation, like the spinning of the earth, is so constant we just don’t always feel it or take the time to acknowledge it.

The uniqueness of CES2020 is the scale at which innovations are touching the world, and with that come challenges. While few (perhaps saving a couple of audacious people we know too well) believed the PC would arrive in the home when it debuted at CES in 1980 or so, 4 years after the Apple ][. Even at peak, however, the PC only directly reached 1/7th of the world. It was fair to keep searching for the next big thing.

CES today is intertwined with a consumer electronics device, the smartphone, that touches nearly every person on earth. Searching for the next big thing after that is not just a tall order, it might require a new planet and population. The idea that a single category of consumer electronics would reach planetary scale is, honestly, inconceivable.

That transformation means that every company interacts with smartphones. Every booth, every product, every technology. This is out of necessity — who would use something that doesn’t connect to a phone. This is out of opportunity — if someone has a phone then riding that momentum seems prudent. This is out of utility — using a phone a product does not need a screen, UI, or connectivity on its own.

But is that always right? Does that always work?

Beyond that, many products take elements of the smartphone and incorporate them into their own innovations. The global supply chain makes that easy, perhaps too easy. That’s why it is ok to be critical. Entrepreneurs (in new companies and in big companies) are experimenting and bringing products to market — taking risks (financial, reputational, personal) so being snarky about that isn’t always fair. It is fair to think critically about how something might play out. There’s also a good chance of being wrong, as history has told me (I still can’t believe there’s such a thing as a DSLR!)

This also means the show is changing. It isn’t clear to me if there will ever be another major product surprise debut at CES. More likely a product a few know about breaks through at CES for one reason or another. The Show itself is different now. Many companies never make it to exhibit on the main floor, opting for less expensive and harder to find hotel rooms off the floor. The primary role of the show, to help retailers plan on their stockage, is an antiquated process. In many ways, CES feels like a “department store” when the role of aggregating everything into one place is less valuable (there was a time when Macy’s had an electronics department!) Instead the show now serves almost as a check on incubation and a way for the supply chain to exercise itself. CES isn’t the destination, but a step on the journey.

That reality makes learning from the show even more important, but much more work to understand and turn into actions.

The remainder of this report looks at 12 different technologies/categories and what I saw. Plenty of photos as photos tell the story. If you’re looking for details or specifics on any particular product, check out the great coverage from the professionals who do much better than me.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed the process of creating it.

  1. Folding Screens: It folds, so now what?
  2. 8K TV Is Here: That’s a lot of pixels
  3. 5G and WFi 6: So many frequencies!
  4. Home Automation: So many nice touches, but…
  5. Home Security: Consolidating
  6. Health and Monitoring: Watch out!
  7. Mobile Phones: Two screens
  8. Transportation: So many choices
  9. Smart Everything: There’s an app for that
  10. Pro Photography/Video: Hybrid!
  11. PCs: Pendulum swings back to power
  12. Energy: Batteries!

1. Folding Screens: So now what?

Folding screens at booth entrance.

Folding screens are the first example of something that has been a much slower journey than most appreciate. Ironically, the first long journey was the flatten screens (tubes) out. Now after the debut of the first curved LCD screens 5 CESs ago, the show was flooded with amazing quality OLED screens that truly fold. The question, what comes next?

The obvious next step was to fold the screen that we carry around. The disastrous debut of the first attempt at folding smartphones did not slow any maker down. If anything, it caused everyone to rush to catch up. Many often ask why companies continue to go after things that didn’t work, especially when so many were asking what the use case might be. It might just be that the only way to find a use case is to bring the product to market. That’s what companies are doing.

Samsung’s folding phone was here for all to see though the touching was done mostly by the booth. The screen folds. Yes you can see a seam or reflection of a seam, but who really cares? Most phone screens are covered with fingerprints or cracked anyway. Besides this is so obviously something that will improve over time (see the next section on segmented LCD screens).

With respect to phones, what I am not sure will get resolved is just how this either changes or fails to change how phones are used. For many people, phones got too big and recent changes (and sales) seem to be pulling devices back to smaller sizes (and perhaps using voice more will continue that). Massively improved screens also make smaller screens work even for normal over 40 vision. The problem with big screen devices is typing. Our thumbs are uniquely able to bang out text working in concert between right and left, but as Blackberry studied endlessly there is a distance at which the thumbs cease to be effective, and then a distance where one has to change from thumbs to hunt and peck. The split keyboard seems logical (we did that on Microsoft’s Windows 8 and for Surface) but in practice most people struggle with that experience.

On the other hand, few of us would argue that as we use our phones more and more as the primary screen for consuming even full length movies, binging, etc. there’s something to be said for the larger screen simply to watch. The Samsung folded phone approaches and iPad Mini in size (which itself is not far off the first in-flight screens). It is great for that.

The size, weight, and battery life for a phone seem to all be hurdles, especially if a third screen is added just so it can be used like a regular phone quickly. It was the obvious place to start.

The next obvious place was the PC. What is interesting about the folding PC is how varied the initial designs are, primarily in size and aspect ratio. All the PCs were in carefully controlled settings for obvious reasons. The Dell Ori was pretty small and the demo focused on using a pen in portrait orientation (what I saw does not mean it was the only way and it is easy to extrapolate to landscape). The bet on screen only typing for a PC is a tricky one in my opinion (more on PCs in the PC section.)

The Lenovo X1 with its magnetic keyboard that could be used in multiple orientations was the next step. As we evolve through designs, the keyboard becomes more important and the device tilted to more traditional scenarios. Unfurling the Lenovo and juggling the unfold with the keyboard is tricky, more tricky than the original iPad origami keyboard cover. Once you do you’re rewarded with a big tablet sized screen (as with the Dell) with a kickstand for consuming. Fold in half for a traditional laptop orientation and you can type on glass (as with the Dell) or lay the semi-integrated physical keyboard over the screen and type. This folds up together into a leather B5 sized package, albeit thick.

Intel surprised with their prototype which shows a different approach. Intel has long created prototype PCs to excite or influence their customers (OEMs and ODMs). This is how Ultrabooks came to be. The Intel Horseshoe was interesting because it is clearly about “power” — a powerful CPU and a big screen. The screen is larger folding out to a 17” diagonal laptop. I am really intrigued by this because of where I think laptops are heading (more in PCs). So you go from a B5+ sized folded device to a really productive device by unfolding. Horseshoe even comes with a Surface-like stand (as a cover attached to the back.) And a fitted keyboard.

Intel Horseshoe (photos from Intel)

PC and Phone were the obvious place to start. It is not clear this is where this journey ends, or even if these gain traction. I lean towards the Intel approach because I believe the days of the “quick get out my PC” are over and the benefit for those needing a PC of the biggest screen and best processor I can get are what will drive PC replacement.

