Best of CES 2019: We’ve entered the post-smartphone era

After a busy week at the world’s largest gadget trade show, Quartz’s time in Las Vegas has come to a close. We’ve eaten delicious fake…

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James Ayoub
Analyst // Lifelong Learner // Minimalist

While Tech gets a lot of love at CES, P&G’s DS3 really stood out as a significant product to watch. P&G claims its new swatch-based cleaning and personal care products could eliminate the need for plastic containers and reduce total emissions by as much as 75% (less weight and space). The potential impact here could be tremendous

Zach Seward
Chief product officer / executive editor at Quartz

This is a good summary of the Consumer Electronics Show from my colleagues who were there to cover it. I was also in Las Vegas, but for a different reason: to give talks and tours to advertisers.

(Some inside baseball: CES, SXSW Interactive, Mobile World Congress, etc., are only about tech on the surface; in fact, the preponderance of attendees work in marketing for non-tech companies. That is a big reason why there is such a huge media presence at these things, as well. The growing attendance by both groups, which of course depend heavily on each other, is a flywheel that explains why these trade shows have gotten so big.)

Anyway, I had to summarize CES for a lot of people, so here are my condensed notes:

• Apple: Its staff briefly fly into Vegas during CES and hold meetings at the Wynn every year, but the company hasn’t had an official presence there since 1992. Which is why it was striking how much Apple nevertheless loomed over the conference. Its warning about iPhone sales the week prior certainly cast a pall over the entire smartphone industry and left people talking (prematurely, I’d argue) about the “post-iPhone era.” And there were plenty of other moments in which Apple figure prominently, like the announcements that TVs by Samsung, LG, and others would soon feature an iTunes app and support AirPlay 2—as sure a sign as ever of Apple’s shift to becoming more of a services company.

• Privacy: Apple did make its presence felt in one way, by taking our a large billboard during CES that said, “What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone.” This isn’t remotely true—pretty much everything you do with your iPhone is sent to and stored in servers somewhere else—but I’ll allow that Apple is far more privacy-minded than its competitors. And, in fact, it was really striking how, despite privacy being the number one topic in the tech industry this past year, there was very little discussion of the issue on the floor at CES. Very few products billing themselves as ensuring your privacy. It was simply not a theme at all, and that alone is notable.

• Smarts: The smart home section of CES keeps getting bigger. There weren’t any huge development, but it’s very interesting to see how the big players in this space (Amazon, Google, Samsung, and Apple, for the most part) tangle up with each other. Amazon is all about putting Alexa in everything, and it bought out an entire ballroom to show off all the third-party electronics that include Alexa—yes, including the Kohler toilet that got so much attention. But it was notable that most new gadgets are choosing to integrate with both Alexa *and* Google Assistant, which again had its own large presence at CES this year. Also notable that Apple’s HomeKit is not nearly as common an integration. One last observation: There were a lot more kitchen gadgets in the smart home section this year, as everybody tries to become the next Vitamix. But has internet connectivity ever been the reason that a kitchen gadget took off?

• Services: I mentioned Apple’s shift to services and how that manifested at CES. But it is hardly alone is trying to be a hardware and services company at the same time. There were lots of manufacturers touting what I’d call the Peloton model: buy this expensive gadget and then also pay us a monthly fee to make it actually useful. This makes things a little more confusing for consumers who need to figure out how much something actually costs. But it’s otherwise an interesting model that tends to give consumers more choice in mixing and matching hardware and services. (Again, even Apple is allowing this choice now. It recently announced that Apple Music is available on Alexa devices.) Perhaps the most notable companies starting to shift into services are car manufacturers, as they envision all the things you might do to bide the time in self-driving cars instead of driving. Audi demonstrated a VR game it developed with Disney, which sounds nauseating but OK.

• Screens: There was a lot of *cool* stuff on display, but I’m not sure any of it represented a significant new trend. Certainly not the 8K screens, which are, yes, better than 4K but not in any way you could see with your own eyes unless you stood literally less than three feet away from one of them, which I don’t recommend. Don’t worry about 8K.

• 5G: This number-letter combination *does* matter. It just doesn’t matter right now. 5G stands for the fifth generation of wireless connectivity (after the 4G connections most of us use today). It’s a lot faster and will allow for all sorts of data-powered connections that aren’t really possible right now, from autonomous vehicles to truly connected homes. But the rollout of 5G—in terms of availability worldwide and devices capable of using it—will take another few years, so you can sleep on this one until then.

Kevin Delaney
Editor in chief at Quartz

I'm most excited about the new Impossible Burger, plus some of the car designs Mike was documenting.

Steven Rodas
Content Editor at Google (via Vaco)

Thank you to this article, as well as the top commentator here (Zach Seward) for the breakdown since not all of us could make it.

No winner which is surprising being that this is a great opportunity for companies to have a standout moment. I’d personally give it to a Samsung for delving into robotics and unveiling the 219-inch TV.

Dimitris Machairidis
Press and Communication Officer at European Union Office in Kosovo

Lab-made meat or soaps that don't contain water, we continue revolutionizing our every day life in very fast way.