There is nothing quite like CES to glimpse where technology may be headed. The Consumer Electronics Show is infamous for its colossal showcase of consumer tech, from tiny start-ups to the world’s most influential tech giants. Every year some 200,000 people flock to Las Vegas to ooh, ahh, and oh?! all manner gadgetry and whiz-bang futurist concepts. Yes, many remain ‘concepts’ still years away from reality, and yes many will go extinct. (Check out Jeremiah Owyang’s take on sorting reality from fiction at CES). But as the old William Gibson adage goes…
“The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.”
Based on our ongoing research, scouring CES for insights, trends, and new configurations for data capture, Kaleido Insights has compiled the following 10 takeaways to help you parse signal from noise. Each will characterize tech’s role in business and in our lives over the coming decade.
1. LISTEN UP! HEARABLES & AUGMENTED EARBUDS ARE COMING
Augmented audio is on the rise as the mainstream successor to smartphones. Smart earbuds were ubiquitous at CES, with scores of companies showing off their hardware, software, firmware, specialized chips and sensors. Also present was an emerging secondary market of earbud “skins” and cool, customizable designs. There are numerous reasons augmented audio may usurp augmented glasses, from function to fashion. Wading through the sea of hearable technology, what is most striking is the surprising diversity of use cases smart earbuds can support– a diversity that echoes few other consumer tech: smartphones and smart speakers.
2. SMART HOME & DIGITAL HEALTH MARKETS ARE CONVERGING
It wasn’t just that CES placed these markets’ vendor booths adjacent to one another, or that many were supporting the same use cases. And it isn’t just that the smart home market is realizing it needs to prove greater consumer value than connected doorknobs and thermostats. Nor it is only that all consumer tech giants are investing aggressively in healthcare. It is that big biometric data is coming online, and the home represents the hub for that value creation.
From smart kitchens (and bathrooms!) to personalized nutrition recommendations; from smart light bulbs and cameras to sleep, fitness, stress, and air quality monitoring; from voice recognition to remote patient care, the future of health and wellness is knocking at your door. Kaleido Insights has been closely tracking this shift for the past 24 months and we expect to see all smart home devices and infrastructure ‘upgraded’ with health sensing within a few years. See how we map the market here.
3. THE TECHLASH’S IMPACT WAS SUBTLE, BUT STILL PALPABLE
The last three years brought countless revelations and a sea change in mainstream perceptions of the tech industry. The so-called “techlash” encompasses widespread concerns, from tech’s role in divisive politics and fake news, to rising economic inequity, mass job displacement, negative impacts on children, data privacy, monopolistic corruption, regulation, dangers of AI, public health and environmental impacts. While CES continues to be the mecca for utopian visions of technology, we also noted signals of a market grappling with its demons.
4. MULTIPLE TECHNOLOGIES UNLOCK THE NEXT LEVEL OF GAMING
The last decade brought astronomical growth in the gaming sector, from software games, e-sports, and mobile apps, to massive multiplayer online games. But one resounding signal CES offered was that, thanks to numerous technologies, this market has plenty more expansion– across additional demographics and verticals.
These are just three examples from CES, but considering the demographics that are building both today’s gaming tech and tomorrow’s, look for gamification to penetrate the real world in profound new ways.
5. EVERY COMPANY IS NOW A TECH COMPANY
You’ve likely heard this refrain before, but CES 2020 brought many more examples to bare from countless traditional and legacy brands. While brands (read: their PR firms) have been hyping their digital experiments for years, there is now a clear distinction between companies that are chasing the bright, shiny versus those investing in real strategic business model change, sometimes disruptive to their own products. Honorable mentions include Weber Grills, Kohler, Proctor & Gamble, and AARP*.
Adoption of emerging technologies is particularly difficult for legacy brands, given deeply ingrained operational, workforce, and business models, not to mention intense competitive pressure by tech giants. But the best of these organizations are paving their own futures, understanding that the transformation is not so much about the technology, as it is in the way of thinking.
6. “PHYGITAL” MOVES FROM 2-D TO 3-D
Integrating the digital realm into the physical world requires much more than sensors and IoT devices. The next phase of this convergence will be marked by a shift from 2-D to 3-D imaging, modeling, and sensing. While most are familiar with computer vision, analytical techniques which power things like facial or object recognition, CES offered numerous examples of other technologies which will compound how we design digital to capture, render, analyze, automate, and alter our understanding and interactions with 3D environments.