Not every screen will fold. Some will just simply curve and be cool. The curved LG monitor still blows me away and if you have the desk space it is pretty cool. I mean look at all those O365 apps :-)

It could just be that we are seeing the first use of curved/folded displays and ultimately the broader use will be entirely new use cases. I believe that so many surfaces will be screens and touchable (for control) that the only way this can happen is with new forms. There’s no way they will remain rigid and fragile. ROYALE, a HK-based company had the thinnest and bendist screen. They had a giant tree of leaves blowing in the wind where the leaves were actual live panels. It was crazy. They had more mundane uses for their innovative panels such as this hat.

Folding PCs and phones seem to me to be a natural step along the way with folding and curving displays. It feels to me that a bigger payoff will come from new devices and new scenarios. The technology is commercialized enough that it makes it even easier for experiments to happen. This is the system working.

2. 8K TV Is Here: That’s a lot of pixels

For television, the innovations continue to be the best of times and the worst of times for me.

It is the best of times because the screens keep getting immensely better, thinner, lighter, and less expensive so as consumers we are benefitting enormously. I remember head of TVs for Sony explaining that the big difference with LCD TV was how screens would follow Moore’s Law, which is definitely what is happening. So bring on 8K!

Before any of us have 4K in volume, 8K is now upon us. Predictably, everyone groans that there is no 8K content (though there are the requisite 8K recording devices that are insane and demo reels from those). Suffice it to say that up close the 80” 8K screens are unbelievable to look at. Having multiple 4K sources composited on one screen is an NFL fan (or election night junkie) dream.

I love this shot of the “TV” of a 8K TV. Moore’s law at work.

The challenge remains figuring out what to do with 4K content or (!) even 1080P content that just 5 years ago seemed so insurmountably good (for fun have a look at 480i content on youtube). This means signal processing and in many ways TV makers will differentiate on the processing done to upscale content, much to the chagrin of videophiles. All the big makers have employed “AI” as a way of scaling. Sony detailed in their booth, complete with engineers explaining, that on board on the TV are 10’s of thousands of images that are used in a neural net to compare in real-time the image to this library and model to decide how to best scale. Given what we’ve seen ML can do with photography (Nightsight) this seems plausible but also opens up the debate over what it means to watch a film as the director intended. Sure you can turn this all off but that isn’t the point as much as “what is content” which I think matters to some degree. Will the editors of the Verge be turning off all this scaling over the holidays in a few years? I bet if they do relatives will ask why the TV is fuzzy now…

One of the best uses for 8K will be for massive video walls and these are now out in force and seemingly hitting commoditization stages. I started to think about the parlor walls in Fahrenheit 451 and began to wonder if maybe it will become economical (and also desirable) to really dedicate a whole wall to a screen in a home. It just might be the case. The film visualized these as the size of today’s big LCDs, which was insane at the time. Would this be good or bad?

Scene from film, Fahrenheit 451.

The 8K screens done as many segmented panels were amazing. Below you can see a huge screen and next to it the details of the pixels and me trying to point out the seam, which I swear is there. The only drawback is right now these throw off a lot of heat — you can feel almost a hair dryer of wind up to a couple of feet away.

TVs were introducing other innovations as well. There was a return to consumer electronics as furniture across a number of devices (speakers, televisions, refrigerators even). This very nice TV from LG has a bookcase on either side of it. The packaging is such that the connectors are easy to get to, not behind the tv itself.

Both Samsung and LG were showing rotating TVs that process the signal input and rotate based on whether it is landscape or portrait. The idea is if you stream your phone to the screen then the screen rotates to show more of the phone screen. I could actually see this used more as a full time display in settings where there is a permanent video source that is a phone, sort of as we see to day with signage.

While OLED continues to be the premium display type. LCD continues to get smaller and thinner as well, but nothing can compete with OLED. There were impossibly thin but rigid displays, literally the thickness of a coin. There’s some cheating in that they have weighted bases with the electronics, but still amazing. Putting that thinness to work, there are new OLED screens which are transparent (using the term loosely). These are being touted as “augmented reality” screens. Here’s an image of one from the front and back — the lizard is crawling across the screen as a signal input the grass and logo are physical. Worth noting, that SHARP returned to CES this year.

It was also the worst of times, at least for some of us tech enthusiasts. TVs continue to get more and more software bloat and the distance between the viewer and the picture is increasing as it becomes necessary to work through the stuff that is there. Most all remain built on Android TV and if Google wins with Youtube and associated products it could just be that this will make sense. On the other hand, TVs models change every year, most are not (or would not want to be) connected, and those that make the apps are all going to struggle to bring all their features to this highly fragmented world or worse these TVs become vulnerable listening devices, or at least privacy invading. While I would like to get rid of the “box” as much as anyone, I would still much rather have one box that can be easily replaced than to be forced to update a tv.

Finally because this is CES, there are also tons of useful gadgets to be on the lookout for. Shout out to “Wrap Caddy” which is an easy way to deal with one of those boxes. The cords wrap around it and it can be attached to the tv, the wall, or even under a counter. I actually rigged one of those up using a stand made for a Mac Mini so was happy to see this.

3. 5G and WFi 6: So many frequencies!

One of the most frothy areas of the show was 5G. This is also one of the most frothy areas of the economy, not to mention a highly visible area of national government interest. It should be. It is very important and is where 100’s of billions of dollars of capital are flowing.

Three different wireless advances are conflated — not to cause deliberate confusing but because they are either converging in scenarios, in equipment, or just because they all sort of mean the same thing to consumers. Better performance and who doesn’t want better performance!?

So 5G is great. It’s confusing. But every G was confusing. Remember, the iPhone even skipped 3G and look where it is today. That’s part of the problem facing the 5G world today, which is that if you have 4G or WiFi+cable (in the US) at home then you can pretty much watch Netflix and have a good experience. That makes this all a tough sell.

There is a reality that all up, 5G has the potential to impact consumers in their homes fairly directly. I will do my best to go through these new radios in order of immediate benefit.

WiFi 6 (or WiFi AX, the 6 comes from the march b, a, g, n, ac — this fits with the theme of so much confusion yet so much innovation yet we don’t seem recall saying anything was a big deal) brings faster speeds, more connected devices, more coverage, and so on to a typical wifi network. The good news is that unlike previous WiFi transitions, the new devices are coming before the new routers. In other words, iPhone 11 already supports WiFi6 if there is a router around.

The broad scale router makers (some might say less premium) Linksys, TP Link, etc. were showing WiFi 6 routers with mesh capability. I would take it as a given that we will all be using WiFi 6 this time next year. There were no 6 capable routers from Eero/Amazon or Google (two popular brands here) though hard to imagine those would not be coming soon.

