3 Key Themes at CES 2018




CES has changed over the years, as many are discussing in the wake of the event last week. What used to be a showcase of off-the-shelf products today that solve new and old problems has shifted to become a competition to sell your big idea better than the guy next to you (hint: they’re the same idea).

One trend that has always remained the same is that for every life-changing product at CES, there are two that were created without ever asking the question, ‘just because we can make this, should we?’ And although the apex of the unimaginable peaked at robot strippers, inspiring as much fear and terror as awe, there were a few notable themes on the show floor that give us a glimpse into where the industry is headed in 2018:

The IoT Has Arrived

I know, platitudes on platitudes, but hear me out. Two years ago, virtually every product at CES was ‘connected.’ Connected toasters, pens, and clothing were touted as the next generation of technology that would transform humanity. This year, we only spotted a few ‘connected’ products and even fewer ‘smart’ products, despite the fact that nearly everything on the show floor had connectivity, a chipset, and wireless controls. Even this automated armoire that folds your laundry does not have its IoT capabilities branded and marketed on its website. Why? We’ve moved beyond hype, and smart, connected product capabilities have become table stakes for any consumer electronic device that hopes to compete.

5G Will Change Everything

AI and personal assistants, AR/VR, and automation and IoT (though not labelled IoT) were the headline technologies at CES 2018, and they all have one key technology requirement in common: massive bandwidth.

Today’s infrastructure is impressive, but the software needs are outpacing hardware capabilities (another trend for a separate post) as evidenced by the massive power outage that struck the convention center this year. Although 5G infrastructure isn’t expected to have its first rollouts in mature markets until 2019, the telecom industry has made significant progress in defining standards and has perfected the transition through experiences from 3G to 4G, and 4G to LTE. Add these software advancements in AI, AR/VR, and automation together with rapid deployment of 5G and there is a perfect storm brewing.

  • AI: “Mobility is the fundamental essence of intelligence.” -- Qi Lu, Vice Chairman, GVP, and COO of Baidu
  • AR/VR: “Low latency means you can move assets away from execution [for more compute power behind them].” -- Hans Vestberg, EVP, President and CTO of Verizon
  • Automation/IoT: “5G will carry the intelligent systems we are building today.” -- Cristiano Amon, President of Qualcomm

AR/VR and Voice is the New User Interface Modality

Related to the first trend, every product is now driven by a chipset and connectivity. Gone are the days when delivering an app with a product is differentiated, and consumers are becoming increasingly frustrated with the need to thumb through dozens of apps to interact with their products. As the interface for consumption becomes more natural through AR/VR, the need for natural input or interaction methods is growing. Couple that with the advancements in AI for voice recognition and the next wave of product interfaces is on the horizon.

Kudos for AndroidPolice.com for attempting to keep track of at least 26 brands integrating Amazon Alexa voice controls into their products, but this number is at least an order of magnitude smaller than what was actually voice-controlled at the event. Taking a step back, when you combine consumption through AR/VR with voice as the new modality for interaction, the future of the product experience starts to look a lot like the natural world and human-to-human communication. The future is a convergence of the physical and digital worlds.

What’s Next?

Think this is all about consumer gadgets? Think again! Hype from past years has largely come to fruition, and those technologies that start in the consumer space quickly move to the enterprise, where they are delivering incredible value today. In 2018 and beyond, look for everything to continue to be smart and connected, running at remarkably low latency on 5G and in the cloud, delivering dazzling natural user experiences through AR/VR and voice-controlled, AI-driven interfaces.

This future is coming fast, and companies positioned to succeed should be taking a look at what’s developing in the consumer space and developing strategies to integrate these technologies into their business early to reap the greatest rewards.