From smart toilets and disinfecting robots to transparent OLED displays and sleep tech, CES 2021 was a showcase for the latest innovations in consumer and enterprise technology.
CES 2021 is a wrap. And although this year’s all-digital event was a significantly different experience from past shows, there was plenty of innovative tech on display. TechRepublic’s Steve Ranger, Teena Maddox, and Bill Detwiler join Karen Roby to discuss the products and technology trends that stood out. The following is a transcript of their discuss edited for readability.
Smart toilets, disaffecting robots and a flying Cadillac
Karen Roby: Teena, let’s start with you, just general impressions from the show and some things that maybe stood out to you.
Teena Maddox: Sure. As always, it was an interesting CES, full of really cool products. Even though this one was virtual, we still managed to find some really great things to write about for TechRepublic. One of the things that really stood out for me was just the fact that there was so much creativity still going on and people were still really interested. You had your virtual groups of people surrounding products. One of the things that got a lot of attention online was the product from TOTO that… I know you did a video about that, the wellness toilet that, not to get gross here, but it lets you know how you’re doing based on your bodily functions. I thought that was really interesting. That got a lot of attention.
And then there was that really top of the line tub from Kohler that tops out around, I think, $16,000 that just gives you like this virtual environment. It has lighting, it has fog, it has music. It has a little bit of everything, and I really want that tub for my bathroom, but there’s no way I’m going to spend as much as a small car on a tub for my bathroom. So that got attention.
We wrote about tons of gaming monitors and laptops from so many fantastic brands, Dell and Acer and Lenovo, HP, everybody just really came out with some really great products. I talked to HyperX and they talked about how, they’re known for making gaming products, headsets and microphones and things like that, that gamers and streamers use, but everybody’s been buying them in this past year of course to work from home because they’re also great products to use as you’re doing things like we’re doing now, doing an online meeting, online videos. So they’ve really been working toward that and people have been using their products for double duty. So they introduced some new products and we wrote about those.
There’s just been so much cool stuff. There’s a lot of sleep tech, a lot of fitness tech and to be expected, there were a lot of masks that had really high tech features because tying tech with masks. I think some of them are a little over the top, like Air Pop Active Plus. It’s $150 mask that works with an app on your phone. I’m really not sure who really wants to spend $150 on a mask, but it’s there if somebody who does want to buy it. And then there were a lot of disinfecting robots. LG had a really cool one that uses UVC light to disinfect high touch, high traffic areas. And they’re going to market it to schools, to hospitals, to hotels, places like that. It rolls around and it disinfects on its own. So that is super cool. And Samsung had some disinfecting robots as well.
SEE: CES 2021: The big trends for business (ZDNet/TechRepublic special feature)
There was just quite an array of really cool products like that. But one that really stood out and I know this would have been that one, if everybody had been at CES in person, air taxis that always gets attention. And GM introduced the Cadillac E…I’m not sure how they pronounce it…but eVTOL air taxi, E-V-T-O-L. That is just really spectacular. They just did a virtual image of what it would look like and what it would be. They’re trying to get that created. It’s all electric with vertical takeoff and landing and it has speeds up to 56 miles per hour. So I thought that was super cool, but I could talk all day, but that’s just some of the stuff that we saw.
Karen Roby: Yeah. And as you mentioned, Teena, when you see so much, whether you’re in person or virtually, it all kind of starts to run together by the end of the week. There’s just so much-
Teena Maddox: Yes. I was running around virtually. I had 15 tabs open at once, so it was like the equivalent of running place to place in a taxi in Vegas like we usually do. And I still feel like at the end of the week, there’s like another thousand things I didn’t cover that I want to. So you still have that feeling, but it’s still a lot of fun and there’s still some more things that we’re wrapping up and writing about today because there’s a lot of really great things that come out and things that we’ll be writing about in weeks to come that just are things that were conceptual that may or may not be created, but still really inspired great stories out of us and others.
Tech to help us sleep better and PC innovations
Karen Roby: Yeah, I think so, too. And Steve, we talked several days ago on the front end of CES about what is this going to be like going to a virtual experience? We’re so used to that hands-on opportunity and when people collaborate but I think all in all, it turned out okay.
Steve Ranger: I think absolutely. In fact, I’m really amazed by the amount of energy and kind of enthusiasm and excitement there has been around CES and all the CES products. I mean who knows, maybe being virtual means we get to see more stuff, rather than be hiking from place to place. So then from hall to hall, actually just flipping between tabs like Teena was doing, means you get to see more stuff, which is great. Like her, I thought the robots is really interesting this year. Obviously, that really plays into what’s been happening in the last year or so.
One of the things I thought was quite interesting was a lot of the sleep tech, because on first glance, I thought, wow, this is just the tech industry finding something else they can encroach on and put a few chips into and resell us our own sleep again. But actually the more I thought about it was, well with loads of like exercise and things like that, we are present. So we kind of know if we’re out for a run and we have a vague idea of what we’re doing. When you’re asleep, you’re asleep. You have no idea what’s going on. So actually maybe sleep is one of the really good things to be measuring and trying to understand because it’s the whole chunk of the day when you really pretty much aren’t there.
So I think a lot of people are getting more sleep at the moment because they’re going outside less. So actually trying to understand what your sleep patterns are and trying to optimize that I think is a really good thing because actually, a lot of the time we’re not getting enough sleep, we’re not getting good sleep. So I started off rather kind of doubtful about some of these technologies. The more I think about them, the more I think they might actually have some interesting uses there.