WiFi 6 was easy. But if you listen to the 5G people they are saying that we will replace WiFi at home, or at least broadband, with a home 5G router. As a result there are going to be home routers called combination 5G/WiFi6 like the one below, which also looks exactly like the WiFi only counterpart. Given that many of us could easily be served by a single 4G connection if we have a strong signal this seems perfectly reasonable depending on the cost. And who would not want to have an alternative to US cable broadband.

Things get really tricky though because 5G isn’t really just one thing. It is two things. One is as above, another G update to our existing mobile connectivity. This is all goodness once the modems we’re using are upgraded. Everything about 5G should be just better in this “mode.” Today’s t-mobile commercials are emphasizing this by talking about 5G working at frequencies that travel for longer distances than others. In addition to routers like the one above, there will be deck-of-cards / puck hotspot routers as well and with WiFi 6 they might even serve WiFi to a standard home well on their own.

That’s because the “other” 5G is millimeter wavelength 5G. This is the 5G that promises billions of low power IoT devices connecting. This all sounds great but the problem is that these tiny waves don’t travel very far, especially when out of line of sight. This is where physics is kind of a pain. There’s a lot of bobbing and weaving from the carriers about how/if/when any of this gets solved.

The makers of ancillary products have not let that stop them. They already are showing “home” repeaters and antennas for 5G millimeter. Linksys showed an outdoor module that would pull in the signal and spread it through your home (again, if you don’t have any walls that would help). Below you can see the full linksys product line and what is interesting is that you will have to choose on your own which to get and it isn’t clear how you will be informed or whether they will work.

Just to elaborate on the Linksys image. The Linksys product line has the following:

  • A Wifi 6 mesh endpoint
  • A 5G router that is a router to replace a broadband router
  • A 5G mobile hot spot
  • A 5G mesh gateway that takes a 5G signal to create a mesh WiFi 6 network
  • And outdoor 5G millimeter repeater
Linksys product lineup for 5G and Wifi 6

For commercial buildings (or apartments) much of this will be a job for pros. Buildings have long employed repeaters for cell signals to serve the building better (I once had to sign off on $600,000 to get our building at Microsoft covered by a repeater!) Millimeter might be a time when every home has to have a repeater installed. I spent about a half hour talking to a few folks at SureCall which has long made commercial routers. Fascinating.

They are working on 5G millimeter gear. In a moment of candor they too struggled on how the physics would work — these are people who literally battle physics on a daily basis. Together we brainstormed about who/why/where would the first customers be for millimeter deployment — residential, commercial, factory floor, suburban or rural, etc. I can safely say, we did not reach a consensus and the jury is still out on who will do battle with physics first and come up with a use case. My vote will go to tailored industrial settings where there is already a need to put in O&O coverage.

4G booster (love the dip switches)

By the way, SureCall has a great new product which is an easy to install stronger antenna for a car. Pretty cool. They, and several others, make them for homes as well. They are trickier than it looks to install and get the maximal benefit — antennas are difficult too. It requires three parts and a power connection (roof antenna, power source, pickup) that need to be separated properly as in the photo.

4G booster for in car, DiY install.

It is easy to be cynical about the 5G journey because, frankly, the carriers are kind of cynical about it as well (“5GE” nonsense). 5G is rapidly upon us. At MWC there will be a lot of demos of handsets (and towers). For now, it appears the hype will also be driven by the other big investor (and beneficiary) of 5G, Qualcomm and so that tells me that for a while “5G” is really the equivalent of “Qualcomm Inside.”

4. Home Automation: So many nice touches, but…

USB in home outlets. How soon will these need to be replaced?

Going all the way back to universal remote controls that could do magical things like open window blinds through X15 and now ZigBee and others, home automation has been the next big thing at CES, well forever. The journey continues.

Every once in a while something new is introduced that will be the technology that brings everything together and allows us to cross into that magical world of the Jetsons. This past two years have all been about Alexa (and to an arguably lesser degree Hey Google). This year the voice efforts were entirely ubiquitous, but the problems have not been solved. If anything the problems continue to compound because nearly every device is getting or is offered with its own microphone and voice controller.

I feel like this year reinforced for me that the journey needs a break. While for techies and people with the time to futz, things can be made to work, the fragility is overwhelming. Unlike say a programmable remote or light switch that doesn’t work, a garage door opener or a sprinkler system that fails becomes a bigger problem requiring immediate attention. Clothes that don’t get cleaned or ovens that don’t turn on can be more than annoying.

This section was supposed to be a look at the marvels of new scenarios — there were plenty of neat new home devices, like entry doors with face recognition built into the door (how’s that for commitment to be around in 30 years?) or a wardrobe screen./mirror that knows what you have in the closet, or a plethora of remote controlled washing appliances. These are all nice and many solve problems people have today, but with a very high cost in a relatively short time.

The problem is homes are designed around a 10–20 year cycle, and tech does not yet work that way. My feeling, especially as I run a home like a laboratory for all this stuff, is that what is really holding everyone back is the focus on retrofitting. We have 75 years of modern homebuilding (thinking of the GE carousel of progress!) with codes, replacement parts, and more. Tech isn’t set up like this. Even modern appliances are hugely problematic (why is it that ovens randomly differ by like 1/8” between model years or makers making replacement difficult, or why does when a washing machine break those parts never exist). Add in a tech factor and it gets much worse in much less time.

Some of us will pick one scenario and make it work — doorbells is the breakthrough one (see below). I have a garage door and connected up to Amazon Key and it is amazing. Except it only works half the time when I summon it through HomeKit.

I wanted to pick one example that seems so simple yet illustrates this point — the ubiquitous decora socket. This socket has been a marvel of safety and utility for generations. For a while home automation was suggesting to replace these with CAT5 wiring to lights, and then those homes are left hanging trying to figure out what to do for a remodel that doesn’t involve ripping out all the walls. At least line voltage always works. With USB seemingly taking over powering most everything imaginable (maybe DC and Edison were right!) many of us now have USB in these decora switches. They are easy but a pain to install, probably don’t match the other switches precisely.

Then along comes USB-C. Time to update those. And if you’re not an electrician or live in a rental good luck.

Then in a year, along comes USB PD so even those need updating.

These aren’t even for automation, just to connect to stuff.

I think the break we need to take is that someone, probably in Korea, is going to start commercial construction from a blank slate (like a forward-looking Carousel of Progress) and rethink how home or more likely offices should be built for automation. It could be that using what’s available today can work, but that will still be a big commitment.

On the lookout for devices that don’t require home construction, this year featured endless Roombas all extolling how smart they were at navigating your home.

