With thousands of new products shouting for your attention, you can easily miss the bigger takeaways at CES. Recognizing the trends that develop and will impact the future is one of the most valuable things about the show. And since technology now touches more aspects of our lives than ever before, there were several key trends on display at CES 2020. Here are the ones that will have the biggest impact on the rest of 2020 and beyond. Jason Hiner specially for the CNET.
1. Impossible Pork redefines pigging out
Pork is the most consumed meat in the world, and Impossible Foods is on a mission to help the environment and human health by replacing it with plant-based Impossible Pork, which was announced at CES 2020. After being the surprise hit of last year’s CES with the launch of the plant-based Impossible Burger 2.0, Impossible Foods again grabbed the spotlight at this year’s show. A one-year hit could be shrugged off as a novelty, but Impossible Foods’ sequel in 2020 shows that tech has accepted food innovation as a valuable part of the industry.
CNET’s journalists gave the taste and texture of Impossible Pork good marks, and there was a lot of interest in the plant-based bacon and sausage that Impossible Foods has promised is coming as part of this move. Since 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock, making meat substitutes out of plants could have a massive impact on the environment, as well as help us feed more people more sustainably as the global population grows toward 9 billion by 2050, since growing plants takes a lot less land than grazing animals. Pork is especially widely consumed across Asia, where 4.4 billion of the world’s 7.8 billion people live. With its plant-based pork, Impossible Foods is strategically targeting a global audience.
2. Toyota’s city of the future has no human drivers
By far, the most ambitious thing unveiled at CES 2020 was Toyota’s Woven City, a prototype community of the future that will be built near Mount Fuji in Japan. The 175-acre plot of land where Toyota will build this planned community is the site of a now-defunct manufacturing plant. On this land, Toyota will create an experimental laboratory of future technologies including self-driving vehicles run on hydrogen fuel cells, robots, smart homes and new forms of personal mobility. (We assume that means things like the Wello, also unveiled at CES.)
There will be no human-driven vehicles in the Woven City, because the heart of Toyota’s concept is that today’s cities are built around cars and it wants to imagine a city that’s built for more sustainable forms of transportation. Perhaps the coolest part of this experiment is that regular people will be able to take up residence in the Woven City. This sounds a lot like Walt Disney’s original idea for Disney World’s Epcot, which stands for Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow. If the Woven City takes off, look for other companies and communities to replicate the idea.
3. New sensors are coming to upgrade your health
More health sensors are coming to consumer products, along with apps and software to help you read them, so that you can better understand your body and the state of your health. The level of understanding we can get from today’s consumer health products would have cost thousands of dollars and an appointment as a hospital just five years ago. And it was clear at CES 2020 that health companies continue to push this forward at a rapid pace.
There was the Withings ScanWatch, which now includes an electrocardiagram, photoplethysmography for optical heart rate, SpO2 for blood oxygen and deeper sleep analysis that can detect sleep apnea. There was the GoBe3, which can automatically track calorie intake (i.e. the number of calories your body actually absorbs) and can detect your stress level based on skin readings using similar technology to what’s used in lie-detector tests. There was also Valencell’s blood pressure-sensing earbuds, which could be used to help fight hypertension, the world’s most widespread undiagnosed condition. There were products to measure blood sugar and smart glasses to help people with dyslexia — while those products still have work to do, it’s great to see companies dedicating energy and resources to tackle these issues and we have to expect that they’re laying the groundwork for future products.
A decade or two from now we’re likely to look back and be baffled by the ways that we used to make so many decisions about our health without having data to understand what was actually happening. This has the potential to become a democratizing force in health care.
4. Computers are folding like phones
Foldable phones were one of the hottest topics in the tech world in 2019, and in 2020 foldable laptops could swoop in and take some of that mojo. The driving force behind a larger trend in foldable laptops is coming from Intel’s “Horseshoe Bend” reference design that was unveiled at CES. CNET had an exclusive deep dive with Intel on this new take on what a highly versatile and powerful computer of the future could look like.
Horseshoe Bend is essentially a 17-inch tablet or an all-in-one computer (if you use a kickstand and attach a keyboard and mouse) and it folds in half to become a 12.5-inch laptop with a touchscreen on one half and a touch keyboard and touchpad on the other. There’s also a hardware keyboard that can slide on the bottom touchscreen for those who don’t love virtual keyboards. It’s a compelling design that wants to push PCs forward in some new directions. Lenovo unveiled something similar last May, and Microsoft showed its dual-screen concepts in October. At CES, Lenovo showed off its Thinkpad X1 Fold and Dell showed off two foldables, the Concept Ori and the Concept Duet. This party is just getting started.
5. Tech getting less techie and more subtle
Today’s technology is flashy, it’s in your face and it’s everywhere. It’s difficult not to feel like technology is taking over our lives as it embeds itself in more and more places and things. But one of the trends of CES 2020 was technology becoming less obtrusive, more subtle and blending into the environment in more natural ways. We saw three companies that can tell that story: UltraSense, Sentons and Mui Lab.
UltraSense and Sentons are doing something similar. Both use sound waves to create touch interfaces out of plain surfaces made of plastic, metal, wood or other materials. This means the buttonless phone is a lot closer than we think, because this sound-wave technology can simply make the side of the phone a virtual button. Pressing and holding one spot could activate a power button. Sliding your finger up and down one side can change the volume. Squeezing the phone can take a selfie. Running your index finger down the back of the phone could act like a scroll wheel. You get the idea.
These sound-wave buttons don’t wear out as fast and the interface is more integrated into the device’s build. Manufacturers can also use haptic feedback to help you locate and interact with these virtual buttons. But beyond phones, both companies are also working to bring this technology to other surfaces, including steering wheels on cars, window panes, appliances and much more. This is going to be appearing in phones during 2020, but it’s when it starts making its way to other surfaces that its full potential could start to shine through.
Mui Lab takes a different approach to the same issue. The company has designed a smart display out of a natural wood surface. It looks like a normal strip of wood most of the time, but when it goes into display mode then it lights up with buttons or messages that show directly on top of the wood surface. Mui is a Japanese term that’s meant to convey a relaxed state of mind, and the idea behind this product is for it to blend seamlessly into your living space rather than just being another slab of technology taking up space.