Today’s issue of the TextileFuture Newsletter is dedicated to CES 2021 that took virtually place January 5-8, 2021, and was available up to January 15, 2021. Since it is the largest Tech Show and always good for the latest products, we present it to you based upon the three parts published by the Wall Street Journal. We feel sure that you will like to read all aspects of the show and thouroughly enjoy reading.
CES 2021: The World’s Largest Tech Show Trades Las Vegas for Cyberspace
By guest author Wilson Rothman from Wall Street Journal. Nicole Nguyen contributed to this article.
CES, the world’s largest tech show, is quite something to behold. Or it would be if you could actually behold it in person.
Almost inconceivably sprawling in its pre-pandemic incarnations, the industry extravaganza spanned the entire Las Vegas Convention Center, the nearby Sands Expo and chunks of a dozen or more hotels up and down the Strip. It was like a Disneyland for tech: Since I started covering the annual January event in 2001, I’ve fired a computer-assisted sniper rifle, attended a Tesla-coil music concert, hitched a ride in self-driving vehicles and met countless robots. I once took the controls of a Fujifilm blimp midflight.
This year, you actually can see it all—but only from the little screen through which you see pretty much everything else these days. Vegas and CES will be without each other for the first time in decades. No more blimp rides.
The tech industry saw many conferences go virtual during 2020 amid Covid-related lockdowns, travel restrictions and a general desire to reduce viral spread. But CES isn’t an event based on the agenda of a single company or organization: It’s a global crossroads where, just last year, over 170000 attendees interacted with more than 4500 exhibitors. It’s been a media spectacle, but also much more: a forum for innovators, manufacturers and retailers to meet, by plan or by happenstance, and figure out what comes next.
For CES 2021, which started Monday, January 11, 2021, its organisers had to pivot hard into digital space that, perhaps ironically, is unfamiliar—and a bit of a gamble.
The main attraction will be the exhibitors’ “digital activations.” These are interactive portals for presenting content, networking with attendees and conducting meetings. Companies with bigger budgets have developed highly visual, interactive experiences for people to try. Some exhibitors are adding live components.
There will also be live anchors hosting the show itself—something that would not make sense at a massive convention centre—but it will also feature a wide variety of keynotes and roundtable talks, a mainstay of CES. After 2020, we all know how video chats can go awry—but it will certainly be more convenient, avoiding the long lines to hear remarks in overcrowded Vegas theatres.
Gary Shapiro, chief executive of the Consumer Technology Association, which hosts CES, says it’s actually easier to book marquee speakers, since people don’t have to travel. Keynotes this year will feature General Motors CEO Mary Barra and Walmart CEO Doug McMillon ; Dua Lipa and Billie Eilish will also make appearances.
There are fewer hassles for the organizers, too. “If you think about the physical CES, you think about union strikes, you think about weather that shuts down transportation,” says Mr. Shapiro. “Those things I’m not worried about.”
What does worry him: “What do we do if it doesn’t work?”
The current estimate is that upward of 1,900 exhibitors will participate online. That’s almost twice the CTA’s initial target, but far shy of last year’s showing. My own inbox confirms the reduced turnout: By this time last year, I had over 700 emails from companies pitching me on CES-related products and events; at last check, I had just over 200.
The cost is low for exhibitors—most are paying USD 1200 to display their wares. Higher tiers, up to USD 85000, have their own microsites, and host virtual news conferences and live presentations. And there’s no flying people and gear around the world, feeding them and housing them for up to a week in hotels with impressively inflated rates. (CES’s host city is feeling that: The January 2020 show would have accounted for around USD 169 million in direct spending, with a potential economic impact of over USD 290 million, according to estimates by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.)
Some companies, such as Canon U.S.A., found this a welcome opportunity to rethink their CES presence. Charles Biczak, Canon’s director of strategic planning, says his team was eager to show attendees more than just the printers and cameras for which the company is mainly known. They developed an interactive experience that takes attendees around the world—from Yellowstone to Amsterdam to Kawasaki, Japan—and even up into space.
In a few activities, people can shoot virtual photos, sure. Yet they’ll also get a deeper look at things that wouldn’t necessarily be front and center at a trade show, such as the company’s 3-D imaging—aka “volumetric video”—system. There’s also a kind of spy game designed to demonstrate a gesture-based technology the company expects to launch later this year. (These experiences will be available to try on Canon U.S.A.’s website after the show.)
