CES 2020: the eye-popping, the strange, and the truly innovative

The devices that promise to make our lives healthier, more connected, and convenient — and a few that made us scratch our heads.

By Garage Staff — January 15, 2020

If the tech world has a crystal ball, it’s the annual International Consumer Electronics Show that wrapped up in Las Vegas last week. The tech-stravaganza is where thousands of vendors show off the latest and most advanced devices, services, and ideas they have to offer. 

Peering into this year’s clairvoyance reveals a vision of many possible futures, each vying to be the one that affects our lives the most. Then, into that mix, throw some stunts for good measure, like a goofy robot that brings you a roll of toilet paper.

“Everything being connected — sensors, cars, airplanes — it’s becoming more of a connected world,” said Tuan Tran, president of imaging, printing, and solutions for HP. “That’s pretty fascinating. That’s where the world’s going; there’s no doubt.”

To sort out the real trends from the fluff, HP executives and influencers toured CES 2020 with some tech experts as guides. Braving the heavy crowds and flashing lights of the show floor, the group saw exciting new tech from the likes of LG, Sony, TCL, and even Delta Air Lines, which came to the show to declare itself a tech company — and increasingly popular move.

Ronda Curchill

Karen Kahn, HP's chief communication officer, and Anneliese Olson, global head, print category (right), watch a demo at CES.

TVs search for the next killer app

TVs with 8K displays have had a growing presence at the show, and CES 2020 was the year they arrived in force. All the major manufacturers had 8K TVs on display (although there is little true 8K footage as of yet) which shows that the industry is looking for something to hook consumers now that 4K has reached saturation (brands like TCL are selling good 4K sets for around $300), and “more pixels” is a simple thing to understand.

LG used CES to evangelize its OLED TVs, with two headliners for 2020: First is a new version of the company’s rollable TV, first unveiled last year; the new version rolls downward when you mount the set on the ceiling. The other TV is notable for CES because it’s small: a 48-inch OLED set, indicating LG is interested in selling its premium display tech at lower price points.

An odd TV micro-trend at CES 2020 was the arrival of the vertical TV. Both Samsung and Chinese brand Skyworth showed TVs with a special mount that can rotate the set 90 degrees. Ostensibly it’s to make video shot on smartphones or the buzziest Tik-Tok dispatch more convenient to watch, which seems like a misguided choice, but remember: many possible futures.

“You’ve got spinning TVs from Samsung, you’ve got OLED TVs from LG, you’ve got the panel TVs, but not a lot of synergy between the efforts,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst of the Enderle Group. “It’s interesting, but you also don’t know which horse to ride.”

The smart home’s dirty laundry

The smart home gadgets of CES 2020 didn’t disappoint. Both LG and Samsung showed smart fridges that can suggest recipes based on the food in your fridge. It’s a neat AI-driven trick, but it could hint at another goal: using data to hook customers on smart services (like grocery delivery) down the road. Smart home got special emphasis at the Samsung booth with Ballie, a grapefruit-sized rolling ball that resembles the lower half of BB-8 from Star Wars and acts as a smart home hub and companion in one, with the ability to follow voice commands and interact with other connected gadgets.

The flip side of sophisticated smart home tricks, though, is the issue of compatibility. That’s why many of the major players in the space formed an alliance shortly before CES to develop an open standard for smart home devices. Against that background, Sonos sued Google, not coincidentally on the first day of CES, for copying its technology to make Google Home devices, which were everywhere at the show.

Ronda Curchill

HP's president of imaging, printing & solutions Tuan Tran checking out the latest tech at CES.

Delta comes to play, Sony gets weird

Domestic airline Delta — the first major aviation company to make a splash at CES — announced several new tech initiatives, including commitments to improving the entertainment systems on planes (not everyone wants to use their phones) and making in-flight Wi-Fi free … eventually. At its booth, the company showed off a novel way it’s making baggage handlers’ lives easier: a wearable robotic exoskeleton that makes picking up heavy bags easy.

Sony surprised the CES 2020 crowd by venturing way out of its comfort zone by unveiling a working electric concept car, the Vision S. Interestingly, it’s not something you’ll see on the road, instead, it’s a platform for showcasing Sony’s strength in displays, cameras, sensors, and more. The interior is chock full of touchscreens, and in place of side mirrors, there are cameras. It’s definitely a statement — not that Sony is a carmaker now, but that it has an array of technologies that are underutilized in automotives. And that it can still surprise.

CES 2020 kicked off a new decade of innovation. Who and what defines it is still to be determined, but the show had strong visions for display technology, AI, digital services, sustainability, and more. It’d be nice to have it all, but now comes the hard part: not just making them become real, but play nicely together.


Read all about the three biggest trends from HP at CES.