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The Tech That Will Invade Our Lives in 2020

The 2010s made one thing clear: Tech is everywhere in life.

Tech is in our homes with thermostats that heat up our residences before we walk through the door. It’s in our cars with safety features that warn us about vehicles in adjacent lanes. It’s on our television sets, where many of us are streaming shows and movies through apps. We even wear it on ourselves in the form of wristwatches that monitor our health.

In 2020 and the coming decade, these trends are likely to gather momentum. They will also be on display next week at CES, an enormous consumer electronics trade show in Las Vegas that typically serves as a window into the year’s hottest tech developments.

At the show, next-generation cellular technology known as 5G, which delivers data at mind-boggling speeds, is expected to take center stage as one of the most important topics. We are also likely to see the evolution of smart homes, with internet-connected appliances such as refrigerators, televisions and vacuum cleaners working more seamlessly together — and with less human interaction required.

“The biggest thing is connected everything,” said Carolina Milanesi, a technology analyst for the research firm Creative Strategies. “Anything in the home — we’ll have more cameras, more mics, more sensors.”

If some of this sounds the same as last year, it is — but that’s because new technologies often take time to mature.

Here’s what to watch in tech this year.

In the last few years, Amazon, Apple and Google have battled to become the center of our homes.

Their virtual assistants — Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri — respond to voice commands to play music from speakers, control light bulbs and activate robot vacuums. Smart home products work well, but they are complicated to set up, so most people use virtual assistants just for basic tasks like setting a kitchen timer and checking the weather.

Then in December, Amazon, Apple and Google came to what appeared to be a truce: They announced that they were working together on a standard to help make smart home products compatible with one another.

In other words, when you buy an internet-connected light bulb down the line that works with Alexa, it should also work with Siri and Google Assistant. This should help reduce confusion when shopping for home products and improve the ease with which connected gadgets work with one another.

Ms. Milanesi said that eliminating complexity was a necessary step for the tech giants to achieve their ultimate goal: seamless home automation without the need for people to tell the assistants what to do.

“You want the devices to talk to each other instead of me being the translator between these device interactions,” she said. “If I open my door, then the door can say to the lights that the door is open and therefore the lights need to turn on.”

If and when that happens, your home will truly — and finally — be smart.

In 2019, the wireless industry began shifting to 5G, a technology that can deliver data at such incredibly fast speeds that people will be able to download entire movies in a few seconds.

Yet the rollout of 5G was anticlimactic and uneven. Across the United States, carriers deployed 5G in just a few dozen cities. And only a handful of new smartphones last year worked with the new cellular technology.

In 2020, 5G will gain some momentum. Verizon said it expected half the nation to have access to 5G this year. AT&T, which offers two types of 5G — 5G Evolution, which is incrementally faster than 4G, and 5G Plus, which is the ultrafast version — said it expected 5G Plus to reach parts of 30 cities by early 2020.

Another sign that 5G is really taking hold? A broader set of devices will support the new wireless standard.

Samsung, for one, has begun including 5G support on some of its newer Galaxy devices. Apple, which declined to comment, is also expected to release its first 5G-compatible iPhones this year.

And 5G will be going to work behind the scenes, in ways that will emerge over time. One important benefit of the technology is its ability to greatly reduce latency, or the time it takes for devices to communicate with one another. That will be important for the compatibility of next-generation devices like robots, self-driving cars and drones.

For example, if your car has 5G and another car has 5G, the two cars can talk to each other, signaling to each other when they are braking and changing lanes. The elimination of the communications delay is crucial for cars to become autonomous.

It’s a time of intense competition in wearable computers, which is set to lead to more creativity and innovation.

For a long while, Apple has dominated wearables. In 2015, it released Apple Watch, a smart watch with a focus on health monitoring. In 2016, the company introduced AirPods, wireless earbuds that can be controlled with Siri.

Since then, many others have jumped in, including Xiaomi, Samsung and Huawei. Google recently acquired Fitbit, the fitness gadget maker, for $2.1 billion, in the hope of playing catch-up with Apple.

Computer chips are making their way into other electronic products like earphones, which means that companies are likely to introduce innovations in wearable accessories, said Frank Gillett, a technology analyst for Forrester. Two possibilities: earphones that monitor your health by pulling pulses from your ears, or earbuds that double as inexpensive hearing aids.

“That whole area of improving our hearing and hearing the way other people hear us is really interesting,” he said.

We have rushed headlong into the streaming era, and that will only continue.

In 2019, Netflix was the most-watched video service in the United States, with people spending an average of 23 minutes a day streaming its content, according to eMarketer, the research firm. In all, digital video made up about a quarter of the daily time spent on digital devices last year, which included time spent on apps and web browsers.

Netflix’s share of the overall time we spend watching video on devices will probably decline in 2020, according to eMarketer, because of the arrival of competing streaming services like Disney Plus, HBO Max and Apple TV Plus.

“Even though Americans are spending more time watching Netflix, people’s attention will become more divided as new streamers emerge,” Ross Benes, an analyst at eMarketer, said in a blog post.

So if you don’t like “The Mandalorian,” “The Morning Show” or “Watchmen,” you won’t change the channel. You will just switch to a different app.

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Gadget of the Year: The Toaster Oven

Many of us won’t hesitate to spend more than $600 on a cellphone. Here’s another device to spend that money on: a toaster oven.

Yes, you read that right.

Like a smartphone, a good toaster oven can be an everyday workhorse. Apart from heating up toast, this underrated kitchen gadget can handle many other foods, like roast chicken, steak, fresh bread, crispy potatoes and even cake.

