Every year, CES attracts the hottest consumer tech from across the globe to converge in a week-long showcase of the future. From AI to AgeTech, new mobility to bespoke materials, here are some of the highlights from CES 2024.
Design "for all" was a big theme through many marketing slogans and in the product solutions presented by LG, Hyundai MOBIS and Samsung, among others. Large brands in every sector showed thoughtful solutions for aging and disabled users and small startups looking to create a company grounded in meaningful purpose. From in-home healthcare to accessible gaming to simple video and audio accessibility improvements for TVs, this is the largest effort we've seen in the area of inclusive design innovation across every area of the show.
Urgency in AgeTech
AARP's AgeTech Collaborative booth was one of the largest drivers of the inclusive design theme, filled with dozens of startups and corporations with products designed to help people age gracefully. Companies are recognizing the dire need for new solutions in this space as the aging population grows and unmet needs continue to be demonstrated. Industry partner Samsung had their own "Health House" in the AARP booth filled with digital and physical tech products for aging-in-place. The AgeTech momentum continued throughout the North Hall, with companies providing solutions for safety, health monitoring, and digital communication.
There were also very interesting approaches to creative user engagement, a topic that's critical for making tech approachable to certain senior persona types. Elli-Q demonstrated an elegant and engaging robotic interface, Proto showcased the potential for improved virtual communication through "Holoportation," and freestyle+ gave live demonstrations of the power of improvisation to improve mental fitness. Freestyle+ also did a fantastic job MCing AARP's AfterDark pitch event, where multiple startups were featured, including Soliddd, with their glasses equipped with vision correction for macular degeneration, and Onscreen won the competition. If the energy on this topic at CES 2024 was any indication, the aging population has reason to expect their golden years to live up to their name.
Another exciting addition to the AgeTech sector was the recognition of music's impact on mental fitness. Many emerging players were capturing music's power to stimulate engagement and even provide therapeutic benefits. In the Samsung Health House, SingFit's digital app promotes structured sing-along routines, exemplifying their "music is medicine" philosophy. LUCID Therapeutics introduced its AI-driven music therapy to reduce anxiety and agitation for aging users. Further, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University was an honoree of the CES Innovation Awards for their smart and connected musical instruments that encourage people to engage with music through movement. The health benefits that these companies have revealed are music to our ears. We're excited to see where this momentum might lead for future products in many other categories.
Transparent displays are everywhere
This technology has been exciting to watch evolve over the last five years or so. We remember in 2019, there were promising transparent displays of meaningful size starting to arrive, but they were not transparent enough and were too pixelated. Each year, they have become noticeably better, and this year, they were showcased in every corner of CES.
While not perfectly clear, they are close enough; the technology breakthrough is the rich opacity capability, which provides a high-resolution user experience that can completely block what's behind the screen. This technology will change how interior designers create home floor plans as TVs don't just have to sit up against a wall. Transparent displays also made appearances (or disappearances) in applications spanning sports, gaming, retail, vehicle interiors, consumer electronics and more. This show revealed a level of fidelity and market penetration never before seen for this tech, bringing the promise of transparent displays to fruition.
AI-powered vs. AI washing
With the hot topic of AI LLMs and chatbots leading us into 2024 with amazing promise, AI washing at CES was also in full swing. It feels like just yesterday; every product with a sensor was "smart." Some truly were, and some not so much. Once they were combined with a Bluetooth or WiFi signal, everything at CES was part of the IoT ecosystem. Now, anything that can make one basic software-defined decision is "powered by AI." Of course, there are truly amazing AI-powered innovations and many we're using in our design process at our studio. However, to keep up with the Joneses, it was clear marketers are simply tacking on "AI-powered" to anything with a basic "smart" function leaving consumers to figure out what is the true power of AI in their purchase.
Some of the best examples we saw of AI-powered tech that makes good on the claim: HP's AI laptop that's available today, Rabbit R1, TimeKettle's AI-enabled language translation hub providing online or offline translation of up to five languages for up to 20 users, and Volkswagen's announcement of the OpenAI enabled IDA voice assistant 02 slated for integration in production vehicles by Q2 2024.
We just mentioned that a few years ago, tech companies at CES were proudly touting their products' IoT and cloud capabilities. With computing technologies enabling more processing power in tinier packages, the pendulum returned to onboard edge computing this year because of benefits like low latency, privacy, and energy efficiency. Even in light of the increase in AI-enabled devices, tech companies like Intel, Nvidia, Qualcomm, AMD, and DeepX debuted products enabling self-contained AI computation on the edge.
With mobility companies occupying the newer West Hall for a couple of years now, it was good to see it completely full after the pandemic resulted in many empty areas in recent years, but we did notice a lack of major OEMs. Usuals like Honda, Mercedes, Volkswagen, Hyundai, and BMW were present, but brands like Ford, GM, Stellantis, Toyota, and Audi, who all have had giant displays in the past, were noticeably absent. These OEMs are likely just being conservative until they have something significant to debut and will pick and choose each year. Either way, vehicle reveals from the likes of Honda, Mullen, Vinfast, Supernal, LG, B-ON, and others did not disappoint, with many other evolutions of existing concepts like Hyundai's DICE SPACE and CITY POD.