To create this whole digital CES, the show organisers partnered with Microsoft, accessing its technology as well as its video production facilities in Redmond, Wash. During 2020, Microsoft shifted a number of its own major conferences online, but this is the first it’s developing with an outside organization.
Bob Bejan, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for global events, says he pitched CTA by enumerating the mistakes his own company made trying to stick to the live-presentation playbook when going digital. “If there’s anything we’ve learned it’s that you cannot translate. We’re really working in a different medium,” Mr. Bejan says.
Videos and other presentations have to be shorter, and attempts to re-create the expo hall or the lobby bar in virtual space are futile. He says they leaned into what already made sense online: strong visuals, real-time engagement, interest-based networking. “There really is this sense of place,” Mr. Bejan says. “It’s different than going to a webpage with a bunch of links on it.” The USD 1200 fee “is very cheap compared to doing actual CES,” says Scott Heimendinger, chief marketing officer at the smart-kitchen hardware maker Anova Culinary, which has exhibited in Las Vegas for the past seven years. He says his company signed up in part out of FOMO—they didn’t want to miss out on any opportunities that might come as a result of participation.
Belkin, another CES regular, went the other direction. The maker of connected and home networking products decided it didn’t need to buy a spot on the CES website or host an official CES press conference. Nevertheless, it is launching some products and participating in a virtual media-only showcase that usually takes place in Las Vegas during CES.
“This year, we have the opportunity to be creative about the way we talk to our customers,” says Belkin’s newly anointed CEO Steven Malony. He says his company has secure relationships with retailers and manufacturers, so he isn’t worried about missing an opportunity that might surface at the online-only CES. (In 2018, the company became a subsidiary of the Taiwanese manufacturing giant Foxconn. )
Marjorie Costello, editor and publisher of the long-running industry newsletter CE Online News, first attended CES in 1981, when it was still the Consumer Electronics Show. “We have to be flexible, the world has changed, but I’m so used to walking around a show floor and stumbling into things,” she says. “You just don’t stumble into things in a virtual environment.” She’s worried that she and others will dip in and out, focused on specific companies or topics. “I’m concerned I’m going to be too linear in my pursuit.”
“There’s just this sense of discovery. It’s running into things that you never thought to ask about and that might spark a seed of creativity,” says Mark-Hans Richer, chief marketing officer of Fortune Brands Home & Security, whose subsidiary, Moen, is exhibiting at CES 2021. “This year will be a very poor substitution. And that’s not a reflection on the organizers. It’s very difficult to replicate something that’s so experiential.”
The CTA and its partners are proud of what they’ve pulled off in a short span, but acknowledge that it’s not a replacement for the in-person show. At best, it lays the foundation for a digital component to a conference they hope will be back in Vegas 12 months from now.
“It’s not my favorite CES, but we did our best,” says Mr. Shapiro.
Best of CES 21
By guest authors Joanna Stern, Nicole Nguyen and Wilson Rothman from Wall Street Journal
CES 2021 was unlike any trade show we’ve ever experienced. Due to Covid-19, it was “all digital,” which really meant “mostly websites.”
To find the hot stuff this year, we didn’t wander the millions of square feet of the Las Vegas Convention Center and surrounding facilities, but instead watched streamed presentations, combed through hundreds of exhibitors’ “digital activations” and, of course, heard plenty of pitches from entrepreneurs and marketing folks eager to keep us in the loop—global pandemic or not.
That means we weren’t able to touch and feel the innovations like in years past—although we did get some stuff sent to our homes. Still, it hasn’t stopped us from bringing you the craziest, coolest and kookiest gadgets we could find.