The other thing that I saw that was really good, which comes every year, but I kind of like, is all the innovation around laptops and PCs. Certainly when we were speaking a while back, we were saying, there’s a renaissance of interest in the PC because many of us are at home working on PCs and we’re not using smart phones or tablets or whatever. And actually the PC, which had been kind of on a downward trend is actually back up again right now. And so it was nice to see a lot of companies playing with the idea of new screens or different screens.
So there was some laptops with a combined e-ink screen that you could use in different ways or a laptop with a secondary screen on the front that you could use alongside the keyboard. I guess none of these things are likely to take over the world simply because we are so used to the form factor we have with one screen, one keyboard. But I think it’s really nice to see there is still some innovation in what is a really traditional form factor that’s been around 30 years or longer. So I liked to see that as well.
SEE: The weird, the wacky and the marvelous at CES 2021 (TechRepublic)
And as Teena said, the robots is always good fun to look at some robots and for once they might actually have some actual uses this time in terms of healthcare and that kind of thing. So yeah, I think actually, I’m surprised by the levels of interest and innovation we saw and I think that’s a really good sign for the industry.
All-digital CES 2021 had its advantages
Karen Roby: Yeah, definitely, Steve. I agree with you. And especially with the sleep tech, interesting to see what we can learn that otherwise we’d have no idea about. And Bill, one of the things that’s been great about CES being virtual is that more people will have access to the information, otherwise that people can’t get to Vegas or don’t feel like they’re part of the show, but that was a big difference this year.
Bill Detwiler: Yeah, it is. And we’ve seen that with other events that have gone virtual in the wake of the COVID pandemic, is that it has enabled more people to participate, which is a good thing because, for the industry, for just society, for closing that technology gap and the only thing that I hope we see more in the future as we go back to the new normal of in-person events mixed with a digital event. Because let’s remember, most of these events always had a digital component. It’s just that it wasn’t the focus. Going forward now in the new normal, when we go back to in-person events, that there is a greater emphasis on the digital portion of the event and in allowing people to continue to participate, that maybe just can’t be there physically.
This was an interesting CES. Microsoft partnered with CTA to really sort of bring the virtual side of things to life. Microsoft has been on and off at CES, and this was a chance to showcase what they can do in that realm. Whereas maybe Microsoft competitors, Amazon through its home and consumer electronics brands and Google through its consumer electronics brands have been there in the past and Microsoft sometimes has been there and then has not been there. But this was really interesting to see the technology that they used to pull it off. And I think they did a pretty good job. I’ve been going for many, many years, and I will say that this definitely felt like more of a fire hose of information coming at you. There were a lot of products being released simultaneously. You had competing events happening at the same time or during the same week. So I think there’s a little more work to do around that for future shows, but all in all, I think it was a really solid virtual CES.
CES is a showcase for enterprise, as much as consumer, tech
Karen Roby: Yeah. Most definitely. I think that it will be interesting, like you said, to see how this year influences next year when assuming, we’re back in person.
Bill Detwiler: Yeah. And one of the things I thought was really interesting. Before we did this call this morning, I went back and I was looking at some old footage of CES from actually 1991. So 30 years ago. It was some footage from a show that I used to watch back here in the US on Public Television. There was show called The Computer Chronicles, which was all about the early days of computer technology in the eighties. And they were interviewing several people at CES. It was still in Vegas. This time they split it up. They actually had a summer and a winter CES. And of course, the big computer show at the time was COMDEX, which isn’t really around anymore like it was back then. And so they were interviewing Nolan Bushnell, who was co-founder of Atari, creator of Pong, and it was interesting to me that he was really talking about the merging of computers or computer circuits and chips at the time, with consumer electronics, because, up until then, consumer electronics were really about car alarms, cell phones.
They weren’t seen as computing devices. And in that transition from the late eighties into the nineties, you started to see people just thinking about electronics and consumer electronics as functional devices, tools that served a purpose. You could embed smarts into them and make them better products that helped people in their lives. And now we’re seeing the same trends, 30 years later, the same discussions. I know we talked about it earlier this week. You’re seeing that, except it’s not silicon that we’re talking about. Although we talk about that a little bit with miniaturization and power, low power chips, things like that, that allow us to put computers into your toaster. But they’re talking about the cloud now. We’re talking about 5G. We’re talking about enabling these technologies, these underlying enterprise technologies that put the smarts in all these smart gadgets that we have around our house that are being shown off at CES.
Karen Roby: Yeah. It’s always interesting and fun to look back on YouTube. It’s crazy when you look back at that old video and the quality of it and things like that. But man, we’ve definitely come a long way. And one thing too guys, before we jump off here, I think one thing that really raised some eyebrows is the president of Microsoft, Brad Smith coming on and talking about tech and how the industry has to remember ethics, improve in ethics, and that tech must be used for good. And in light of everything going on in the world, very poignant time for him to be speaking.
Bill Detwiler: Yeah. I think that is something that people sometimes don’t think about with technology, but tech is a tool like anything else. It’s either a benefit or a hazard.
Karen Roby: Yeah. Most definitely. All right. Well, we have got loads of coverage for you on ZDNet and Tech Republic from everything CES 2021. We hope you’ll check it out there. Thanks for being with us here today.