Skip to main content

Eight big takeaways from CES 2020

From 8k to 5G to AI to concepts, we all saw through the hype

Share this story

CES is over, and I am quite sure you’ll be happy to be done with it. We still have more to come today and perhaps a little next week. We’ll have our Verge Awards piece, naming most important, best, and most hilarious things of the show. We’ll have a few category-specific roundups of what to watch out for this year and some pieces digging deeper into the trends that CES has kicked off.

In the hopes of having something we can look back on later this year when asked what the hell even happened at CES, I’m going to list some of my big takeaways. I’ll leave specific products to the Awards list, instead I want to try to do just a little synthesis.

If there’s one major takeaway, it’s this: in the absence of one clear Next Big Thing, there are a lot of ideas getting thrown at the wall. Many of them are intriguing, but overall it seems like we’re waiting for some parts of the consumer electronics ecosystem to mature. That trend expresses itself differently in different types of product categories, but it was pretty consistent across all of them.

Thanks for experiencing this week with us!

1. TV makers keep looking for the next expensive thing

Image: Samsung

You probably already know the drill: every year at CES TV companies do their best to come up with the next big thing that makes people upgrade. This year it’s a reminder that rolling TVs are coming and so is 8K and so are radical new designs that are bezel-less or ultra-thin.

You can get a killer 4K HDR TV for under $300, depending on what size you want. Right now I see a big gap between that and what’s next. Samsung and LG will sell you something very expensive if they can, but broad adoption of the Next Big TV Tech isn’t going to happen this year in part because we don’t really know what that is yet.

2. Foldables aren’t ready yet, but flexible screens are coming

I wrote about this earlier but it bears repeating: most of the foldable PCs we’ve seen were merely prototypes and the software for them is not finished, either. The pressure on Microsoft to get Windows 10X right so that these PC makers can get their new designs out of the concept stage and onto store shelves is going to be intense.

That pressure is doubled because Windows historically has a Good Version / Bad Version tick tock with Windows. Windows 10X is going to be a first cut at supporting a new, innovative form factor. Microsoft’s last big swing at changing Windows for a new form factor was arguably Windows 8 on the Surface, which didn’t go so well. It’s a very different company now, though. Something to watch.

3. The battle between AMD and Intel will intensify

AMD is taking another shot at legitimacy on laptops while Intel is taking another shot at legitimacy on graphics. Both are getting ready to support the new form factors I just mentioned above and Intel in particular is trying to invent new ones itself.

New form factors always lead to a little bit of chaos, a reordering of winners and losers, and new interface paradigms for computers. But at this point in 2020 it feels like everybody is gearing up for all that chaos. By the end of the year I think we’ll have a much clearer picture of how chaotic it’ll really be.

4. Concepts were everywhere

Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

Again, I’ve written about this before but it bears repeating. The major cars we saw were concepts or prototypes. The most interesting phone thing we saw — the OnePlus Concept One — literally has “concept” in its name. (Though I will say I was taken aback by the interest in Samsung’s new “lite” phones.)

I’d also put Samsung’s cute little Ballie robot firmly in this category, along with a few other things we saw. All this is very unsatisfying and I’d prefer more real products, obviously. But even as concepts most of what we saw didn’t really feel like it had a firm direction or purpose.

5. Quibi is ambitious but unproven

Image: Quibi

I said before that Quibi is the thing we’ll most likely remember as the Big Launch of CES 2020. That’s fitting, because Quibi’s launch was fairly concept-y. We didn’t get a look at the app, for example.

But the thing I learned is that however ambitious you think Katzenberg and Whitman are, you’re not thinking big enough. Ambition is not the same thing as success, though, and the stakes for Quibi’s actual launch later this year are going to be very high.

6. Smaller companies are chafing under big tech

Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

Sonos absolutely stole the story of the show with its lawsuit against Google coming out just hours before the CES show floor opened. It started a conversation not just about Sonos and Google, but more generally about how small and mid-sized tech companies live in a world created by big tech giants (just like the rest of us).

Right now, it’s successful companies like Spotify and Sonos that are pushing the hardest as they probably feel the most confident they won’t get crushed in a fight without anybody noticing it happened. I think in 2020 you will see more — and smaller — companies find ways to push back, perhaps with the help of regulators.

(By the way, check out Adi Robertson’s excellent analysis of what’s up with Sonos’ suit.)

7. Sex tech de-stigmatization is inevitable

Photo by Ashley Carman / The Verge

I don’t want to suggest that most people thought there is something vulgar about sex tech and CES changed that. Quite the opposite: our cultural norms have progressed to the point where we have been having healthier conversations about sex in all sorts of contexts.

Last year, the powers that be at CES showed how out of touch they were before the backlash forced the CTA to get with the times. That doesn’t mean that the lobbying group is suddenly a paragon of cultural innovation — far from it. But the point is that even the CES organization had to adopt a more inclusive stance. Good.

8. Tech companies fetishized AI, 8K, and 5G a little less, finally

Those three buzzwords are so totemic that Foxconn just sort of blurted them out in defense of the its factory fiasco in Wisconsin. For some time it was impossible to hear any other tech company tout a product without using one of those terms. But this year, it seems like the bubble burst on all three.