Samsung Bot Handy and JetBot 90 AI+ Never again will you be scolded for putting the forks in the dishwasher the wrong way. Instead, point the finger at Samsung’s Bot Handy. The rolling robot looks straight out of the Jetsons’ house, cruising around to pick up and put away objects. Advanced AI allows it to distinguish materials and decide how much force to use to grasp objects, says Samsung. Bot Handy is very much in the development stage. What is due this year: the JetBot 90 AI+, Samsung’s newest autonomous vacuum, which has a camera to avoid obstacles and keep an eye on your house when you’re out. Pricing TBD; www.samsung.com
LG rollable phone
LG is known to have some pretty crazy phones (case in point: the swivel-screen Wing), but its rollable phone looks to be the craziest yet. Teased at the end of LG’s CES press conference in a short video, the phone looks like a normal rectangle until a screen raises up like a garage door from the side to become a small tablet. The company didn’t reveal any other details but says it will be coming this year. TCL, another phone maker, also teased a rollable phone with a screen that extends from 6.7 inches to 7.8 with just a tap on the screen. www.lg.com
Asus 14-inch ZenBook Duo
Yeah, yeah—another year, another idea of how a laptop should have a second screen. Yet the Asus ScreenPad Plus’s tilting second display, which sits right above the top half of the keyboard, appears to be quite useful. Its software makes it easier to multitask, move windows up and down and customize the second screen with specific tools. The 14-inch Windows 10 laptop, powered by the latest Intel processors, also comes with a stylus for sketching and taking notes. Available later this month, starting at USD 1,000; www.asus.com
It was bound to happen: Connected masks, air purifiers, germ-killing UV gadgets and more have taken over at this year’s virtual tech megashow.
TP-Link Deco Voice X20
We forgive you, TP-Link, for the mouthful of a product name (its full name also includes “AX1800 Mesh Wi-Fi 6 System with Smart Speaker”) since we love what you’re bringing together here: the speed of a new Wi-Fi 6 mesh router system and an Alexa smart speaker. Wi-Fi 6, the latest in wireless standards, improves speed and latency, and mesh routers, as we’ve raved about before, can bring that speed to all corners of your home with nodes you place in different rooms or floors. The coolest part? Each node is equipped with microphones and speakers so you don’t have to hide your routers away, and you can stream music throughout your home. A two-pack will be available in the second quarter for USD 250; www.tplink.com
Samsung MicroLED 110-inch TV
Watch this space—this huge, beautiful space—because micro LEDs will eventually make up all our TVs. What you see isn’t a single set but a LEGO-like interlocking grid of smaller screens, each made up of light-emitting diodes thinner than a strand of hair. It isn’t OLED; it’s actually more akin to those giant Times Square billboards. And like those billboards, it can morph as needed. This one can blend in with the walls of the home, displaying art or the weather, or it can simultaneously play four sources of video in an almost super-villainous fashion. Available by year-end for lots of money; www.samsung.com
ColdSnap Rapid-Freezing Machine
A home soft-serve ice-cream dispenser is…the future? We went through a few phases of thought when confronted with the ColdSnap: Sure, the Keurig model is a way to hook customers, maybe even into a dreaded subscription. But while there are a million ways to make coffee easily at home, ice cream is harder to just whip up. Besides, the environmental argument is hard to beat: Why freeze ice cream at the start—and use energy to keep it frozen through the whole distribution chain—when you can just freeze it for 60 to 90 seconds right before serving? Oh, and the device also does margaritas. We look forward to reviewing this. Available this year for around USD 500; www.coldsnap.com
Vuzix Next-Generation Smart Glasses
We’ve heard the future promised over and over: a sleek pair of augmented-reality glasses that ideally don’t resemble ski goggles. Vuzix’s new specs sure look like that promise. The prescription-ready glasses have two tiny projectors that use micro-LED technology to display digital information in front of you. An Android-based operating system, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi will allow it to run apps that you control via gestures. The company hasn’t revealed much more, but given Vuzix’s focus on enterprise, we aren’t expecting consumer-friendly pricing. Available later this year; www.vuzix.com
Shower Power Water-Powered Speaker by Ampere
