These days, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) isn't just a showcase for next year's AI-driven, voice-activated, and convenience-creating new gadgets; it also sets the stage for major societal shifts and emerging business strategies. Here are a few of the big themes we saw this year:

Return to Nature

Even as technology occupies more and more space in our lives, several display-related products have taken their designs to the next level by programming them to disappear into their surroundings when not in use. For example, the Alfred Smart Locks keypad fades after you enter the code, thus creating a look that is cleaner, more approachable, and less digital overall.

Alfred Locks

A discreet home security keypad by Alfred Smart Locks.

Similarly, new TCL televisions have integrated cameras and photo editing filters that let you alter your selfie to look like a Monet painting, making your screen appear as a framed art print hanging on the wall. TCL and Samsung are also both striving to achieve a warmer feel for their consumer products with fabric-like features stretched across the backs and sides of their devices. The newest versions of the Google Home and Alexa are sporting this softer style trend as well.

Displays Get Bigger and Bendier

Flexible display technology took a big step forward this year with rollable and foldable screens drawing large crowds to the booths for companies like LG and Royole. Larger displays with higher quality continued to be a trend as well: Samsung and Sony both had 200"+ screens showcasing crisp motion, vibrant colors, and gorgeous resolution, and many major auto OEMs demoed interiors with big, seamless, pillar-to-pillar displays.

LG's "Massive Curve of Nature" - an impressive installation of hundreds of curved OLED panels - certainly turned heads, but we're looking forward to a few years from now when display makers will be able to use tiled MicroLED panels to eliminate the noticeable OLED bezels and create one gigantic, seamless display.

AI in Everything

Everything is becoming Alexa- or Google-enabled - much to the dismay of Samsung, who is still trying to double down on Bixby - and many product companies are striving to augment their offerings by incorporating machine learning. The show floor wasn't glitch-free, though: we attempted to test a self-rolling suitcase that would, in theory, make airport travel easier, but ran into trouble when the AI-driven camera couldn't register the shiny pants our consultant was wearing. Even after borrowing a dark-colored blazer to help the camera sync, the suitcase followed her for only a few seconds before changing direction to track someone else wearing a similar jacket.

This is a good example of where a lot of smart tech's failures are happening - companies making products that work for specific use cases but ultimately require the user to augment their behavior to capture the benefits fully. But this doesn't always have to be the case. For example, on the home security front, cameras that would normally capture everything happening outside your house are being paired with contextual understanding. This means you won't waste any memory on useless footage of you walking down the driveway to check for mail or unlocking your back door to let your dog out. These designs don't just make products act smarter; they also create a lot of new and refreshed value.

Startup Bonanza

With over 1,200 startups in attendance, there was no shortage of interesting ideas. There was significant growth from other years when it came to the scale and representation of these hopefuls, which were organized by their country of origin. Sure, there were the expected UK, Japan, and France (which was particularly huge), but also places like Romania, Luxembourg, and Egypt. Companies looking for innovation may not be able to get away with limiting their focus to the usual suspects in the US and Western Europe for much longer; going forward, we expect to see much more expansive and global tech scouting strategies.

We'll be sure to keep an eye out next year to see how the industry handles some of the user issues we encountered, the value props we were unsure of, and what this new technology enables. See you in Vegas next year!

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