CES 2019 Highlights: Telemedicine, Mini Webcams, and Better Mobile Video Calls

CES 2019 highlights in video conferencing

The “C” in CES makes the annual technology showcase a confusing beast.

Unlike other major tech conventions staged around a dominant theme or single company–such as the Zoomtopia conference that video conferencing vendor Zoom has begun mounting in its own honor–the Consumer Electronics Show, as it was formerly known, is a sprawling, publicity-hungry platform for any manufacturer that can make a claim of innovation in any commercial field. As such, you get demonstrations of intelligent toilets, smart curtains, room-sized bread makers, and beer speakers alongside the more ambitious announcements about mobile technology, virtual reality, and computer power.

If you’re interested in a specific technology, as we are with video conferencing, it can be hard to get a clear understanding of what at the conference is relevant to your field.

To make things easier, VC Daily has cut through the fluff and chosen the CES 2019 highlights that will affect the video conferencing world. The list below isn’t exhaustive, as video has become both a platform and a component and so covers a lot of ground, but here are some of the industry trends we saw get buzz during CES 2019.

VC Daily’s CES 2019 Highlights

  • Mobile is getting more visual
  • 360-degree video calling gets compact
  • Telemedicine continues its advance
  • Robots become video calling nurses
  • Better broadcasting on mobile

Mobile Is Getting Even More Visual

The first wave of innovation that the smartphone brought us was convergence–the whole internet stuffed into your pocket and available in an instant. Recently, the focus has switched to better presenting all that information through bigger, brighter, clearer visuals. That’s a great step toward realizing the potential of mobile video conferencing.

In a year when Apple is very possibly releasing three new iPhones, CES 2019 offered other brands a chance to make some noise. Two such devices caught our eye. The first is a foldable phone called the Royole FlexPai. This phone can be folded in half because the developers have done away with glass and built the whole device from plastic. The resulting thickness of the phone makes it a pocket stretcher, but the upside is that this hybrid phone/tablet, when opened up, has twice the screen size of a typical smartphone. You can see it in action below:

Toward the end of 2018, we reported on Microsoft filing a patent on a similar innovation–a dual-screen smartphone–and it’s encouraging to see someone actually deliver such a product. Small smartphone screens are the biggest restraint on video calling potential and the Royole FlexPai seems to have a nice balance between convenience and usability.

The other innovation we liked was produced by Huawei. The Honor View 20 is a gorgeous-looking device with a 48-megapixel camera, augmented reality filters, and an edge-to-edge screen. The real innovation, however, is the “hole punch” display that places the camera within the screen display rather than above it. Not only does this effectively increase screen size, it places the camera in a way that better accommodates eye contact during video calls. With a little more innovation, we might see such hole punch lenses incorporated closer to the center of the screen so you don’t have to constantly shift your gaze to truly look your friend in the eye.

360-Degree Video Calling Gets Compact

What’s 3.5 inches high and has eyes in the back of its head? The Lenovo Mini Video Conferencing Speaker. This compact device features 360-degree horizontal and 180-degree vertical visuals within a size that’s competitive with the leading portable webcams designed for use with laptops and in small video meetings. We haven’t seen panoramic cameras this small before–the thermos-sized Owl video conferencing camera from Owl Labs is the closest we’ve come to a device you could feasibly carry with you–and it brings the potential for genuine round-table video calling at a moment’s notice, which made it a definite CES 2019 highlight for us.

We’ve been disappointed with the fish-eyed visuals of previous 360-degree cameras, so we’ll withhold judgement until we can get our hands on the Lenovo, but we think it has the right connectivity and video platform access to be a valued addition to your webcam collection.

Telemedicine Continues Its Advance

Video conferencing is continually extending the reach and power of medicine by connecting doctors and their patients across the internet-connected world. The latest innovation is a handheld ultrasound machine that could let people perform their own scans while consulting with a doctor over video chat. The Butterfly iQ is an FDA-approved $2,000 wand that attaches to an iPhone and can capture ultrasound images across various body parts. At the moment, it’s available only to medical professionals, but as you can see from the video below, it’s as easy to handle as a child’s toy.

The device could be delivered to general practitioners in rural and remote areas to facilitate live links with expert medical professionals, expanding the services available to such communities. If it is cleared for use by non-certified users, it could save pregnant women the time, money, and inconvenience of regular visits to the doctor.

Robots Become Video Calling Nurses

Continuing the healthcare focus, Samsung used CES 2019 to unveil a range of robots designed to help us take better care of ourselves. The most impressive of the series is the Samsung Bot Care. This toddler-sized robot can monitor your sleep, measure your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and more, and connect you with a healthcare professional via video chat. It even has a warm bedside manner that will greet you in the morning, play music to suit your mood, remind you to take your medications, dial 911 if necessary, and automatically notify your relatives in case of an emergency.

To further enhance the companionship angle, we’d like to see the Bot Care develop a cuddlier exterior.

It’s not hard to imagine a future where such robots act as supervisory companions, forming a constant link between the elderly or people with long-term illness and the family and healthcare providers who look after them.

To further enhance the companionship angle, which can be important for people living alone, we’d like to see the Bot Care develop a cuddlier exterior–perhaps something closer to that of the adorable Lovot robot pets that proved one of the cutest CES 2019 highlights.

All you need do is add medical scanners and a video calling screen to those little guys and you’ve got the cutest healthcare aid ever invented.

Better Broadcasting on Mobile

Finally, one of the leading microphone brands took advantage of CES 2019 to hype its latest addition to the field of user content creation. The Shure MV88 Plus Video Kit is an all-in-one recording system that attaches to your iPhone. Retailing at $249, the kit includes a digital studio condenser microphone, tripod, phone clamp, and lightning and USB-C cables. With the camera quality of the iPhone now up to the high standards of live streamers, the kit adds sound to match. It’s a little cumbersome, sure (see what we did there?), but should provide an audio boost that elevates your live stream and vlog above the amateur standards of selfie-style video presentation.

Subscribe to VC Daily