While the digital-physical convergence narrative is nothing new, these novel techniques are important for three reasons.
- They can collect much richer data about physical environments, particularly when combined with other sensors.
- They can shift how we interface with digital towards far more ‘ambient’ (screenless) interactions.
- They offer alternative design configurations which can improve efficiencies, privacy, and costs.
7. ACTUALLY SCREENS WON’T DISAPPEAR, BUT THEY’RE CHANGING
Much has been forecast about the shift from screens to screenless and ambient computing, but CES offered some importance nuance. Not only are screens becoming flexible, foldable, waterproof, lower-power, and more haptic, it was a big year for connected mirrors and digital signage. The compute, software, and camera technology are evolving rapidly, enabling new capabilities in health monitoring, emotion recognition, personalized media consumption, lighting, and cosmetic and retail experiences galore. Even Delta offered novel “Parallel Reality” concept for multiple custom messages on one screen…
8. A ROBOTICS RENAISSANCE
To date, robotics have mostly fallen into one of a few categories: social (humanoid) robots, industrial robots, and robotic fragments (like a limb). These account for the lion’s share of service opportunities which make up the robotics market, but CES debunked this categorization with a number of novel robotic applications. Samsung, for instance, showcased its new smart home solution in the form of a robotic ball “Ballie” which rolls around the house sensing context to inform automated action. We’ll set aside the [not one but four brands of] robotic litter boxes, and numerous robotic food prep and dispenser products. As robotic processes and sensing continue to mature, expect to see many more robotic form factors, even convergence with now ‘fixed’ device categories.
9. PRIVACY DISCOURSE AND DEVELOPMENT WILL PAVE THE WAY FOR NEXT-GEN SOLUTIONS
Privacy in particular has climbed from a third tier nice-to-have, to a core differentiation and discussion point, compared to years past. While ecosystem-wide regulations (GDPR and CCPA) are driving this, so too is growing consumer, business, and national security awareness. Privacy-differentiated products (such as Mixtile, Kangaroo Camera, Anagog, HomeConnect) are competing both for consumer trust and market share in more privacy-centric regions like the EU. Apple’s privacy chief Jane Horvath made a rare public appearance, the company’s first formal involvement in CES since 1992.
Attending the packed panel “Privacy: What do Consumers Want?” featuring the Chief Privacy Officers of Facebook, Apple, Proctor & Gamble and the FTC, we heard a laundry list of privacy-specific techniques and talent investments. End-to-end encryption, on-device/edge, local AI, data deciphering, federated learning, differential privacy, and pre-emptive GDPR and CCPA compliance, exemplify how the industry is evolving rapidly, though we still have a ways to go.
10. SUSTAINABILITY IMPERATIVE HAS YET TO PENETRATE CONSUMER TECH
Arguably most important to note is what we did not see at CES: a reflection of our climate crisis in the products and roadmaps of consumer tech on display. Even looking beyond the vast amount of e-waste we are generating, we could count on one hand the number of companies promoting e-recycling, marketing sustainable sourcing or packaging, or leading with energy efficiencies. Even though study after study shows consumers are demanding this and will even pay more for it!
Yes there were some notable counterexamples– air quality devices, Wallbox’s EV charging stations, innovations in low-power processing– but by and large, today’s consumer tech market is not doing its part to address climate change, support collective climate action, or reduce e-waste.
“Business must be the platform for change,” Salesforce CEO, Marc Benioff said on a panel addressing business and sustainability, “these technologies play a critical role and this must be a key part of any modern businesses’ digital transformation strategy going forward.” We couldn’t agree more.
From 5G to smart cars, believe it or not, these trends are only the tip of the iceberg. Check out Jeremiah Owyang’s blog, our tweets, or connect with us for more analyses and insights from CES and the broader consumer IoT space. To learn more about Kaleido Insights’ coverage of emerging technologies and how we support businesses’ digital transformation, reach out directly.
(*Disclosure: Kaleido Insights is proud to count AARP among our client roster)