Several home vacuums.

5. Home Security: Consolidating

This is a Huawei face detection booth show. No really.

Home Security, perhaps out of a modern but sad need, is an area that in just a couple of years has progressed marvelously. What started off as systems with door and motion detectors and a home base have blossomed into systems that ADT would not have been able to create for 100X the cost. Truly impressive.

CES is a perfect showcase of the integration or bundling/consolidation in the space. There was one startup that made the first smart door lock, taking advantage of Bluetooth, wifi, and the cloud. Many thought this would disrupt the likes of Yale, Schlage, and more. Instead those companies through organic and M&A are leaders in locks now (a great story). Even relatively complex tech like biometrics is making its way into locks. The vulnerability of PINS is driving wave of locks supporting biometrics from all the makers (what is old is new).

But now locks are part of a bigger picture and consumers want integration — apps for locks, alarms, garage, gates, smole/fire, and more are a ridiculous combination. That is like trying to get a zigbee solution to work or worse to make “automation scenes” work without a professional installer.

The product lines that have emerged, from SimpliSafe to ADT (yes them) and Amazon Ring are incredible. A huge part of this has been replacing complex integration at the edge over fragile radios with WiFi (when the power profile allows for it).

A great (but hardly only) example of this is the Ring product line, called Ring X. Inventing to integrate into existing infrastructure (24V electronic bells) the product has expanded to a “professional” level that requires (and leverages) homes to be more wired with CAT6. Doing so gets a doorbell, cameras, gate control, and lighting, and more. But this is a remodel. Will this work still in years? It could be because DC current is pretty predictable and likely that connectivity will be wireless down the road. Those choices seem like great bets. If you use more high end WiFi you’ve also experienced the joys of power over ethernet (Ubnt, or Eeero have kits).

Amazon Ring cameras and lighting including Ring X for pros.

Some parts of home security are more acute, like receiving packages. Every year there are new attempts at creating products to enable package delivery to unattended homes. This one made a showing this year and though it requires line voltage provides a viable alternative.

A box to use for reliable home package delivery.

Across all the security systems, cameras themselves are starting to build recognition into the feature set. Many feel this is driven by the China market where these cameras and recognition are ubiquitous. It remains to be seen how this will play out globally. Huawei had this demonstration going on which the irony of a US showing of this by them was probably lost in translation. This is the photo at the start of the section.

6. Health and Monitoring: Watch out!

A person with two watches never knows what time it is.

In past years I have been critical of the voodoo side of health and CES. I will take a break from that this year, but that does not mean there were ample products on the floor with no scientific basis and plenty of those tried to look scientific. There is a lot of buyer beware in this space.

Watches and bands were omnipresent across health. The success of the Apple Watch has spawned an industry not entirely all that different from the music player industry that came after the iPod (even if some existed before the iPod). There were a lot of bands and watches.

The main thing about watches that supports the idea of the journey of CES is that many of them have a common set of sensors (arising from the supply chain) and then innovative ones add an additional sensor that is their differentiation. Maybe it is pulseox or maybe it is a sweat glucose monitor and so on. They all have apps. But all along these are going to compete with the bundling of more and more features into the leading watch. This is inevitable in an early stage market, and because this is health and medicine the heft of Apple matters, even if it moves slowly.

There were several stand out watches. While things might converge on the Apple Watch it is unlikely that it will be the only watch. There are lots of specialized uses and people who just won’t buy in. The watch industry has had many amazing players for generations.

Garmin and Suunto both have the bases covered for extreme watches. Garmin was showing a cool one that is solar powered with maps in the face. Withings has one of the nicer connected watches combining sleep, pulseox (sleep apnea), and ECG, sleep, and other measures that can work with extended battery life.

Garmin Fenix 6X solar. Withings sleep, HR, pulseox watch.

Toothbrushes were out in force this year, including from the biggest makers Oral-B and Colgate. The smarts are, actually, really smart now. Instead of just timers, smart toothbrushes now sense pressure, time on various places, and importantly are measuring plaque. There are variants for kids that make all of this fun. As expected, these tend to be wrapped up in subscription pricing as well.

Next on the sink were razors. Last year there were smart electric razors. This year Gilette not only said, “screw it we’re putting in 6 blades” they also said “and we’re adding sensors and AI for good measure.” While not products yet, the bladed shaver companies were showing prototypes that do for shaving what the sensors do for toothbrushes. So far these are for studying shaving more than assisting while actually shaving but we shall see. Shaving is difficult and as the razor people tell us men, most of us do it incorrectly.

Smart toothbrushing.

The pursuit of a tricorder for actual medical practice continues. There were quite a few combined devices. This one can do an ECG, temp, lung stethoscope, pulseox, abdominal sounds, camera for ENT, camera for skin inspection. The small device is tethered to a PC or tablet and can be streamed to a remote doc or used by a practitioner on site. They make kits for professionals and clinics.

MedWand “tricorder”

Somewhat related, if you’ve ever had an MRI then you know you go to the basement and are surrounded in a shielded building while you sit under 1T magnets. Recent studies have shown that much smaller magnets can offer valuable diagnostic information. Using that research, Hyperfine developed a fully portable skull MRI. Really quite amazing to see.

Hyperfine portable MRI!

If you have family or friends that need assistance hearing you know that many, depending on condition, have come to use AirPods quite often. The form factor and technology are now being packaged in off-the-shelf hearing assist devices. Most of these I saw were not used in specific diagnostic situations, but more the hearing equivalent of readers. It will be interesting to see if any of these cross into the medically reliable stage and alter the delivery of hearing care which is undergoing rapid technological change.

Several hearing assist devices in AirPod form factor.

Omron, ubiquitous maker of blood pressure cuffs and readers (and also robots — they have a second booth in the south hall with robots) unveiled the first wrist worn BP monitor for more all day monitoring. This is literally a tiny blood pressure cuff that works on your wrist. Blood pressure is an historically (or physically) difficult property to measure and so this is neat to see. It is bulky and dedicated primarily to BP but still if you need it, it beats carrying around a cuff. Omron also has a new cuff that is mated to a ECG for direct measurement and afib diagnostic information.

Omron blood pressure watch (left and right) and incenter new cuff (this is the dock) with integrated ECG.

The rise of all of these new medical sensors is really the rise of machine learning — most of them are measuring indirect signals and computing the value of a typical measure. As machine learning continues to be applied, more and more indirect signals will be turned into diagnostically reliable measures which is super cool.

Lifebox is a controlled access cigarette container to help you quit smoking.

Lifebox for enforced smoking cessation.

There were a number of exoskeletons. These appear to be making their way to utility. At first these iron man suits were a novelty. Now they seem to be applied to rehab as well as to more routine uses in warehouses.

