The Consumer Electronics Show that kicks off the year in resounding style was larger than this year. Its size and diversity mirrors the rapidly developing state of the technology space.
There were few show-stopping new product announcements. Instead there was an avalanche of smaller products launches from the thousands of exhibitors. Many of these products will likely fail in the white heat of a competitive market place, but the extent of applied innovation was exciting to see. Many of the trends we have foreseen in trend analysis work over the last decade are now becoming reality, along with a host of innovations we had not foreseen.
It is not possible to do justice to CES in a short blog post – and there are many out there that will do a better job of summarizing all that’s new. We challenged ourselves to highlight some key tech trends through exhibits seen at CES.
And if there was an overarching summary of the event we would suggest it’s the fact that business models are beginning to change and will likely do so with increasing rapidity.
- Smart Machines
One of the overriding themes of CES was that consumer electronics devices are getting smarter. This was evidenced in hundreds of devices across the show floor. It is happening because embedded computing capabilities are advancing with the speed of Moore’s Law. In addition the available information from advances in sensor technologies means that the inputs to the software that controls the machines is getting ever more sophisticated. What this means is that machines will be increasingly able to take on relatively complex tasks with little or no human intervention.
Among the most obvious examples are autonomous or self-driving cars of which there were many concepts and some current experimental cars used in real world applications
On a more mundane, real-world, level other Smart Machines at the show included: smart interactive TV guides (Rovi) that recognized natural language commands and responses.
- Widespread digital storage
Another substantial trend that was evident was the increasing availability of vast amounts of digital storage. Samsung was the most high profile with its launch of the Portable SSD T1 a tiny external drive. Available in 3 sizes 250GB, 500GB and 1TB. The price is premium though: $180 for the smallest option rising to $600 for the 1TB.
Sandisk also launched new memory products including consumer flash drives and portable SSDs. Sandisk isn’t extending up to 1TB in capacity but its products are more reasonably priced than Samsung – its comparable portable SSD are priced from $70 to $110 for the 120GB and 240GB solutions respectively.
- Pervasive connectivity
Low energy personal area networking was widely represented by the Bluetooth standard. Bluetooth LE has become the de facto standard for wearable and mobile connected devices such as wireless headphones and loudspeakers. Bluetooth LE is also making inroads in connected home networks though Zigbee and Z-Wave were also in evidence and will likely remain key in the connected home environment for some time thanks to mesh networking capability not currently present in Bluetooth.
Ultimately however, home connectivity will likely need to take on IP networking protocols irrespective of the radio interface.In wide area networking 4G LTE Cat 6 is now reaching a significant proportion of new, especially high-end, handsets as well as 4G networks. This means that peak data rates of up to 300Mpbs are theoretically possible. Ericsson was demonstrating the path to 5G and also talking about what it expects to see in the shorter term, for example with Release 12 and 13 of 4G LTE.
- Proliferation of digital devices
Wearables were everywhere at CES. While they were widely shown in 2014, this year they were in more commercial form – especially so-called smart watches. Many of these offer basic activity tracking and alerts to messages or incoming calls, but little else.
Head-up displays in glasses have moved on a considerably in the 12 months since the last CES. We tried Epson’s Moverio BT-200 smart glasses. The Epson booth had multiple stations where partner companies showed off applications that run on the Moverio glasses. We tried for ourselves an application by APX Labs called Skylight. After a quick lesson we found the usability surprisingly straightforward.Intel showed its Curie wearable platform technology. Curie is a button sized reference design that can be used by wearables producers to develop new products. Curie builds on an initiative Intel launched in 2014, however the Curie platform is around 30% the size of the original design.
Freescale promoted a competing open platform approach to wearable design called WaRP – standing for Wearable Reference Platform.
- Sensors everywhere
Allied to the digital device theme was the number and variety of sensors that will be increasingly embedded into all manner of everyday objects. Notable examples were sports equipment including Basketballs and Footballs (the latter from Adidas) that use an array of sensors to gather information on force, trajectory, spin, speed of state change etc. These sensors then link to smartphone or tablet applications that can provide users feedback on performance and how to improve through focused training.
Sensors are only useful if the data they produce can be interpreted correctly. Simple sensors used to sample one piece of data can be fairly straightforward. But sensors are increasingly being used in concert to analyse more complex data such as motion in multiple dimensions.We were most impressed by Hillcrest Labs. Hillcrest Labs produces both hardware and software that focuses on making sense of motion data. Its technology is used in LG’s highly regarded Magic Motion remote controls.
Hillcrest’s technology is now being designed into mobile devices from a number of vendors. It’s also designed into Alcatel OneTouch’s new smartwatch and provides the motion sensing for the Razor inspired initiative known as Open Source Virtual Reality (OSVR), an attempt to create low cost virtual reality headset to compete with the Oculus Rift.
- Display yourself
The most striking exhibits at CES were the huge numbers of 4K TVs and monitors. No TV manufacturer could hold its head up if it wasn’t showing 4K.
Leading vendors were all showing new technologies based on variants of Quantum Dot technology which promises, and in our subjective experience delivers, outstanding colour reproduction including deep blacks, bright whites and a wider range of color and contrast for all colors in between.Add to the astonishing picture quality High Definition Audio and there is likely to be further step in the development of the TV market. This is positive for existing leading TV manufacturers including Samsung and LG however we noted the further rise of Chinese brands such as TCL and Hisense that might compete away some share from the incumbent players.
In addition to affirming long-standing industry trends, perhaps our key observation from CES was the emergence of new business models. This was well-illustrated by one of the show highlights, an electric scooter from a start-up called Gogoro. Gogoro was founded by ex-HTC execs Horace Luke and Matt Taylor. The scooter is aimed at high-density urban living such as you find in cities like Taipei, Manila and Hanoi. Unlike most electric vehicles there’s no plug-in recharging option. Instead owners will swap out batteries at convenient locations around the city. The business model innovation is that owners will not own the batteries. Instead they will pay a monthly subscription to use the battery service. This means they will always have access to fully charged, good quality batteries. The analogy would be an oil company like Shell selling its own branded cars that can be refuelled at Shell gas stations based on monthly service fee.
– Peter Richardson