A new take on the classic shower radio, this Bluetooth speaker is powered by the same hot water that gets your own motor running. It’s like a miniature hydroelectric dam: Water passing through spins an impeller that powers a generator that charges the internal battery. It can be mounted between the shower arm and shower head, or even on a hand-held. The battery lasts up to 20 hours, so you can turn the water off and still keep the tunes flowing. Available soon for USD 100; www.indiegogo.com
Samsung Eco Remote
Samsung might have brought out the big TVs at CES 2021, but it also drew our attention to something small—with huge ramifications: Why do we still feed AA batteries into our remotes, month after month, year after year? The Eco Remote, shipping with 4K and 8K Samsung 2021 TVs, has a rechargeable battery with a solar-panel array that can absorb energy from indoor and outside light sources. Cloudy day? Charge it via USB. Not sold separately; www.samsung.com
Maicat Robot Cat
This year, people panic-bought toilet paper, beans and pets. If you’ve been looking for a four-legged quarantine friend but aren’t quite ready for the responsibility, there’s Maicat. Its maker, Macroact, says it’s an artificially intelligent, autonomous robot cat. Unlike other robot pets, the kitty’s camera and microphone can analyze faces, voices and emotions. And just like a real cat, it will react differently around different humans. Maicat’s internal processor means it doesn’t need to be connected to the internet—although it can be—and accompanying software allows technical tinkerers to program the cat’s onboard computer. Expected this fall, price not yet announced; www.macroact.com
Koda Robot Dog
And for folks with a pup preference, Koda is another emotion-sensing AI robot pet. When it hears its owner’s voice, it’ll cock its head and run over to greet you. And it can evolve from playful puppy to a mature dog. Unlike a flesh-and-blood animal, this dog connects to what Koda calls a “secure blockchain network,” through which it learns new skills, like how to walk on an icy road without slipping. Four 3-D cameras help it to see. In fact, part of Koda’s mission is to eventually support visually impaired people. Unfortunately, it’s priced to compete with show dogs. First preorder shipments expected in September, for around USD 50,000; www.hikoda.com
Ninu Smart Perfume Dispenser
Not all inventions aim to change the world. This one just aims to change how you smell. The devices—one “for him,” one “for her”—contain three complementary scents that they blend in different ratios to suit your mood (“fresh,” “sexy,” “elegant”) or activity (“work,” “play,” “move”). You set your preferences and dial things up or down using an app. And of course, the app lets you know when you’re running low and need to order more perfume. Preorders start in March (pricing TBD) with shipping planned for late fall; www.ninuperfume.com
Filo Tata Pad and Tata Band
Filo’s Tata Pad and Tata Band address a problem parents don’t even want to imagine: accidentally leaving their baby or toddler in the car. You can choose either the pad (which sits on the car-seat cushion) or the band (which wraps around the seat belt). Both are equipped with sensors and Bluetooth to communicate with a smartphone app. If a child is still in the seat but the phone isn’t nearby, the device sends a notification and sounds an alarm. Available in the fall, each for around USD 60; www.getmytata.com
Lasso Home Recycling Appliance
Despite how diligently we all dump plastic into our recycling bins, the fact remains that most of it doesn’t get recycled. One reason? It’s too expensive to sort out all the mixed materials. The team at Lasso has come up with a device to verify, wash and grind up key recyclables—two types of plastic and three colors of glass, plus aluminum and steel—so a company driver can collect it curbside. It’s a big box, but Lasso says its loudest process is quieter than a modern washing machine’s spin cycle. Now taking reservations, with trial rollout toward end of 2022; www.lassoloop.com
Clearbot Trash-Collecting, Self-Driving Boats
Imagine swarms of cute little robotic boats, wandering rivers, lakes and other bodies of water, collecting all the garbage that has been so carelessly dumped there. That’s exactly what the team at Open Ocean Engineering, with backing from Hong Kong University, has set out to build. The solar-powered floating drones use computer vision to detect trash and swarm patterns akin to their airborne cousins to move about in a coordinated way—with all of it kept to minimal cost. Aimed at commercial release in mid-2022; www.clearbot.dev
Fledging Hubble for iPad
Is the iPad a real computer? With this one product, the debate is pretty much over. Attach the aluminum Hubble case to the iPad Air or iPad Pro, and the tablet’s single USB-C port multiplies. It’s really a port paradise: a regular-sized USB-A port, two USB-C ports, an SD and microSD card reader, HDMI video and a 3.5mm audio jack. Plus, place your Apple Pencil on the top of the case and it wirelessly charges. We’ll still have to test it, but we’re definitely impressed. Available now for USD 100; www.fledging.net