Two examples of exoskelton suits.

7. Mobile Phones: Two screens

Huawei phones and the cameras. Note all the options available in the upper right.

There were a lot of phones, but most of the phone excitement was in seeing phones in use, which is at every single booth.

The big news with phones was folding screens, but much more workable and shipping now are dual screen phones. The LG 8X Thinq is a dual screen phone (with a small sliver of a clock/notification screen on the front).

I separated dual screen from folding screen because I think these are significantly different for now. In one sense this is obvious because we all know the difference on a PC of having one big monitor versus two smaller ones. To those of us that have experienced this (which is not a lot of people, excepting for connecting to a projector and futzing) two screens is a very different productivity scenario. Using two screens requires thought, operating system support, and frankly a bunch of futzing.

For me these are all things that really don’t make sense or aren’t happening on phones. It makes the LG a surprising device to see in use and one that I remain skeptical of. Because this is in market and a lot of LG employees and Koreans are at the show, I saw a lot of people using the device and did a bit of usability observing. The LG takes getting used to the way that multi screen PCs do. When the screen is open, dual screen differ from folding phones in that the keyboard is only on one screen. This is because the app only ones in one screen (similar to maximizing an app on Windows). There’s no spanning apps across the screen as one does on a PC. This means you have to shift left to right to type.

Dual screens brings all the futzing one experiences on a PC to a phone. Much like PCs over time you will want apps to open in a certain screen and the order of app switching to be “right.” All of this is draining and consuming, and not the kind of thing one does on the move with a phone. It is generally why most typical users are perplexed by multiple monitors.

While there is currently no android OS support, really, for these devices this popup is what sent me to the skeptical side of the house.

LG G8X ThinQ™ Dual Screen

LG says this is the ultimate in productivity. There’s a set of people who will definitely fight me on this, but to me this is the ultimate in futzing and futzing isn’t productivity. The argument that tablets are not productive because Windows don’t overlap has always failed to recognize that the key to the fast and fluid use of phones and tablets has been the focus and lack of futzing they bring. In Windows 1.0 the lesson from the Xerox project was overlapping was not a great idea (from a member of the team that moved to Microsoft), and tiled Windows won out — a decision reversed for Windows 2.0 and of course the Mac was always overlapping. In many ways, the LG or all the affordances to have overlapping windows or dual screen phones/tablets continue this debate. At planet-scale, it is tricky to see dual screens taking off. As the devices mature, I am certain some segments will deem multiple screens a requirement.

I don’t get to play with Huawei phones so CES is a chance to. They talk about the cameras quite a bit. I spent like a half hour taking side by side shots with my iPhone and mostly debated with myself the level of complexity added to the flow of taking a photo. The photos were fine, but did have the hallmarks of over processed images — high saturation, highlights, etc.

Speaking of cameras, ShiftCam continues to offer an elaborate line of cases and add-on lenses to do a lot with an iPhone camera.

ShiftCam add-ons for phones.

While phones are in every single booth, there is no doubt the device and OS are maturing. The interesting thing to do is consider what parts of the app world and parts of CES hardware will make their way into phones — the ingredients are out there. What are your guesses?

8. Transportation: So many choices

So many types of e-bikes, scooters, and more.

Confession: I’m a scooter lover and believer in micro-mobility so fight me.

But first up, let me dispense with autos. This is probably the 7th year of autos making a big presence at the show. I definitely understand the idea that cars are tech, they are a large purchase (big business), and everyone loves cars. I still think autos don’t fit in the show and are far too specialized in the supply chain for the show to be effective for them. I love autonomous vehicles (see https://www.vox.com/2014/7/8/11628624/auto-autonomy-cars-are-racing-toward-disruption) but I have my doubts that the exhibitors are making progress at the show. I’d rather squeeze more actual CE into the main areas.

That said, of course this was a year where, arguably, a car stole the show. The car was from SONY! That‘s probably why it got so much attention. It was a spiffy looking EV with a lot of screens, sensors, cameras that almost certainly will never be built by Sony (though a partnership to help Japan in EV does not see far-fetched). This is a classic big company vision demo, and it totally worked for Sony and changed the whole dynamics of their booth.

The Sony prototype EV was the star of CES. It will never be made.

One common theme in autos (beyond Android Autos and Car Play) is Alexa. The finite vocabulary and existing familiarity with playing music with Alexa makes this a reasonable fit. On the other hand, my phone is right there already telling me where to go and ready to play music, controlled by voice.

Alexa integrated into cars.

Now back to micromobility. CES is now awash in variants of ways to go short distances at moderate speeds in battery operated vehicles. Vehicles that can be owned or leased, shared or not, two wheels, three, or four, covered or uncovered. They are all smart to some degree. They are all power assisted or powered. So much creativity is being poured into this it is amazing to see. It is also hard to imagine where else these would be (Eurobike likely but not for all of these). That’s what makes CES so interesting in this regard.

Selection of e-bikes. The one in the upper right folds up into that tiny ball.

There’s so much creativity that the difficult part becomes figuring out which of these vehicles is real, will exist, and can be bought, even before knowing how they will perform in real life. I’ve owned three different scooters to sadly mixed results — in terms of quality and performance. I would hate to invest in a three wheeled vehicle or an e-bike that was mixed. Worse, there are factors to consider around safety of the device (stopped power for example). I actually sort of wish we had standards and testing. I reflected upon the early days of BMX cycling when the bike companies took stock road frames and added plastic motorcycle trim and different handlebars, then the frames promptly snapped at the moguls or jumps (no idea how I made it to adulthood.)

The vehicle I await is covered and can carry a full load of groceries. While I can balance on a scooter and use a backpack, the weather and other factors prevent many others from doing the same. There were quite a few three and four wheeled form factors being shown.

Some of the more creative form factors for small EV vehicles.

Putting aside the broader issues around road sharing and ride sharing, safety is of course a concern with all the micro solutions. The advances in helmets and the “smarts” are welcome and seem appropriate including fall detection, SOS, as well as hands free affordances (for scooters very important) for turn signals, and visibility. I love these helmets and own one.

Safe and smart helmets. On the left is a fully integrated helmet. On the right is an add on light and turn signal.

Every vehicle has an app, which can be used to adjust settings, lock it for use, and check on various vehicle health stats. Most of the apps are not so great though and have that “vendor” feel to them. It is no surprise but the more one looks at different sub-categories the more one starts to see the supply chain and distribution at work.

I’m very excited about this innovation. The only downside I can see is if communities decide en masse “get off my lawn” and let cars win, or frankly if these replace much more healthy walking.