On the aesthetic side of trends, stripes are in. Ribbed stripe textures were on everything from car wheels and dashboards to air purifiers, lighting, and even toilets. The unique part was the consistent thickness and dimension across all these domains, as if each designer was using the same formula.
Another standout aesthetic theme was speckled composite materials that are … maybe sustainable? This style trend was created a few years ago by brands like Nike, showcasing recycled content like ocean plastics in their soles. The trend spread through the industry, but now speckled textures have become "the look." While some products clearly used recycled composite materials — a more honest application of the speckled aesthetic — multiple properties from consumer electronics to concept vehicles were simply treated with splatter paint technique instead to create the look. In most cases, these companies weren't even trying to make a sustainable claim. Nevertheless, this "look of recycled" content is an interesting phenomenon where the impression of an eco-friendly plastic has become a styling norm.
Transparent materials are having a moment (again). It felt very retro Y2K to see clear or frosted plastic and polycarb materials in everything from car dashboards to electronics. These nostalgic touches, such as on the Kia PBV and Horwin Senmenti 0, reminded us of the exploding trend of translucent iMacs and computer speakers that spread over the consumer and fashion world around the year 2000.
Over the past five or six years, pastel colors have been powdered across self-care products, fashion, interior design, and more. Now, the mobility and electronics industry is in full pastel mode, from speaker meshes and handheld devices to mobility vehicles and interiors. Kia's EV3 and PBV were perfect examples, but this theme extended to overall exhibit environment design as well. The bold neon and primaries you'd expect in the electronics area are still present, but it's refreshing to see this approachable style finally push out the expectation that every EV vehicle has to be trimmed in electronic blue.
Shrinking Health Tech
Home health and wellness continues to be a focus for convenient and non-invasive technologies. From BeamO to Ceragem's Master Medical Bed, the promise of one's health being increasingly managed from home continues to build momentum. The increasing miniaturization of sensor technologies also continues to improve. Monitoring devices that were contained within earphones in past shows are now housed in tiny earbuds like Mindmics and Naqi Neural Earbuds. Biometric monitoring that used to be contained in a wristband is now contained in a ring as fast followers of the segment leader, Oura, bring new features to their products in the Evie and UltraHuman smart rings.
OEM Bespoke Materials
There's a real effort by OEM brands like Panasonic, Kohler, and Samsung to launch products with exclusively produced and branded materials, vying for attention with their unique aesthetic treatments, sustainable factors, or performance benefits. It makes a different statement when OEMs spearhead their own efforts in materials science. It's a fascinating and exciting method for curating a sustainable brand identity that demonstrates commitment and ownership. There's also opportunity for circular product streams to re-purpose waste streams in meaningful ways. Let's hope this trend promotes meaningful impact through sustainable design.
A few noteworthy companies caught our attention with their focus on harnessing ambient sources of energy to power everyday objects. Barun Bio Inc. showcased a wearable technology in clothing that captures electricity from your movement, delivering it back to you through the same clothing to stimulate muscle recovery and performance. Ambient Photonics presented a comprehensive suite of solutions to capture energy from indoor ambient light to power home devices like fire alarm systems, thermostats, remote controls and more. InQs Co. Ltd. Showcased their SQPV Solar Glass, a transparent form of solar cell to capture light passing through. We loved the ingenuity of these practical innovations that made us more energy efficient and replaced fewer batteries.
Major brands brought thoughtful solutions demonstrating their commitment to sustainability. This often took the form of an emphasis on circularity over more generalized sustainability messages. Samsung, Togg, and other booths also made a point of calling out ways that their booth design itself incorporated recycled materials or sponsored activities to offset the carbon footprint of operating and powering their booth. Other companies showcased technology supporting a circular economy by helping recycle more responsibly, like the plaSCAN handheld plastic materials identification scanner from Repla Inc.
There were so many plants this year. We love us some home or office plant walls or a nice succulent shelf, and it seems like everyone at CES was fully onboard as well. Both real and fake plants filled the expo halls more than we've ever noticed before.
Not only were plants a staple throughout the show, but many booths opted for nature-inspired environments. For some companies like Sumsei, nature was the main stylistic inspiration and differentiator of all the consumer electronics inside as well.
As we bid farewell to CES 2024, a dazzling showcase of innovation, we're filled with excitement for the future it unveils. Transparent displays, AI wonders, and cutting-edge mobility reflect a tech landscape brimming with possibilities. Here's to the energy, optimism, and boundless potential that CES brings. See you next year for more awe-inspiring trends.
This recap of CES 2024 was captured by Grey Parker, Principal & CEO, David Byron, Director of Innovation Strategy, and Lynnaea Haggard, Marketing Manager at Sundberg-Ferar product innovation studio. Sundberg-Ferar is a human-centered product design and innovation strategy studio in Detroit. Since 1934, the studio has been designing innovative, beautiful products that improve people's lives and drive business outcomes for companies in robotics, new mobility, consumer, and commercial product markets. Learn more at www.sundbergferar.com