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With webOS and wearables, LG’s moving beyond just displays at CES

LG

Samsung and Sony may grab a larger share of the CES fanfare, but don’t count LG out. It has quite the annual presence in Las Vegas, too. The Korean company uses the tech industry’s January soiree as the backdrop for a wide selection of product reveals — everything from wearables to smartphones to 4K TVs — and it has a sizable booth to house it all. It’s almost a given that LG will offer up improvements to more of the same at this CES. But before we try to gauge what the company may have in store for 2015, let’s first take a look at how far LG’s come.

A LOOK BACK

LG Electronics 60 inch HDTV sits on display at the press ope

LG’s 60-inch plasma displays at CES 2004

LG made its CES debut back in 2004 and to make the occasion memorable, it brought along a guaranteed showstopper: the “world’s first” 76-inch plasma display. Right from the jump, LG made it clear that display technology would be its key focus at the annual show. And it’s a game plan we’ve seen the company play out every year since. Unsurprisingly, that first Vegas show was also LG’s “most significant presence ever at a consumer electronics show,” as it helped the company make a big splash and establish itself among the heavy-hitting competition.

Of course, displays aren’t the only part of LG’s business or its CES story; the company has its hands in a variety of product categories, covering everything from refrigerators to TVs to washing machines. If you glance back to 2005, you’ll see how LG began to take a more well-rounded approach to its booth lineup. Appliances were included in the lot, including a fridge that packed a built-in 13.5-inch LCD TV in the door, as well as a smattering of smartphones. Since then, LG’s kept its CES presence varied, though it still places heavy emphasis on displays.

LG-GD910_01

The GD910 Watch Phone

Though wearables may be a recent trend, with companies like Apple, Samsung and Google each vying for a piece of the pie, LG actually began experimenting with the category as far back as CES 2008. That year, it showed off a prototype of the GD910 Watch Phone, a curious proof-of-concept wearable that wouldn’t look out of place alongside other Android Wear devices from today. But it wasn’t until after its second showing at CES 2009 that LG got the product out to market. Now, fully five years later, LG’s taking yet another stab at the smartwatch category, albeit with its more robust G Watch and G Watch R.

Much has been said about the death of CES and its lessened importance in the industry. And while some of that talk may be true, there are occasions when we get a true glimpse of the technological future; when CES exhibitors are firing on all cylinders. Which is exactly what LG pulled off three years ago when it treated attendees to massive, 84-inch 4K TVs. The tech, though visually impressive, wasn’t quite practical — there was no companion 4K content and the sets were prohibitively expensive for the average consumer. LG also threw OLED TVs some love that year too, when it rolled out a 55-inch model — the “world’s largest” at the time.

Despite their associated high costs, those future-leaning OLED and 4K panels once again accounted for a large part of LG’s show in 2013. And, by that point, LG had accomplished what it’d set out to do: It was now one of two big-name consumer electronics companies to bring 4K to market and vie for early adopters’ money.

But LG didn’t just stop there and settle for improving the picture quality of its TV sets; it also went after advancements in form factor and software. Last year, the company unveiled curved 4K OLED TVs, one of which measured a massive 105 inches, and announced plans at the 2014 CES to leverage webOS as a platform for its smart TVs.

THE ROAD AHEAD

Let’s start with LG’s big draw at CES: TVs. LG’s already gotten a jump on CES rumors by announcing that it’ll have LCD models that feature its newfangled quantum dot tech on display. These new 55- and 65-inch sets, situated between its Ultra HD LCDs and OLED panels, boast a wider color palette and improved saturation… or so LG claims. (We’ll be the judge of that once the show floor opens.) It also already revealed that version 2.0 of webOS will be there, an update that should address many of the common gripes surrounding LG’s smart TV platform.

With 4K still barely making its mark on mainstream consumers, it seems silly that LG would raise the bar higher and debut an 8K set at CES. But that’s just what rumors indicate. According to several company insiders, LG’s display arm has purportedly been hard at work on a 55-inch 8K display that features 33.2 million pixels at a resolution of 7,680 x 4,320. Keep in mind that 4K and curved displays, the two most recent TV innovations to come from LG, are still trickling into the market. So any moves the company may make into 8K at CES are likely to be pure proof-of-concept; a nice spectacle for an outsized show.

There’s another reason why LG might want to show off its 8K tech, and it’s the same reason LG trotted out 4K sets two years ago: mindshare. As Juniper Research’s James Moar explains: “The introduction of 8K TV showcases the potential for LG and establishes its credibility in the area before 8K becomes a necessity.” And that credibility could translate into a sales advantage among early adopters once 8K sets begin to gain traction.

Though most major manufacturers now reserve their big smartphone announcements for private one-off events, there are rumblings LG could use CES to debut the G Flex 2. If you’ll recall, the original G Flex, with its curved display, was the company’s attempt at a bendable, more durable smartphone. And, as early leaks indicate, the forthcoming G Flex 2 could offer “enhanced flexibility” while retaining the self-healing back cover from last year’s model.

If you’re hoping for a flagship phone from LG, don’t get too amped up. The G3, the company’s current smartphone crown jewel, is still relatively new — it’s just a hair over six months old. And, as Moar points out, LG tends to favor other one-off events for those types of big smartphone announcements.

And then there are the wearables. LG hasn’t been as aggressive as Samsung when it comes to churning out the devices, but it has recently served up the G Watch, G Watch R,Lifeband Touch and the kid-oriented GizmoPal. Which leads us to the next round of LG’s CES rumors: a 4G-enabled G Watch R2 and a webOS-based platform for wearables.

As far as LG’s G Watch ambitions go, it’s entirely possible we’ll see some sort of SIM-enabled device at the show. We know it exists. A 3G-enabled smartwatch from LG surfaced in FCC filings just this past September. That said, it’s not clear whether LG will unwrap its SIM-enabled G Watch at CES in Vegas or Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this coming spring.

Whereas a continued push into Google’s Android Wear is a certainty for LG, its plans to pursue an alternative wearables platform with webOS are not as clear. A few months back, images from a developer page for LG’s webOS-based wearables surfaced and were then quickly pulled. But if the company is looking to create its own operating system for wearables, there’s a good chance we may hear more about it in the halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center.

While other companies hold their product reveals for the week of the show, LG does things differently. Each year, in advance of CES, LG makes a slew of early announcements detailing portions of its planned lineup. While that strategy certainly takes some of the mystery out of the company’s annual showing, it also helps to build buzz and direct consumer (and press) attention to the products it wants spotlighted. Case in point: the G Flex. That bendable smartphone broke cover ahead of last January’s gathering in the desert, but still managed to garner a share of the CES attention. You can expect LG to do much the same in the days leading up to CES 2015.


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