January 24, 2021

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What to expect from CES 2021: The world’s largest tech show goes online-only

5 min read

The conference halls, hotels and casinos of Las Vegas will remain much quieter than usual this year after CES, the world’s biggest consumer electronics show now in its 54th year, cancelled its physical exhibition in favour of an online-only affair. 

Due to kick off on Monday 11 January and run until Thursday 15, CES is just one of the many major events the coronavirus pandemic has cancelled. A cornerstone of the technology industry calendar, last year’s show was pinpointed as a probable catalyst in spreading the virus far and wide across the US after 171,000 attendees from 164 countries descended on the city. Undeterred, most of the world’s largest tech companies are still planning to use the fully-virtual event as a platform for setting the global agenda for the year ahead in terms of innovation and weird and wonderful devices: albeit at a much greater social distance. 

Pandemic tech looms large

Unsurprisingly, following a year in which health was top of the news agenda, pandemic-related services and gadgets are set to make up a significant proportion of this year’s 1,800 or so vendors. 

Attendees walk through a hall during CES 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. Every year during the second week of January nearly 200,000 people gather in Las Vegas for the tech industry's most-maligned, yet well-attended event: the consumer electronics show. Photographer: Bridget Bennett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Attendees walk through a hall during CES 2020 (Photo: Getty)

Air purification systems that claim to eliminate the virus, hi-tech face masks and social-distancing warning wearables are all likely to make an appearance. UK-based start-up Medic-lead will be showing off what it claims is the world’s first AI-enabled sink, capable of detecting whether the person washing their hands is following the handwashing method displayed on a small screen or not and only activating the stream of water once it’s satisfied it’s been completed. Hygiene and germ-killing methods, such as UV-C lightbulbs, is likely to receive top billing during this year’s show under the banner ‘pandemic tech’. 

Stay at home mod cons

Similarly, global stay-at-home orders have presented home entertainment companies with ever-greater means of separating consumers from their hard-earned cash. CES traditionally plays host to outlandish conceptual TV and computer monitors boasting incredibly high resolution and colour clarity and this year is unlikely to prove an exception. Sony has already announced a new range of TVs that process data by mimicking the workings of the human brain using a new form of artificial intelligence it calls cognitive intelligence, while Samsung has created a solar-charging eco remote control for its new sets. 

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South Korean company LG will be hoping to make a splash with its transparent OLED TV screens, including a retractable 55-inch screen with 40 per cent transparency that rises out of the frame at the foot of a smart bed. LG is preparing to show off demos of the same transparent screens displaying maps and schedules as they update on a train window, acting as a partition in a restaurant that shows pictures of the food available on the menu and to greet shoppers as they approach sliding glass doors in shopping malls or airports.

LG Display Transparent OLED at Restaurant (Photo: LG)
LG’s Transparent OLED at a restaurant demonstrates how it could display the menu (Photo: LG)

 Home sound systems, speakers and TV sound bars to make the most of lounging at home in lieu of socialising will be a key part of this year’s proceedings, as will be tech to alleviate the difficulties of working at home: including laptops with super-sized screens, gaming monitors, more powerful PCs and ergonomic keyboards and other accessories.

Voice-activated baths and bee hive-tending robots 

More time spent indoors will also result in the release of more gadgets designed to spice up your home. Kohler, a US firm that previously made headlines at CES 2018 for its Amazon Alexa-controlled smart toilet, has already revealed a smart bath complete with its own voice-activated fog machine to recreate the outdoor hot tub experience, while electric toothbrushes, showers shavers and other bathroom fixtures are all likely to be given the Internet of Things treatment by hooking them up to the internet. Smart locks, security cameras, connected lighting solutions, thermostats and other smart home gizmos are also safe bets.

Kohler's smart bath (Photo: Kohler)
Kohler’s smart bath has an inbuilt fog machine
(Photo: Kohler)

Elsewhere in the home of tomorrow, friendly robots that clean your floor, pool, cut your grass, offer emotional support, help to educate and even extract honeycomb from a bee hive in the case of Daesung’s Hive Controller robot are also on the agenda.

Health and wellbeing takes centre stage

A greater global appreciation for the importance of exercise is likely to prompt a new rash of gadgets focused on improving our health and wellbeing. Fitness platform Ultrahuman has launched ahead of the show, a new platform dedicated to helping users meditate, exercise and sleep as effectively as possible, taking a holistic approach many other companies are likely to adopt. 

BRAZIL - 2020/02/15: In this photo illustration a International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) logo app seen displayed on a smartphone. (Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
CES hopes to resume its in-person event in 2022
(Photo: Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty)

Expect smart gym equipment, sports trackers, workout and wellbeing apps and virtual personal trainers, particularly now global smash Peloton has diversified beyond its famed static exercise bikes and into treadmills.

5G hopes to shake off 2020’s negative associations

Greater connectivity is set to be another major talking point of this year’s CES. While 5G took a reputational battering in 2020 after anti-5G protestors wrongly attributed its increasing presence in the UK as a cause of coronavirus, discussions about the technology are set to dominate the show’s speaking sessions, with US network Verizon’s chief executive Hans Vastberg set to hold a 5G keynote on Monday. 

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Elsewhere, the majority of laptops, phones and other gadgets released in 2021 will support Wi-Fi 6E, a new standard that promises to be around 30 per cent faster than current Wi-Fi 5. While you’d need to upgrade your home router and pay for a reasonable plan in order to benefit from the increased speeds, plus own a compatible device, the new standard will help to usher in significantly speedier home connections in the future. 

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