This year’s CES has divided opinion: Was it the most exciting Consumer Electronics Show yet, or simply “CES 2015 reloaded”?
Well, yes and no. There were no new trends to spot at the tech extravaganza; however, many of the technologies teased in 2015 as a mere promise are now ready for real life.
Five key technology trends stood out for me in the Las Vegas Convention Center:
1. Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) – where everyday objects are equipped with sensors, connectivity and computing power – is getting serious. It’s not so much the volume of IoT devices on show, it’s their usability – from connected flowerpots to the one appliance that we are truly using 24/7: the refrigerator. Right now, the majority of IoT solutions focus on the connected smart home, and health & wellness. It is indeed nice to know that your children are home safe and sound; building managers will love getting an alert when a washing machine’s detergent tank needs a top-up; money will be saved when the air conditioning is fine-tuned to the number of people in a room. Across the show companies demonstrated solutions that support “intelligent care” or your fitness regime.
Still, some customers will be wondering whether their running socks really need to be IoT-enabled. And while the Wearables category is where smartphones were eight years ago, the speed at which these devices are improving is breathtaking.
When we judge whether IoT is real, we must remember that few IoT solutions will be truly universal; the power of the Internet of Things lies in its ability to provide customised solutions. It’s the emerging IoT platforms that will need to reach everywhere, combining open standards with data privacy and security.
This was also “the automotive show, formerly known as CES” – or at least it felt like that at times. Connected Mobility is a special use case of the Internet of Things, and shows how connectivity can transform a whole industry. What used to be called Telematics now turns cars into user interfaces, while the business of selling cars is morphing into “mobility as a service”. Yes, if you prefer, you can still drive your car, but increasingly it becomes an extension of your home that delivers you on autopilot to your chosen destination.
This year’s CES had enough quadcopters on show to darken any sky, but it was a fixed wing camera-equipped drone from Parrot that stood out (although this technology is old hat to many armies). Yet again, the only companies that stood out were able to demonstrate real-life applications for drones – in agriculture, land management, security – and also fun, like the hand-sized “battle drones” for fast-moving game play in the living room (make sure to hide your mother’s vases first).
The real innovation, though, were sensing technologies powered by serious “in-drone” number crunching: Qualcomm showed off a concept drone that has true spatial awareness to ensure it does not fly into things or people.
4. Virtual Reality
Public relations and marketing are increasingly not about “tell me”, but “show me”, and Virtual Reality technology was used across the show to demonstrate applications and devices. VR is coming into its own as well: There were long queues at the Samsung* Gear VR theatre, where a combination of VR googles and moving cinema chairs took people on a surprisingly realistic rollercoaster ride. Elsewhere at CES, 360 degree sound technology showed how the VR experience can become even more immersive.
You don’t always have to don goggles for true immersion, though. Standing in front of a 170-inch SUHD television, or watching a screen with an 8K image provided a level of detail that blew away audiences.
5. User Interface
User interfaces are a pretty broad field, but tech companies are working hard to take the keyboard out of the man-machine interaction. Increasingly, machines can understand us – with facial, gesture and voice recognition (a wave of the hand will tell your BMW to park itself). And we can direct them, for example through wireless controllers – some of which still look like plasticky knuckle dusters, but the possibilities are obvious.
With record numbers of visitors and an ever increasing show space, it is getting increasingly difficult for tech companies to stand out at CES.
For big tech firms attending, a combination of prominent keynotes and highly targeted private events were key to sway the influencers. Smaller companies will need a lot of wow factor and real-life applications to draw attention. Ultimately, it’s all about being able to offer not a concept, but an experience, both to journalists and trade show visitors. And this year’s CES had plenty of that.
*Tim Weber supported Samsung at CES 2016.