CES remains the biggest week of the year in tech. Every January, the show connects the world's biggest tech companies, the next generation of startups chasing disruptive ideas, tech reporters and influencers, big box retailers looking for products to fill their shelves, and tens of thousands of tech enthusiasts trying to get a glimpse of what's next.
While it won't reach the heyday of a decade ago, this year's show will have exhibitors, the international press, and attendee numbers that look a lot more like the pre-pandemic tech industry. There will also be lots of aspects of the show that will be live-streamed to a global audience -- a welcome remnant from the pandemic-dominated shows of the past two years.
This year's 2023 version will look a lot more like the flashy CES you've seen in countless news reports and internet videos over the past couple decades.
Nevertheless, there will be four big questions that loom large. Keep an eye on these themes as reports roll in this week.
1. Will the big tech companies give us more than gimmicks?
At CES, big tech companies are notorious for showing off concepts no one will ever buy such as 100-inch TVs, roll-up displays, silly robots, and single-rider helicopters parading as flying cars. While stingy consumers hit hard by inflation could certainly use some entertainment, it would be a welcome development at this year's CES if the big tech companies didn't rely on their old parlor tricks but put the spotlight on useful innovations with more substance.
2. Can anyone convince us to care about the metaverse?
Right now, the metaverse is a lot like a lost puppy wandering around and smelling everything. There are bound to be a lot of companies -- from hardware makers to NFT peddlers -- angling for a place in the metaverse ecosystem, just in case it does pan out.
We've got our eye on Thursday, January 5 for HTC Vive's next big unveil. Will HTC's new headset make the metaverse more appealing? We'll see. Apple's long-expected headset looms large over 2023, of course, but Apple won't be at the show and no one knows how long we'll have to wait to see what they've put together.
3. Will AI start to automate useful things?
AI burst into the consumer consciousness in 2022 with Lensa, Dall-E, ChatGPT and other tools. It wowed us with its capabilities to produce human-like work and it raised troubling ethical questions about intellectual property and fair attribution.
Those ethical concerns will only deepen in 2023. But AI's bigger wins are likely to come from the way smarter AI and machine learning are going to connect the dots behind the scenes to automate work and make life simpler. That's where a lot of most impactful opportunities await and we have to hope this year's CES will surface some exciting projects and startups that can make humans smarter and more efficient.
4. Will the best stuff come from unexpected places?
Over 3,000 companies will be exhibiting at CES 2023 and a third of them are coming to the show for the first time. While the big TV vendors, PC companies, and automakers will hog lots of the spotlight, it's many of the smaller startups and entrepreneurs who will have the most disruptive tech at the show. In years past, I've seen tiny startups with tech years ahead of the big companies – including stuff that later showed up as features in mainstream products.
The bottom line is that the most innovative stuff at CES 2023 will likely come from companies you've never heard of. ZDNET is on a mission to find them. So stay tuned.