CES 2018 Wrap Up

CES 2018 Wrap Up


Blackfire Research is back from Las Vegas, where we spent the entire second week of January at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES). This year was packed with productive meetings in our official CES Suite at The Venetian Hotel and Casino. However, we did manage to get down to the Sands Expo and Las Vegas Convention Center to check out all the cool, new tech for 2018 – here’s what we saw at CES this year and our takeaways from the show:


Hey Google

If last year’s CES was dubbed “The Amazon Home Takeover,” this year could be summarized by one simple greeting: “Hey Google.” The search engine giant was everywhere this year: literally. They had a massive 3-story booth right outside the convention center, and at every booth that featured products touting Google Home smart speaker/Google Assistant functionality, a Google representative was there, donning a white jumpsuit fresh out of George Orwell’s dystopian vision of 1984. But Google’s overwhelming presence at the show paid off: this year, all eyes were on them. From Whirlpool appliances to smart speakers with video displays, you couldn’t escape the latest “Google Home Takeover.” Amazon was present at CES of course (Whirlpool also featured appliances with Amazon’s Dash Buttons built-in, which is pretty neat and useful) but if a winner had to be chosen for CES 2018, Google would be voted “Best in Show.” Speaking of which…


All (Robot) Dogs Go to Heaven

Sony has brought back their popular Aibo robot dog and everyone at the show couldn’t have been happier. This very good boy is new and improved for the AI age with a camera on his nose so he can recognize members of his family (awww) and find his bone (awww). He also features a camera on his back to help him navigate the house to find his charging station. With touch sensors on his head, back, and chin, he can respond to touch like any ‘ol dog would: by wagging his tail, moving his head, and stomping his widdle feeties. With his adorable LED-lit eyes, this is by far the best, and most realistic, pet robot on the market. Unfortunately, Sony hasn’t announced plans to sell Aibo in the US anytime soon. Doggonit!


A Picture’s Worth A Thousand Words…

This year, we’ve officially stepped into the world of 8K. But since 4K is barely a thing yet (because there’s hardly any 4K content available still) Samsung has gone around the issue of total lack of 8K content by unveiling it’s Q9S 8K TV with AI Upscaling, meaning, that this TV can convert any content into 8K resolution. And from firsthand experience, we can tell you that 8K resolution is pretty darn good. The picture was so incredibly clear that jaws dropped during the demo. Another Samsung showstopper this year was their enormous, bezel-less The Wall: a 146-inch modular MicroLED TV.


Honorable Mentions & Takeaways

5G cellular technology, the latest and greatest approved standard, wasn’t on display much at CES this year, mainly because the hardware needed for it isn’t quite ready yet. There were a few booths demonstrating it’s super-fast capabilities, but overall, it was all quiet on the 5G front at CES. But don’t expect that to last long: with 5G technology coming to the main service providers fast, it’s sure to be all the rage at next year’s event.


Once again, this year’s CES felt more like a car show than anything, with a plethora of smart, autonomous vehicles on display (some of which seemed to be taken straight from an episode of Black Mirror). Also, Wireless charging was big this year, especially since Apple announced their commitment to the Qi Wireless Charging standard last September.

Overall, between the rain and loss of power, this year’s CES was a bit chaotic. But we still managed to see some pretty neat tech that was useful, inspiring and – we hope – becomes available soon (we’re looking at you, Aibo!)

Wireless Charging Fuels the Smart Home of the Future

Wireless Charging Fuels the Smart Home of the Future


Last week, we spoke about the latest iPhones all (finally) supporting wireless charging and Apple’s commitment to the Qi wireless charging standard. But the sort of wireless charging that Apple has chosen to back isn’t truly a wireless solution, since you still have to use a charging mat (plugged into an outlet), and your device must be placed on the mat in order for it to charge. However, there are other wireless charging options on the market that are truly wireless.


One such company is called Energous, a Silicon Valley-based company whose WattUp wire-free charging technology is gaining a lot of buzz. Energous supplies chips to manufacturers that can be integrated into a wide variety of devices (such as smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, and more) that enable wireless power transmission at short, medium, and long distance ranges – the longest of which can bolster energy from up to 15 feet in any direction. Energous uses a Radio Frequency (RF) system, so the experience of charging your devices will feel similar to using a router for Wi-Fi. According to their website: “A WattUp transmitter, or Power Router, sends energy via a Radio Frequency (RF) signal to your WattUp-enabled electronic devices when requested. A WattUp receiver in each device converts that signal into battery power.” To learn more about Energous in action, check out this article about their CES 2017 exhibition.  


