Don't let wearables and phablets and hoverboards fool you. As we approach CES 2016, PCs are still a large part of the consumer tech pie.
Hybrid 2-in-1 laptops and tablets will continue to loom large, but we're seeing a shift to more capable laptops and desktops, including high-end gaming PCs, new ports for speedy accessories, and laptops with 4K screens. After all, many of the new, high-end tech features introduced at tech shows end up becoming must-have features in every PC.
What will CES 2016 hold? While we don't have all the details, we can make some pretty good guesses about what's in store, much of which might make you look twice at the supposedly dying PC industry.
Snap N' Go
While the past year saw a slew of convertible- and detachable-hybrid tablets and laptops, the category seems to have really hit its stride. Obviously, we had the Microsoft Surface Book and the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 earlier this year, so you can expect other manufacturers to follow suit.
Energy-saving Intel Core M processors have been supplanted by powerful Skylake-based Intel Core i5, i7, m5, and m7 processors. Now more than ever, detachable-hybrid tablets really seem like machines that could replace your laptop, rather than supplement it, so expect more of those at CES 2016. Look for lighter form factors, but with accessories like rigid keyboard covers, enough power to do enterprise business tasks—and maybe even a little gaming.
But it's not just convertible and detachable hybrids. Many PC makers are creating new form factors entirely, whether they bend, snap together, or flex. Count on a lot of evolved PCs at CES this year.
USB Type-C Connection
Speaking of evolution, USB-C is coming in a strong way. USB Type-C connectors let manufacturers build thinner PCs, are capable of faster data transfers, and can consolidate a USB port and the power adapter port. For an extreme example, just take a look at Apple's 2015 MacBook. ThunderBolt 3 connections use the same physical port, are even faster, and are becoming more and more popular on high-end PCs. Word is that many, if not most, of the new hardware products being unveiled at CES will have a USB Type-C connection.
Thanks to the growing popularity of 4K UHD video from streaming services like Amazon Prime and Netflix, more AIO desktops, hybrids, and laptops will feature sharp 4K screens, replacing 1080p HD displays on high-end systems. We've already seen this with Dell's XPS 15 laptop, and we can expect the other big guys to come out with systems that offer better-than-ever screens as the competition tries to keep up with the binge-watcher's demand.
While many PC makers are featuring thinner laptops and tablets, some are doubling down on larger systems that offer more performance. Customers are demanding both big and small PCs, and manufacturers are trying to keep up. These will include systems that you can fully modify, as well as desktops and laptops that are still relatively light and thin compared to the towering behemoths of the past. Look out for top-of-the-line specs and stylish form factors at CES.
With more powerful systems come new peripherals, and not just of the keyboard and mouse variety. Because of the popularity of live streaming video games, you can expect to see all sorts of shiny new webcams, projectors, and headsets announced at CES, along with all-new gaming laptops that won't break the bank, and portable desktops that are capable of handling some serious graphics.
And don't count out Steam Machines just yet. We've seen the Steam Controller already, and we can expect more Steam-related news coming from CES. PC gaming has really hit its stride in 2015 with releases like Witcher 3, Fallout 4, and Metal Gear Solid: The Phantom Pain. We can expect bigger and better hardware to handle even more complex games in 2016.
There's no two ways about it: PCs are in a bit of a tough spot in the consumer electronics market. Weird, somewhat tone-deaf ad campaigns like "PC Does Whaaat?" don't really add any cool factor. But with the release this year of Windows 10, we might see a turnaround, and large manufacturers are taking notice.
Gone are the clunky designs of the past. PC makers are starting to rebrand. We've seen this already with pretty convertible-hybrid laptops with consumer-friendly logos and svelte frames. At CES, we can expect more of this from the big manufacturers: more consumer-friendly branding, prettier products, and a more streamlined offering of laptops and desktops. After all, they have to compete with Apple's design-driven machines.