9. Smart Everything: There’s an app for that


If I was really pushed to pick a single theme for this year, it would be “smart anything.” I think this was the year where smart devices became not only ubiquitous but implemented in a more robust manner. Even last year, too many smart devices were still running only on Android or even connected to a PC — in other words basically requiring kernel mode OS access or a device hack in some way. This year, devices were even more robust (more sensors, more automation) and all the ones I observed were made smart by store-based apps. While it isn’t clear we need an app for everything, it is better for everyone that everything have a standard app.

Stepping back and looking at what is going on at the professional or b2b level, one smart category which I thought was super interesting were smart inspectors. This year saw several smart auto inspectors. These can be used for body work, accident reports, trade-in valuation, rental cars, or shared rides. Basically the car goes through an awning like device and an app compares the body to a database and looks for dents, dings, etc. It takes cameras (of multiple bands), machine learning, cloud, and more to build this out.

A mock-up of a smart inspection station for cars. Just drive through and the body is inspected.

In the consumer space I saw smart…you name it. Mattresses. Desk lamps. Refrigerators. Ovens. Cash registers. Signs. Plugs. Jars. Multimeter. Fire safes. Water purifiers (a lot of these). EV chargers. Faucets. Toilets.

A smart desk lamp. A multimeter that uses a phone to provide an oscilloscope reading. A smart jar lock (for pot).

Yes, Toto, which already has a pretty wise toilet has also made it smart.

TOTO had this smart lav.

Not to be outdone, Charmin also demonstrated smarts — I think they were kidding but to be honest I was not sure.

Charmin competed with this smart delivery of paper. Ha.

Yes there was also a smart potato. These two guys had a probe that they stuck in a potato and then had sort of a magic 8-ball app that would express the mood of said potato. I watched the demo while also looking around for hidden cameras testing my reaction — I had no idea if they were pulling a prank on me or on CES. A part of me thought they were squatting in the booth and playing a joke on all of CES. I had no idea. Here it is anyway.

The Smart Potato. Who is being pranked?

Where do all these smarts come from? The supply chain and ODM channel. While making a one-off device and app can be done easily and relatively cheaply, the same can be said for packaging it all up and getting it around the world through the ODM channel, and even those have small local operations connected to China all around the world. Incredible.

Need something smart, there’s an ODM to help.

Yes there were even smart dice, because…Las Vegas.

10. Pro Photography/Video: Hybrid!

Nikon lineup of lenses for the mirrorless line has a lot of “real soon now.”

CES became an interesting show for photography in the late 1990’s with the rise of digital cameras (a great example of where the large retail “electronics stores” channel was carrying cameras for the first time and CES served to bootstrap those efforts. There remains a massive show in Germany later in the year called Photokina (which draws more attendees that CES) where Nikon and Canon are stars of the show, among several others. For the past 3 years since Nikon debuted the D5 at CES, the show has had news around professional cameras. By the way, the same holds for video relative to the primary video show NAB, where Sony, Panasonic, Red, etc. star.

Nikon and Canon both racing towards professional mirrorless cameras in the biggest category shift in software/hardware going on right now. Nikon was already behind Canon in pro share (having lost due to autofocus years ago, see https://medium.learningbyshipping.com/nikon-versus-canon-a-story-of-technology-change-45777098038c). And Canon is behind Sony in mirrorless.

What the market is looking for is that mirrorless not only brings the advantages of mirrorless (quieter, better knowledge before shooting, lighter, faster, improved low light lenses, etc.) but also brings convergence of still and video. It is kind of weird how different video and still cameras are even though now they both have converged on a sensor. On the other hand, everyone used 35mm film and the disciplines were totally different.

Sony had no mirrorless on display.

Nikon announced, in the most classic old-school Japanese camera maker manner, that it was in fact planning to deliver a new professional DSLR, the D6 (shocking!). They gave no additional information (this was also announced previously) though there was a symbolic model of the camera under glass.

Nikon D6…real soon now.

Nikon’s mirrorless series, the Z, has a good technical lead in video shooting according to reviews, but Nikon is light years behind Canon in video in general where Canon has a dedicated line of bodies for video and a massive ecosystem of the kinds of accessories pro videographers require. It is unclear how much of the Z series video the D6 will pick up.

Nikon is also far behind Canon in mirrorless lenses (for those that don’t know, mirrorless lenses can mount much closer to the sensor than to the film plane, this enables smaller lighter lenses with wider apertures. In fact, many believe Nikon stumbled by making fairly consumer oriented lenses. Not so ironically, Nikon also aimed autofocus at consumers early on ceding that technology to Canon. Nikon displayed its gap in lenses with this poster. I did get to play with the new 70–200/2.8 Z lens which is very nice (and late).

Nikon mirrorless 70–200/2.8 just available for pre-order.

Canon showed off their new flagship DSLR…right in the midst of the mirrorless battle they unveiled a new mirrored camera. The EOS 1DX Mark III. Relative to mirrorless, the camera is bringing technology (or spirit) from the Eos R and its video bodies to the new flagship SLR primarily aimed at sports / news. To some they are calling this a hybrid camera. What are some of those features — super pro stuff like BT.2100 HDR PQ curves in HEIF, 4:2:2 10-bit C-Log recording in-camera, recording 5.5K/60p raw at 2,600 megabits per second in-camera. Canon adopted the CFExpress card standard (Nikon at least beat them at that one…is my bias showing?).

But to be honest the real news is the mirrored speed of the camera. Canon redesigned the mirror box and the new camera shoots regular SLR shots at an astounding 14 frames per second with autofocus and minimal blackout thus improving autofocus in light changing situations (like a stage or a run through shadows in a stadium). It is mind-blowing. To assist with the speed there is a totally small change which also blew my mind. They replaced a joystick like control with a touch sensor for adjusting where the autofocus points track and it is just amazing.

New AF-ON button for Canon EOS 1X Mark III.

11. PCs: Pendulum swings back to power

Yes this is a really great PD hub.

PCs continue to sell over 200 million units a year. The market is primarily a replacement market but more importantly it is selling to mostly business customers (I don’t mean finance, I mean commercial) which is why PCs continue to edge up in price and the idea of “cheap” PC is probably a legacy idea. The people that buy PCs really need them for work.

I will use the word “professional” to distinguish PC buyers because I know how loaded that is (see what I did there). My belief is that the PC buyer is shifting not only away from cheap but towards “power”. The reason for this is that when a pro needs a PC they really need a PC. There’s a good chance it is primarily sitting at a desktop (even though it is a laptop) or when traveling it is in a bag while for the flight or commute a phone (probably) or an ipad (maybe) will do. We’ve all done the census at the airport over what device is in use — phones win hands down, but there are a lot of iPads and many of those are accompanying PCs.