FallCall Detect Smartwatch App
Some models of the Apple Watch already offer fall detection—but FallCall’s app improves on the feature by distinguishing between high- and low-impact falls. If the app’s algorithms detect a high-impact fall, emergency services are summoned; a low-impact fall alerts predesignated contacts. The app’s best feature is that it even works on models without Apple’s version of fall detection: Series 2 or newer models running WatchOS 5 or later. A version for Android watches is in the works as well. Available in beta now, in App Store on Jan. 31; www.smartfalldetection.com
MyQ Pet Portal
Who let the dog out? Finally, there’s a high-tech answer: this self-opening pet door for indoor-outdoor cats and dogs. We’ve seen lots of gadgets that allow humans to interact with their pets remotely, including automated feeders, pet cams and laser pointers. At last, there’s a Wi-Fi-enabled door with a built-in camera and two-way audio, controllable through an app. A Bluetooth sensor attached to your pet’s collar can also open the door at close range. Embedded safety sensors mean fuzzy friends won’t get stuck upon exit or re-entry. Doors come in different materials and require professional installation. Available for preorder now and shipping this spring for USD 2,999 to USD 4,500; www.myqpetportal.com
Sony Airpeak Drone
There are plenty of camera drones on the market (just check Amazon ). But a remote-controlled flying gadget that can carry a camera? Enter Sony’s Airpeak quadcopter drone, complete with a holster, designed for the 4K-capable Sony A7S III and other Alpha mirrorless cameras, and retractable landing gear, so as to not ruin your bird’s-eye view during flight. The design makes sense: You can change lenses on the cameras, offering more flexibility throughout the whole shoot. Availability and price TBD; www.sony.net
Wota Wosh Handwashing Station
The pandemic ushered in a new wave of germ-killing tech—and hand-washing innovation, too. The Wosh, from water-focused Japanese startup Wota, is a portable sink with its own 20-liter water reserve, designed for areas without plumbing or running water. The station does need access to power, however, because 98% of its water from each use can be retrieved and sterilized using a built-in UV light and chlorine mechanism. And there’s also a clever integration for your “third hand,” your smartphone: Next to the sink is a UV slot that can sterilize your phone, too. Available for rent in Japan for USD 212 (or 22,000 yen) a month; www.wota.co.jp
Toto Wellness Toilet
Mark our words: At-home poop analysis is the future. Toto’s Wellness internet-connected toilet concept includes sensors in the fixture’s plumbing that can examine fecal matter and offer insights on nutrition and even recipes through a mobile app. If you’re not eating enough fiber, for example, Toto can encourage you to stock up on beans and lentils. The toilet’s seat also measures vital information through the skin on your legs, such as heart rate. Potentially available in the coming years, price TBD; totousa.com
By guest author Nicole Ngyuen from Wall Street Journal
CES 2021: From Toilets to Coffee Tables, the Best Smart-Home Gadgets Hide the Tech
At this year’s virtual tech extravaganza, a new wave of home tech aims to blend in, not stand out.
By guest author Nicole Nguyen from Wall Street Journal
CES is an all-virtual, pared-down affair this year, featuring new versions of many usual suspects. So far, we’ve seen filmmaking drones, dishwashing robots, rollable phones and other kinds of gadgetry ranging from clever to crazy. The annual conference’s main value proposition is that it offers a little glimpse into the future—yet the most compelling new smart-home gadgets don’t look futuristic at all.
That’s precisely what I’m excited about: tech that is at its best when it just blends into the woodwork, sometimes literally.
There’s a device to make any coffee table a wireless charging station, a standard-looking deadbolt lock that unlocks with a touch, a bed with a disappearing, transparent TV, and a faucet that can dispense exactly two tablespoons of water on command. My personal favorite—a toilet with a lid that automatically opens as you approach and closes when you walk away—solves one of the longest, ongoing quarrels in my home.
Living with technology can often mean a mess of different cables, apps, adapters, remotes and confusing interfaces. Gadgets that can tuck themselves away or have hidden smarts, unlocked with a word or a hand wave, are an especially nice idea, especially now that we’ve been spending more time at home.
A hidden wireless Qi charger, called UTS-1, can be mounted to the underside of a nonmetallic surface using the included tape. Plug it into the wall, and you’ve just added wireless charging to your furniture. It keeps your desk tidy and prevents your housemates from stealing your charger.