Lots of companies still tout AI like it’s magic, but nobody is buying it. Companies still insist on mentioning AI in their press releases, but don’t wait for you to ooh an ahh anymore. We all know it’s just another way of saying “computer models do it” and with a few exceptions (like Neon), nobody is pretending otherwise.

As for 8K, the lack of content for those screens and interest in spending gobs of money on them meant that even though we saw it everywhere, nobody was entranced by it.

And as for 5G, well, the networks have started lighting up the service and everybody was forced to admit that the heavens didn’t open up and rain down pure sparkles of innovation. Which meant that while 5G was everywhere, nobody acted like it was anything other than what it is right now: somewhat faster data.

More from CES

└ The most promising AirPower alternative isn’t ready yet

It was right and just to tease Apple for announcing and then failing utterly to release AirPower. We may never really know the full story, but if the struggles to make this new product are any indication, it’s a hard problem — and that doesn’t even get into the difficulties the Apple Watch adds.

I’ve seen a few direct AirPower clones but this is the one I’m watching the closest because I trust Nomad more than most accessory makers to wait until something is very good before releasing it.

Ashley Carman reports:

But I can see why the pad was delayed: the Base Staton Pro struggled to detect my AirPods Pro, and when I put my phone on the edge of the mat, its OLED screen flickered on and off. At another point, a coil “went down” on the left side, meaning nothing placed on that side could charge, which required me to only use the right side of the pad. Nomad’s team says they’re working alongside Aira to fix these issues and that they’ll only release the pad when it’s ready.

└ There sure were a ton of Peloton wannabes at CES

Natt Garun rounds up a bunch of machines and — more importantly — breaks down what this trend means and where it’s going.

└ Byton’s 48-inch screen might not be as distracting as it looks

Sean O’Kane and Ashley Carman joined us on the second episode of The Vergecast -- which should be posted sometime today in our podcast feed. Sean and Nilay’s discussion about how car screens are going to rapidly change in the next few years thanks to flexible displays was so fascinating I just sat back and listened even though it’s sort of my job to talk on that show. Anyway, you should check out the story and video Sean made to describe the experience of this screen-centric car.

└ Panasonic’s VR glasses support HDR and look pretty steampunk

They look dope as hell, but if you’ve been tracking CES this year, you can guess what’s coming next:

Panasonic is unlikely to ever sell these glasses as a consumer product. Instead, it’s pointing to commercial applications that are likely to spring up alongside the rollout of 5G networks, such as virtual travel and VR sports

└ This is Intel’s first discrete graphics card, but you can’t buy one

Intel made a graphics card but it’s ....a concept, sorta. Still, it details stuff that’s coming for Intel graphics. Sorta. It’s Intel so it’s confusing, but luckily we have Sean Hollister to explain it:

It’s effectively a next-gen integrated GPU that’s been separated from its CPU into its own discrete part, with the trappings of a desktop card on top. It’s a very early stab at something that will be more powerful, and more discrete, later on.

└ 2020 might be the year of reasonably okay foldable PCs, maybe

Headline of the show so far by Sam Byford. It’s exactly right.

└ Roomba’s robot vacuum could grow arms in the near future

└ This folding 8K drone could rival DJI and Skydio

This is a company that’s barely been on anybody’s radar, but when Vjeran Pavic saw the specs for this drone he had to go check it out on the show floor. We obviously can’t fully judge it just from the floor, but given the camera sensor and battery life claims it’s worth putting on your ...radar. Yes I just realized I was making a drone/radar pun and look it’s the last day of CES so let’s just roll with it:

On paper, this looks like one of the most capable drones out there, and, to be completely honest, it sounds a bit too good to be true. The drones are currently in production, and the company is expecting EVO II to start shipping in a matter of weeks

└ This real-life Transformer might be one of the coolest robot toys ever made

More from The Verge

└ MDMA researcher is fixing the bad science that sent him to prison

As a teenager, he went to prison for selling ecstasy, but now his MDMA research is debunking the bad science that got him there.

└ Amazon suspiciously says browser extension Honey is a security risk, now that PayPal owns it

“Our goal is to warn customers about browser extensions that collect personal shopping data without their knowledge or consent,” an Amazon spokesperson told The Verge, but declined to comment further on why it deemed Honey a security risk and the timing behind its decision to do so.

└ Bing loses out to DuckDuckGo in Google’s new Android search engine ballot

Obviously there would be money changing hands with the new browser ballot for Android in the EU. This is a fascinating way to set it up, though:

Each provider tells Google how much it’s willing to pay the company every time a user selects their product as the default. The three highest bidders are then shown to users, with the chosen provider paying Google the amount offered by the fourth-highest bid. This process is repeated every four months.

└ Microsoft Teams is getting a Walkie Talkie feature so you can reach colleagues all day long

We’re a Slack house and I can tell you that the lift of making a Slack call is way too high. The ringing and the waiting fuzzy connections and whatnot, it’s all a hassle. I get that this is a different tool solving a different problem, but even though it’s not meant for my needs it seems like it might be really useful.

└ Scooter startup Lime is laying off 14 percent of its workers and exiting 12 markets