CES 2023 feels the same way, and also quite different. Fancy, new, and downright weird technology fills the halls of Las Vegas showrooms that I’ve visited many times before. But in the three years since I was last here, the world has changed quite a bit. Especially the way we work.
It might take a little digging below the surface, but this year’s CES show has a lot to say about the big shift to hybrid and remote work, in everything from better video conferencing tools to attempts to build a mixed-reality workspace filled with a metaverse .
Encounters in the Metaverse
The concept of a metauniverse office, at least by one definition, is a shared collaborative space where one can participate through several means: virtual or augmented reality, 3D displays, standard laptop, tablet, and phone screens; or personally through things like smart whiteboards that work across all these different experiences.
Dell has become a leader in showing off concept pieces and prototypes during CES, and this year its Concept Nyx (the same name Dell uses for gaming prototypes) tackles that version of the metaverse head-on. At a pre-CES preview, I was able to participate in a mock meeting by creating a 3D avatar for others to see, and also by sitting in front of an autostereoscopic display (allowing you to see in 3D without special glasses) that gave me a 3D view of a project. I then put on a VR headset to feel like I (or my avatar) was actually in that shared space writing on a whiteboard with my VR controller. And then I was able to use a slate-style tablet to interact with the real-life version of the same whiteboard, but without wearing a headset.
None of this is close to a product shipping anytime soon, and like many things in and around CES, the hardware is carefully labeled as “conceptual.” From this batch of products and experiences, the huge glasses-free 3D display, using eye-tracking hardware to make the 3D image really look decent, seemed like the part with the most potential in the workplace.
Gamers come first
Much of the new computing technology is driven first by the gaming audience, which has a tolerance for gear that can be both expensive and experimental. That’s why ideas like VR and autostereoscopic 3D often appear first in gaming hardware before moving on to more practical products for your non-gaming hours.
For example, this CES saw several new 18-inch gaming laptops, a screen size that has all but disappeared since early 2010. The first of these larger screens are in gaming laptops from Dell, Razer, Asus, and Acer, but there’s obvious crossover appeal for hybrid and remote workers who want the flexibility of a laptop but with a larger screen that feels more desktop-like. Razer laptops, with their minimalist style, are especially popular among gamers and creative professionals. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more professional-oriented laptops eventually grow into this new 18-inch size.
Asus has also gone glasses-free 3D with its new ProArt Studiobook and Vivobook Pro laptops. Both, like Dell’s display prototype, use eye tracking to make 3D viable. And these devices are aimed at artists and designers, not gamers. Acer also has a similar 3D eye-tracking laptop aimed at gamers called the Predator Helios 300, as well as a professional display from 2022 called the Acer SpatialLabs View with the same technology.
Glasses-free 3D laptops were first tried in 2012 and never made it to the second generation. However, the eye tracking in these new versions makes the experience much better.
More and different screens
Other experiments, like Lenovo’s dual-OLED Yoga Book 9i and the color E Ink/OLED combo ThinkBook Plus Twist, may eventually offer some new features that will trickle down to more robust work laptops, but that’s far it’s not a sure thing. However, new E Ink devices like the 10.3-inch Yoga Paper could have more practical applications for work, and I only say this because I used a new Amazon Kindle Scribe with a similar feel while walking the floor of CES 2023 to great effect .
I’m happy to say that the most welcome trend in both consumer and business laptops of the last two years continues unabated. Almost every new laptop we saw came with a full HD 1080 webcam by default, instead of the flimsy, low-resolution versions that were common before the pandemic.
Better yet, it’s considered such a standard feature that PC manufacturers hardly feel the need to call it out anymore. It’s been too long and low-resolution webcams have made this first year of remote work in 2020 more difficult than it should have been for many. But now that we’ve normalized the hybrid workplace and are accepting video meetings as equal to in-person meetings, I’d call it one of those subtle but important changes to the way we work that makes life a little easier.