In just over a week’s time, the annual Consumer Electronics Show will get under way in Las Vegas, and the world’s tech firms will fall over themselves to unveil gadgets we will want in our stockings next year.
But the reality is that the development cycle, from the drawing board to the January sale at Argos, takes a lot longer than 12 months – and many of the promised innovations will never even make it to the production line.
So a more accurate barometer for 2019 is to consider some of the products that were showcased this time last year. Those that have stayed the course thus far may be poised to finally enter the consumer mainstream.
Among the easiest to mass produce, since it is literally the size of a fingernail, is a UV exposure meter from the cosmetics firm L’Oreal, which sends information about your exposure to the sun, to an app on your phone.
It’s one of the first examples of a retail near-field communication device – a small chip which requires no battery and which communicates with an NFC-enabled phone, in the same way as contactless payments.
L’Oreal’s UV Sense, a third of an inch in diameter, can be stuck decoratively to a fingernail or a pair of sunglasses, and will alert your phone when your exposure exceeds a pre-set level. You should see a lot of these on your holidays this summer.
Another trend likely to be in vogue from Blackpool to Benidorm is the Air Selfie drone. No need to put your phone on a stick to get a picture of yourself in front of the Tower, because with these pocket-size devices, self-portraits have become airborne.
The little quadcopter, currently around £150, is already in its second generation. It’s independent of your phone because it has its own 12-megapixel camera, and communicates with you via an app. The downside is that the battery will be flat in less than five minutes.
There is little doubt that 2019 will be the year we begin to embrace 5G phones. This fifth-generation standard for mobile communications will handle more data than is currently possible and allow the simultaneous connection of multiple devices. However, you will need a new handset and a new and more expensive 5G-specific tariff. The hardware will likely arrive a few months before the networks can handle it, so phones labelled “5G ready” will become familiar fixtures at the top of Carphone Warehouse’s range.
Back at Las Vegas, the attention is as likely to be on the car park as in the convention centre. Automotive technology has always been the Cinderella of the industry, given the longer product development cycle that cars require, but “digital cockpits” are showing signs of changing that. These are media players that can slot into any compatible dashboard and which incorporate voice activation, touch screens and even steering wheel controls. Harman, the car audio division of Samsung, is behind the latest models, but once the car makers catch up and begin including the correct dashboard mounts across their ranges, the other brands will quickly follow.
The digital cockpit’s uses are more obviously apparent than those of LG’s 65in flexible TV which disappears like a roller blind when you’re not watching it, or of Samsung’s colossal 146in model that takes over an entire wall and can double as wallpaper when there’s nothing more interesting to watch. If you thought the season for turkeys had just passed, there will be a few more where they came from next month.