This tilt to power has interesting implications in what a PC for business is like. For example we’ve been trained to demand battery life, but as a practical matter the need for mobile all-day battery life is mitigated by the use of a phone for much of the day. That’s not to say battery isn’t important but for many people, laptops never leave the desk or when they do they are not powering compute for the whole day.

At the same time, when you need a PC you really need one. That means you want all the bells and whistles of a PC — fast CPU and great graphics, multiple monitors, flexible connectivity (ports), and so on. Yet most laptops today are engineers with few of those. This is giving rise to a slew of docking solutions (thanks to USB-C these work, which is cool).

I think the sweet spot for professional x86 PC work (there’s that overloaded phrase) is looking more and more like a larger screen PC and a robust/mobile docking solution. So that’s what I looked around at.

The good news is that PCs are very good and there are many to choose from that deliver.

First on the smaller portable PC side, the kind of PC I would love to use when I travel with an x86 PC, I loved the new Dell XPS 13 which has an improved screen aspect ratio. The Razer Blade is a ton of power in a small form factor.

Dell XPS 13 with new screen aspect ratio. Razor Blade Stealth.

Using these same components, the Dell Optiplex offers a monitor-mounted PC that creates an all-in-one out of any monitor. The benefit here is getting a full powered PC with the ability to scale the monitor size easily and to also upgrade the CPU as needed (assuming this form factor sticks around).

Dell Optiplex form factor that fits behind a monitor.

Also a desktop, the ever creative Razer was showing their new Tomahawk next generation gaming PC. It is “tiny” and very modular making use of a next generation Compute Element from Intel featuring a 9th generation Core i9 (yikes). It has a NVIDIA RTX 2080 GPU bigger than the compute element and a giant fan, that’s about it. Super slick. It has a 750 watt power supply (!)

Razer Tomahawk desktop.

At the extreme other end of scale, I loved this multi-platform teaching solution that allows an instructor to use a giant touch screen to control up to 40 different PCs, Macs, Phones, Tablets, while also teaching, whiteboarding, etc. This is all done wirelessly via typical air protocols. The teacher can use the big touch screen or a tablet as the main teaching screen. There are tons of features built into the app to facilitate education.

Teaching screen that can work with 40 student screens at once in a classroom.

Related, Sharp continues to be a great place for large touch screens for the workplace. They unveiled an updated Windows collaboration display (similar to the innovative Microsoft Surface Hub). Integrating cameras and Teams is the new thing in this form factor.

Sharp collaboration display for Windows 10.

If you are into tiny PCs — that is all the benefits of x86 in an iPad mini sized case, GPD is the goto maker. I have one of these for travel when I really need a PC and don’t want to get tripped up by airport security. It does the job well. Their latest model is powered by a core m3 and gets the job done.

GPD small form factor PCs.

Samsung and Lenovo had their Qualcomm based Windows PCs. My biases over the importance of ARM to the future of Windows are well known. I am writing this report on a Surface Pro X. I have many thoughts on this category. For another report. But for now here are some photos of these devices that I was happy to see.

New Lenovo Yoga for Qualcomm.

Also on ARM, the Samsung Galaxy Chromebook is a 13.3-unch touch-enabled AMOLED display which offers a 3840×2160 resolution. It is very nice hardware.

Samsung Galaxy Chromebook, shown with Android phone screen on the Chrombook as well.

Those are the shipping PCs. There were a number of prototype PCs not covered under the folding section, but containing multiple screens. The Dell Duet (really?) concept is a dual screen folding laptop. Windows supports two screens but as discussed in the mobile section I have my doubts this is set up for mainstream usage. Going back to the Folding Screens section and the Intel Horseshoe device, if you’re going to have a lot of screen most people will want the most rows and columns. With Windows (unlike the Android devices) you can stretch across screens but that isn’t usable. With Windows you also need a place to type — externally if this is a “professional” device and a way for the device to stand up. All of this is getting complicated and futzy. Exactly what techies love ;-) This is reminding me of convertible tablet PCs when techies loved all the gymnastics and modes of the device and everyone else wanted a laptop.

Dell Duet [sic] concept.

Lenovo has a Thinkbook folding device featuring an e-ink display as well. I wasn’t sure what to make of this.

Thinkbook featuring second screen made of e-ink.

Returning to the idea of professional use, I wanted to show some of the many USB-C docks that covered the show floor. These were popularized by the MacBook (because if you’re going to go minimal have a single port!) but now are a key part of Windows PCs as well. There are a lot of choices. From minimalistic that offer power, one i/o port, and HDMI, to crazy sets of ports.

If I were offering a PC today, I would consider the dock as a key part of the offering and assume most professionals would want the dock because most people will use the PC stationary a bulk of the time (or even all the time). This implies a slim and integrated design.

A dock like this is Linedock for the Macbook Pro. It essentially doubles the size of a Macbook adding an extended life battery, numerous ports, and even storage (ok that’s not for me). I think if you’re a professional doing mobile work or want to turn a Macbook into a desktop, this is the kind of dock that makes a lot of sense in terms of design and feature set.

Linedock for Macbook. It features a battery, USB-C connectivity, and even external storage.

If you work with your macbook closed or maybe off to the side as a second monitor, this dock has all the ports in a keyboard.It could also be a replacement for any slate form factor PC keyboard.

USB-C dock integrated into a keyboard.

At the extreme end of more traditional docks, this one had so many ports squeezed through USB-C I was overwhelmed. At the very least it is an incredible engineering accomplishment. That’s optical audio and even an RCA jack, along with VGA, RJ45, displayport and card readers.

The most mega-dock I saw.

There are also cases/docks for the iPad. The Brydge keyboard cover is a nice alternative to the Apple cover, though it adds quite a bit of weight. Beyond the weight, it has a real problem in that the connectors block the iOS dock and swipe up motion. This is something that prevented me from using it. For you Surface users, this is a common challenge with the Surface keyboard in the tilted position — so I am always having to do the extra step to flatten the keyboard (the magnets keep it tilted by default). I decided to ask the product manager at the booth about this along with the delay in the keyboard for the 5th gen iPad mini. And guess what (!) he explained they were working through a design change to add an recessed point in the middle to allow for swipe up. Kind of a hack but validating :-)

That small notch in the soon to ship Brydge for 5th gen iPad Mini allows the iOS dock to be touched.

Also from Brydge is this headturner/eye roller. It is an iPad Pro keyboard with a trackpad. Of course this utilizes the accessibility touch pointer in iOS to simulate a mouse. Well maybe this is a harbinger of things to come.

Brydge dock for iPad Pro with a trackpad.

In an ODM booth there was an iPad Pro “dock” which fit nicely around the edge (securely sort of) and added audio, card readers, HDMI. I left with unanswered questions.

Multiport dock adapter for iPa pro. I have questions.