A good countertop oven often outperforms a full-size one because its smaller cavity enables it to heat up faster and maintain consistent temperatures more easily. Your electricity bill will probably drop, too, if you have an electric full-size range.

Last but not least, the countertop oven recently became an interesting tech product category. Over the last two years, tech companies like June and Tovala and household brands like Whirlpool have invested in software-powered heating methods that cook foods more efficiently, requiring less culinary know-how.

That means we now have more options than ever. For around $500 to $1,000, we can get a smart oven, equipped with advanced heat tech and programmed recipes to automate the cooking process. Or you could spend around $150 to $700 for a high-quality old-school toaster oven.

So should you go for a techie oven or a traditional one? I tested two high-end countertop ovens — the $1,095 Brava smart oven, which relies on light bulbs to generate heat, and a $680 Wolf Gourmet countertop oven, which uses traditional heat methods — side by side to understand their benefits and downsides.

My wife and I used both ovens to cook several dinners and compared the results. Then we brought baked goods to our offices to let a panel of judges (O.K., our colleagues) decide which oven baked the best cookies and bagels. Here’s how that went.

First, a primer on the two ovens.

The Brava smart oven, which was released last year, looks like a bulky laser printer with a handle and touch-screen. A system of light bulbs transfers infrared energy directly into the food; the lamps can heat up to 500 degrees within a second, meaning there is no need to preheat.

To make cooking a mindless task, the device has a catalog of preset recipes including roast chicken, baby broccoli and bacon. You just tap a few buttons and follow the on-screen instructions to get going. The oven kit includes a glass tray and a metal tray as well as a probe thermometer for gauging the doneness of meats.

The Wolf Gourmet countertop oven has “calrod” technology, which consists of tube-shaped heating elements that convert electricity into heat. In addition, it uses convection, which involves a fan circulating heated air to cook foods evenly.

To control the appliance, you select a heat mode (like bake, roast or broil), turn a knob to set the temperature and then wait for the oven to heat up. The oven has two adjustable metal racks and also includes a probe thermometer.

Credit…Mary Lam for The New York Times
Credit…Mary Lam for The New York Times

The pros and cons for each oven were the most pronounced in roast chicken.

For this experiment, I salted a chicken and painted it with soy sauce, and then I removed the spine. Each oven baked half the chicken.

With the Brava, I selected the preset chicken recipe. The screen instructed me to insert the probe thermometer into the chicken, place it on the metal tray and start cooking immediately. After about 28 minutes, the chicken reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees. It was done.

With the Wolf, I turned the heat up to 425 degrees and waited about 12 minutes for it to heat up. Then I placed the chicken on a sheet pan, inserted the thermometer into the meat and lined the pan on the center rack. About 36 minutes later, the chicken was ready.

The result: The Wolf produced a chicken with a darker, crispier skin, in part because of its longer cook time. The Brava chicken came out slightly dryer and blander. But my wife and I agreed that both chicken halves were satisfying — much better than a rotisserie chicken sold at a grocery store.

After the chicken was done, we baked baby broccoli in each oven, which took about 6 minutes in the Brava and 11 minutes in the Wolf. Both ovens made the broccolini nicely charred and crispy.

Verdict: If I wanted the best roast chicken, I would get a Wolf. But if I wanted to get a good chicken quickly on the dinner table, I would get a Brava.

Credit…Brian X. Chen for The New York Times
Credit…Brian X. Chen for The New York Times

The Wolf excelled at baking breads, while the Brava was hit and miss.

In this test, I prepared 24 bagels of equal weight and baked a dozen in each oven.

The Wolf produced bagels with a nicely browned, crispy crust and a pillowy crumb. The Brava bagels came out pale and doughy. I decided to give the Brava a few extra minutes to ensure the bagels were not raw, but they still did not brown.

I brought the bagels to the office and handed out scorecards to let my colleagues rate the bagels, without telling them which oven produced which batch. The Wolf beat the Brava, 8 to 0.

Credit…Mary Lam for The New York Times
Credit…Mary Lam for The New York Times

Cookies were more forgiving. My wife made a batch of chocolate-chip and peanut-butter oat cookies. The Wolf oven’s cookies turned out evenly browned but softer, and the Brava cookies were crispier with uneven browning.

Similarly, she asked her colleagues to score the cookies. The Brava beat the Wolf, 7 to 5. Some rated the Wolf cookies higher for aesthetics and consistency, but others preferred the crispier chew of the Brava cookies.

Verdict: Serious bakers should get a Wolf oven. Casual bakers would be fine with a Brava.

My wife and I also reheated a leftover roast duck from a Chinese restaurant. The Brava had a button to reheat food; the Wolf did not. So I turned the Wolf up to 350 degrees and set a timer for five minutes.

After the time was up, the leftover duck came out nice and hot from the Brava. The Wolf oven’s duck was still slightly chilled and needed a bit more time.

Verdict: The Brava is faster and easier to use for reheating leftovers.

All the verdicts point to one thing: There are now countertop ovens for different types of cooks.

For perfectionist cooks with the luxury of time, like my wife and me, an oven that uses well-honed, traditional heating methods like the Wolf is a great fit. This countertop appliance could handle the vast majority of our baking needs, leaving our full-sized oven with one main job each year: Thanksgiving turkey.

But there are plenty of people who would probably enjoy a smart oven like the Brava, such as busy parents with young children who just need to get dinner on the table quickly, or those who bake quick meals like frozen pizzas.