What to expect at the first ever all-digital CES 2021
(CNN) -- Disinfectant gadgets, next-generation fitness equipment and robots that help you cook dinner.
Those are a few of the countless new products expected to be unveiled next week at the Consumer Electronics Show, the annual splashy tech conference that typically sets the tone for the biggest trends of the year. Home automation, health and 5G will once again be buzzy topics, but many companies will also introduce pandemic-specific features to reflect our increased time at home.
Each year, reporters, exhibitors and investors typically explore Las Vegas showrooms filled with giant TVs, smart cars and robots fixing martinis, but CES will be online only for the first time in its 54-year history due to Covid-19.
The Consumer Electronics Association, the nonprofit behind the four-day event starting Monday, said 1,800 exhibitors from around the world will fill its "digital venue" this year -- a number that's down significantly from 4,000 in-person exhibitors last year. The move will allow tech companies from countries who've never attended before to take part in the online spectacle, but could also make it harder for smaller companies to get noticed without a physical showroom booth to stumble upon.
Registered attendees will be able to stream (and re-watch) keynotes from companies such as Verizon and General Motors, tune in to breakout sessions -- about how, for example, technology is playing a role in vaccine deployment -- and search through a registry of exhibitors to watch new product presentations.
It'll lack some of the signature ingredients of the trade show, such as hands-on time with the latest gadgets, demos and networking. But the technology that makes our lives more connected and convenient will still resonate as we continue to navigate a global pandemic. CNN Business will be tracking all the big announcements and then some.
5G will dominate discussions at CES 2021 much like it did last year.
Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg will kick off the show with a keynote focused on what the company has learned from rolling out its 5G network and tease its future plans. And Anne Chow, the CEO of AT&T Business, is expected to do the same in a breakout session. (WarnerMedia, the parent company of CNN, is owned by AT&T.)
About 20 sessions, as listed on CES' website, will dive into how 5G will reinvent various industries, from automobiles and smart cities to healthcare and farming. 5G-connected laptops may also make an appearance, according to David McQueen, research director at ABI Research. Manufacturers, including Dell and Lenovo, have yet to reveal their 5G plans, pricing and overall strategies and could use this week to lay it out.
5G is here in many of our biggest products, including the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy smartphones, but it certainly has not reached what's believed to be its potential yet. These announcements may offer a roadmap for how it gets there.
Health gadgets, fitness equipment and wearables have long been popular at CES, but the category will be supersized this year, both because of an increase in demand from the pandemic and the industry gradually moving in this direction even before.
Next-level wearables will go beyond traditional tracking, much like the one that claims to influence your dreams. New fitness services and equipment that keep you connected to others will also surface, and there will be no shortage of gadgets that reflect how we live now.
"Look for a number of health solutions, especially those that claim that they can tell you if you are showing signs of possible infection -- raised body temp, elevated heart rate and respiration -- or if you are socially distanced enough," said Ramon Llamas, research director at market intelligence firm IDC. "Or look at different disinfection solutions for the home, similar to the ones that claim they can zap unwanted or dangerous microbes on your phone."
Last year's move to online-everything -- telehealth, working from home, remote learning, streaming -- will be a main talking point at CES, but so will tech's role to better support those changes.
Microsoft president Brad Smith is expected to discuss expanding global broadband by using unused broadcast spectrum during the company's presentation, according to Gary Shapiro, CEA president and CEO. Meanwhile, telehealth visits may get more advanced with new augmented reality tools, and a rumored chip from AMD could help computers better handle multiplayer games. Samsung already announced new Chromebooks -- a cheaper alternative to higher-tier laptops -- as millions of students learn from home.
With millions of people staying home, companies are hoping they'll add more smart devices and systems into living rooms, kitchens and elsewhere. Beyond products like smart refrigerators and washers, appliances such as robot vacuum cleaners and air filters may get smarter with voice integration.
According to ABI Research research manager Jonathan Collins, the pandemic helped boost the appeal of home care, social and educational robots, so we can expect a lot more of that this year at CES, too.
Samsung Galaxy S21
Samsung's Galaxy S21 launch event isn't officially part of CES, but the company will use the conference's last day to unveil three new smartphones. (It typically hosts its annual Unpacked event ahead of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona -- the first major conference that was canceled last year due to Covid-19). This year, we're expecting the lineup to include an improved camera, a flatter design and a lower starting price.
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