In addition to a dock, I think professionals will use multiple monitors more and more — Apple supporting an iPad as a second monitor is a pretty cool solution for developers that travel with a MacBook and iPad. But sometimes you really want multiple monitors. USB-C to the rescue. This gadget adds a second (or third) monitor to any PC. It has a fancy case/travel stand that makes the whole thing work for developers or gamers!

Mobile Pixels multi monitor add-on product.

12. Energy: Batteries!

External power is the rage, including solar charging. In the upper left is a rechargeable flashlight that can jump start a car too. Ignore the red battery.

There was a time when the biggest problem when setting up a booth at CES was getting enough power, because every demo station on the show floor needed about 1000 watt and with 20–30–40 stations per booth the power draw was astronomical (brown outs at the show were common events.) Now most everything runs on low voltage DC or just the internal battery. Our homes are rapidly becoming that as well, first our cars, then maybe soon we will all have stored energy from the sun at home.

This brings batteries and alternate power front and center to the show. While aux batteries for phones were ubiquitous exactly like thumb drives were (and probably the same distributors in China), much larger, and I will make this word up, generator-alternative batteries, are now ubiquitous. This is an interesting category because what drives this is more the rest of world, rural Asia and Africa where the power grid is less present and reliable, not just campers and preppers in the US.

Goal Zero/Yeta has one of the larger presences on the floor and a wide range of products. They were even showing their own generator alternative bypass setup using stacked cells that they cell (boat owners or cabin dwellers will recognize this as car batteries strung together).

The Yeti can be stacked and inserted into the mains of a home to provide manual switchover in a power outage.

All of these batteries have USB ports, meters, and AC outlets. The cost has gone way down and reliability way up.

Alternative energy sources were represented as well. Solar is a key part of the equation with Goal Zero and others always showing roll out solar mats to chars these larger batteries. Another way of charging is to use the wind. I loved this portable wind power generator which is about the same output as a 2x3 foot solar mat, except it operates 24 hours a day. This is the kind of thing used in cabins and on explorations. It is built as one would expect and folds up into a case the side of a shoebox.

There’s a new wave of EV chargers for home that also do bi-directional charging. This is kind of a wild idea where you can deliver the stored charge in your car back to the grid at certain hours. This is really around optimizing costs and also in the event of an outage one could run the home on the car, though frankly using the car to get out of town seems like a good idea too.

Wind power about the same as a 2x3 foot solar panel. A bi-directional EV charger.

Not every battery has to be huge. Every once in a while a single product shows up mysteriously everywhere all at once. This year it was a USB rechargeable flashlight with a jumpstart plug attachment. Keep this charging in the car all the time and you have an emergency flashlight, phone barttery, or jumpstart. So that’s neat. I ordered one from the floor. One is pictured in the photo above, ignore the red standard battery they would not let me move for the photo.

There were plenty of phone chargers. Wireless Qi is no longer an novelty and any surface you can image was being shown as a charger. iHome’s line of clock radios is immense. I loved this wireless charger only because I am trying to imagine how knows how many watts they need from a USB plug. USB continues its journey.

Crazy phone charger with several USB-C PD ports.

Saving energy comes in many forms and I wanted to mention this long shot product that I simply loved for brilliance. Like pretty much everyone, I get too many boxes and feel awful. I carefully flatten and recycle them free of labels but really wonder. “The Box” is a product designed to be a reusable mass-market shipping container. It is a super rigid, lightweight, collapsible, padded box of a standard side that can ship a good sized standard box or a flat pak. There’s even integrated padding. This has been done before (it reminded me of the reusable moving boxes that can be rented now).

Where this gets “smart” it gets interesting. There is an e-ink display on the outside and an app that lets you affix any standard shipping label exactly as if you printed it (sort of a stamps.com thing). It has NFC, tracking, and in the next version even an interior camera.

Obviously the costs of this would be insane and there’s the obvious problem of getting the box back into circulation if you are not a shipment originator. To solve this the company is trying an elaborate funding model that essentially has bulk users buying equity in the company to be returned as the network expands.

It really got me thinking about how containerization modernized shipping across land-sea-air and what is needed is a last mile shipping. Amazon began to think of this with the grocery box. They are now in a position to do something long these lines within their shipping network or perhaps across carriers. I am really intrigued by solving this problem. I know someone reading this will also do the math over how much energy it takes to make a box like this compared to other boxes, which literally grow on trees.

The BOX, a smart and reusable package shipping container with an e-ink display.

Speaking of growing, another energy saving product that has really expanded has been the home garden. Mostly these are rooted in growing pot and since that is legal these have come from the shadows. They are super cool though and are coming in increasingly large sizes. I was especially impressed with one that slots in where a wine refrigerator goes and offers several zones of irrigated and light regulated plots.

Many grow products were on display. They are for “vegetables.”

My Favorite Find

This is no major breakthrough, but if you’ve been reading this you know how I am still stuck on how home “digitalization” can happen when even the most basic things change frequently. How many people bought first generation iPod docks only to see the connector change? We all have a drawer of cables. Even things that seem cool like fitting an electrical outlet with one of those standard receptacles with USB ports finds that these are both a legacy connector and legacy voltage. Refitting those involves a trip to the fuse box and dealing with line voltage. But still you want these things. Enter 4amps.com a small company that is owner-operated with these little faceplates that slip into the outlet, no fuse box or anything.

I’ve been using a similar one that provides stairway lights for years and it works well. I know someone is going to lecture me about how these are not UL-listed or something. So buyer beware. Still, these have USB-A, USB-C, and even a 3’ retractable cord that supports both lightning and USB-C charging. Crazy!

Just remove your outlet cover and slide these in (avoid getting shocked) and like magic you can have USB ports and even a 3' USB cable that pulls out.

Building a City

CES is over 2.9 million net square feet of exhibit space and more than 4,500 booths spread out up and down the Las Vegas Strip. No surprise but the city does not shut down for a month beforehand so the elaborate booths can be built. Instead an army of people spend just a couple of days before the show building a city within a city. It is awe-inspiring. While many booths reuse parts from other shows or in past years, the parts still need to get shipped and all the gear needs to be set up. Here’s a bit of before and after for one small part of the show — this is less than 12 hours before the doors open to almost 180,000 people!

Just one booth as it was being staged and what it looked like the next day.


I found this booth with a sign that had every buzzword on it.

CES 2020 buzzword bingo.


Please see https://a16z.com/disclosures/

Thank you for reading this far. Please feel free to DM me on twitter with any significant typos.

Thank you very much. Namaste. 🙏

Steven Sinofsky (@stevesi)

#CES2020: Primordial Soup of Innovation was originally published in Learning By Shipping on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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