What’s in-store for 2019?

From 8K and transparent TVs to foldable screens and smart speakers with displays, the next 12 months could see the debut of some cutting-edge new tech, says technology journalist, Jamie Carter…

Foldable phones are sure to make an appearance at some point, as are 5G-enabled handsets, but what about more serious electronics? 2018 has been the year of the smart speaker, and more specifically, of voice control. This year looks set to be the year of the ‘smart screen’, where smart speakers with Alexa and Google Assistant begin to ship with integrated screens. The gaps in digital assistants’ knowledge, as well as the non-binary nature of a lot of information consumers want, is beginning to hamstring Alexa and Google Assistant-enabled products. The presence of a screen would change that, particularly when it comes to the smart home.

It’s another step in a race among technologists to find the next generation interface for human communication.

Meanwhile, the audio industry will likely see a raft of voice-enabled audio products in 2019, including – at last – headphones that respond to a wake-word. So-called ‘true wireless’ earphones are also likely to become available with a longer battery life. As for hi-fi components, since Amazon announced its hi-res audio-compatible Echo Input, Echo Sub, Echo Link and Echo Link Amp back in early autumn, CES could see plenty of third-party products in a similar vein. Amazon wants Alexa in every conceivable product, though whether it can win over traditionalist hi-fi enthusiasts remains to be seen.

Until CES kicks off in January 2019, there’s no sure-fire way of knowing what’s coming next from secretive manufacturers

CES always sees the major TV brands, from LG and Panasonic to Samsung and Sony, refresh their ranges of TVs. More OLED TVs from LG are expected, and almost certainly an 8K OLED TV as the manufacturer plays catch-up – at least on screen size – to Samsung’s 75-inch and 85-inch Q900R QLED TVs launched during August’s IFA 2018 exhibition. All leading TV brands will likely unveil new OLED TV designs, except for Samsung, which itself will surely announce new QLED TVs. There are also rumours that Samsung will show-off a transparent TV. Given its history with The Frame TVs, and other design-led concepts, a see-through set wouldn’t be a shock. Whatever their design, two trends are likely for TVs in 2019; built-in Netflix Calibrated Mode (currently exclusive to Sony TVs), and far-field microphones to enable Alexa and Google Assistant voice control.

Will we witness the death of the TV remote control? That’s been prematurely claimed many times before, so let’s be cautious on that one. However, few would disagree that it will soon be time for that clunky slab of 1970s technology to be retired.

Another trend that at some point will surely hit in the European market is payment tech. The integration of payment platforms into retail, bookings and social apps – as is now so ingrained in China via WeChat – is surely incoming for the rest of the world. At CES and beyond, we may learn how that might happen.

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There are a few other assorted product niches that will develop in 2019. The surprise appearance recently of the Bose Hearphones could kickstart a hearables market that sees hearing aids and other medical aids become consumables. Mesh WiFi products will expand, eliminating Wi-Fi dead spots and offering a single network across homes for all kinds of smart devices. Don’t forget foldable screens. While not of enormous interest if they only apply to novelty smartphones, the technology is bound to affect the form-factor of tablets, laptops and many more products as manufacturers battle to provide consumers with bigger screens without the bulk.

However, one prediction for 2019 that should get all ERT readers talking comes from CCS Insight. The global analyst firm predicts that Amazon will buy a major retailer in Europe by 2019. Having already acquired Whole Foods Market in the US, CSS Insight thinks that Amazon could try to replicate that strategy in Europe, possibly by extending its Prime Now arrangement with Morrisons in the UK by acquiring the entire supermarket chain. Or it could go for a pan-Europe supermarket, such as Lidl.

A multibillion-dollar move by Amazon would really underline just how big it’s becoming in all aspects of consumer electronics. Either way, with the US trade war with China and Brexit both bound to affect the economics of the electronics industry, 2019 will surely prove a pivotal year.