Another company, Ossia, with their Cota Wireless Power technology, envisions a world in which you walk into your home, an airport, a coffee shop, even a train – and your devices automatically begin to charge. The system comprises of a transmitter, a receiver, and software. The transmitter comes in many different forms: from a smartspeaker-looking cylinder, to a ceiling tile. The receiver is a microchip that can be embedded into numerous devices, which mostly lies dormant, but gets triggered when a Cota receiver sends it a packet of information indicating a need for charge. The software then directs the charge from the transmitter to the receiver’s location, even if there’s movement. Cota uses the same frequency as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and can charge multiple devices at once.


Finally, there is Wi-Charge, which just received FDA approval to sell their products in the US. Wi-Charge works differently than Energous and Ossia because it uses infrared beams to transmit power as opposed to an RF system. The range for their charge is up to 10 meters indoors, with 3-4 watts of power per device. In order for the technology to work, your device needs to be in, what they call, the “line-of-sight” (i.e. visible to the transmitter). The first phase of their operations will use dongles or cases attached to your device equipped with the receiver. In the future, receivers will be fitted inside devices, like we’ve seen with Energous and Ossia. The current Wi-Charge charging stations double as lamps, but in the future, the company wants to equip transmitters into ceiling light fixtures in office buildings and homes.


While Apple was praised for choosing to implement a fairly ubiquitous wireless charging standard into their latest iPhones, their choice was actually quite underwhelming. Apple is known for being at the forefront of innovation. Because they waited so long to jump on the wireless charging wagon, many expected them to come out with something better than a technology that’s been standard on Android phones for years. They didn’t. Instead, startups like Energous, Ossia, and Wi-Charge now stand at the forefront of wireless charging innovation.


Wireless charging is essential to the smart home of the future because the smart home of the future is wireless. From the smart speaker boom to advances in wireless, multiroom audio, this year has brought hi-tech products into the mainstream market, fueling the growth of the smart home sphere. With the introduction of true wireless charging into homes, offices, and public spaces, we’re one step closer to a truly connected world.

Say Qi: Apple Embraces Wireless Charging

Say Qi: Apple Embraces Wireless Charging


On September 12th, Apple opened their brand-new 2.8 million-square foot campus in Cupertino to the press- dubbed Apple Park – to announce the company’s latest products. Although personally, I’m most excited for the Apple Watch Series 3 with cellular and Apple Music, the biggest stars of the nearly two-hour show were the iPhone 8, the iPhone 8 Plus, and, of course – the iPhone X, Apple’s 10 year anniversary phone. From FaceID to animojis, Apple’s newest phones have the entire tech world abuzz. But there’s one advancement in these three smartphones that many have felt is long overdue: wireless charging.


Wireless charging has been supported in smartphones for quite some time – even going as far back as 2009 – but it seemed like Apple was holding out on incorporating wireless charging into their products due to lack of industry standardization. But all that seemed to change earlier this year when Apple joined the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC), an organization that helps develop industry standards in wireless charging. The WPC backs the Qi Standard, which works either through induction (where wireless chargers contain special magnets and coiled wires that pass electricity to your smartphone or other device via a mat) or resonant charging. The Qi Standard is used across many brands, including Samsung, Google, HTC, Blackberry, LG, Motorola, and Nokia. And now Apple.


At their September 12th Keynote, Apple announced that the new iPhone 8, 8 Plus and the iPhone X all support Qi wireless charging, which is huge news because it means that these smartphones will be compatible with non-Apple products and accessories, such as from Belkin and Mophie, as well as many wireless charging mats that have already been installed in hotel lounges, cafes, and airports around the world.


However, Apple wouldn’t be Apple if they didn’t offer sleek (and expensive) accessories. The company also announced that they plan to offer their own wireless charging pad beginning sometime next year. Called AirPower, this wireless charging mat will incorporate the Qi Standard and will have the ability to charge multiple devices at once, such as an iPhone, an Apple Watch, and the new AirPod case.


Apple finally introducing wireless charging into their products is a step forward in whole-home wireless connectivity, but the concept of these wireless charging mats are somewhat misleading since the mats themselves still have to be plugged into an outlet, and your device will have to have a physical connection to the mat (i.e. touching it) in order for your device to charge. So yeah, not totally wireless.


There are other, truly wireless charging solutions on the market, and we’ll discuss them in the next blog post.