Kew Labs, the company behind the product, claims the 30-watt charger can beam power through tables and nightstands up to an inch thick. It patented a method to ensure safety and efficiency over the relatively long distance. (With wireless charging, alignment and proximity are typically key. Even a bulky case can interfere with proper charging.) The UTS-1 retails for USD 105 on Kew Labs’ website.
Level Touch is a smart deadbolt with phone-sensing near-field communications (NFC) technology, the same powering contactless payments at the grocery store. As long as your phone is on your person, a simple touch of your finger unlocks or locks the door. Alternatively, you can tap your phone or a registered keycard—like the kind you get at hotels—to the deadbolt.
The USD 329 system doesn’t have a Wi-Fi antenna, which in this case is a perk rather than a flaw. Low-power NFC tech means you don’t have to worry about the battery for a year. (Other smart locks, like August, need battery replacement every three to six months.) When there’s no power, a plain ol’ key works, too.
The touchless faucets and toilets you’d normally find in public spaces are making their way into home kitchens and bathrooms as a germ-reducing update that’s apropos during a pandemic.
Don’t expect a mere airport sink. Sure, a hand wave will turn water on and off on new models by Moen and Kohler. But a nearby smart speaker unlocks more functionality. A special hand-washing skill by Moen briefly turns on the water then shuts off for the CDC-recommended 20 seconds while you lather; when it’s time to rinse, the water runs again.
“Alexa, ask Moen to fill the baby bottle.” When you say that, it warms water to a preset temperature. “Hey Google, ask Kohler to pour three cups of water.” With that, you get the exact amount, no measuring cup necessary.
The smarts aren’t exclusively for convenience. Under the sink, new whole-home water monitors—Flo by Moen and a co-branded one from Phyn and Kohler—work with smart faucets and other sensors to collect usage data from around the house, detect leaks and automatically shut off water in case of emergencies.
Kohler’s Innate toilet similarly provides touchless functionality by way of a proximity sensor that automatically opens the lid as you approach, and auto-flushes when you walk away. Critically, the toilet self-closes when you’re done. You do need to press a button to lift the seat on this model: To do so, you press a button on the toilet’s remote, which also includes bidet cleansing and heated-seat options. (Bidets, by the way, are finally popular in the U.S.)
Kohler’s Innate toilet has a proximity sensor, so the toilet automatically flushes when a person walks away. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said the toilet can be flushed with a hand wave; this is a feature on a different Kohler toilet. A previous version of the article also incorrectly showed an image of a touchless Kohler faucet that isn’t activated by Alexa.
The model is the company’s new “entry-level” offering, starting at USD 3,100 when it’s available June 2021. A higher-end version called Numi 2.0, starting at USD 7000 and available in a few weeks, features hands-free seat opening as well, enabled by a laser that can be triggered by a foot.
For those with Bruce Wayne-level budgets, there’s also Kohler’s USD 16000 smart tub. Featuring Google Assistant or Alexa voice control, so you can start your bath remotely, it also has an essential-oil-dispersing aromatherapy tower. Water flows over the bath’s edge into a surrounding wooden moat, where it’s reheated and recirculated back into the tub. Oh, and it also produces its own fog.
Alexa, please buy me this luxurious water vessel. And also maybe a bigger apartment.
LG Display, sister company of LG Electronics, is showcasing a 55-inch transparent OLED display built into the foot of a smart bed. The screen can collapse completely, and appear in partial or full view, depending on what you’re looking at. And it won’t obstruct the view outside your actual window if all you really want on screen is the time and weather.
LG Display announced a see-through billboard in 2017, and has imagined the tech embedded in subway windows and other public spaces. But the smart bed is the first time the company is showing a home use for the screen. And there’s evidence we’re going to see more of these kinds of screens in residential settings. (See Mirror, the at-home fitness portal that transfigures into a full-length mirror when not in use.)
Because I’m covering CES from a couch in California, I can’t touch or test any of these products in person for now. But I am dreaming about my ideal future smart home. It may look low-tech to the untrained eye, but it’s got an Alexa-controlled, fog-producing aromatherapy soaking tub. Or at least a self-closing toilet.
This week there is no weekly update since we halted publishing for one month. Should you look for some News during the past month, please turn to the four parts of the Summary of the News, published on January 18, 2021.