This year’s CES drew 170,000 attendees and more than 4,000 exhibiting companies. Across the 2.4 million square feet of showroom space, exhibitors showcased a wide variety of gadgets, robots and a vision of a tech-enabled future. As in past years, Waterstone was there with a keen eye out for trends that we think will have the greatest impact on our clients’ businesses. Here are five key themes to keep your eyes on in 2018.

1. Intel and the Data Future

Brian Kraznich, CEO of Intel, scored the coveted keynote speech at this year’s show, and used the opportunity to paint a broad vision of the future Intel hopes to build with its ecosystem of partners and clients. 5G networks, autonomous cars, virtual reality and artificial intelligence all had a part to play in this vision. That being said, the glue holding this vision together is the intelligent use of data and data analytics.

This is a trend we see holding true for nearly all our clients as well, both from an operations perspective and a product and offering portfolio perspective. Operationally, business intelligence (BI) will continue to enable companies to analyze customer actions and business performance, and meet the valuation-driving KPIs such as net customer retention and customer success. From an offering perspective, even non-BI tech and software companies have an opportunity to offer analytical insights to their customers, leveraging the domain expertise of their core offerings to provide value-added insights to best practices, comparative performance statistics and other data-based measures.

2. A Tale of Two Virtual Assistants

Google Assistant managed to show up just about everywhere this year. Much like Alexa at last year’s CES, the strategy behind Google’s virtual assistant being everywhere was simple yet dramatic: indicate to the world that you have the capacity to be part of any possible customer experience. Google Assistant’s ubiquity is not just in the smart home world, but arguably across any connected device or software connection point. Tying this back to our first point about the importance of data, the ability to derive intelligence across a plethora of devices and services will be astronomical.

With nearly identical strategies, we expect 2018 to be a battlefield year between Google Assistant and Alexa (with Siri still in the picture as well). Alexa certainly has the advantage with Echo sales seemingly outmatching Google Home sales, but the addressable market still presents a huge opportunity both players will seek to obtain. Let the battle commence!

3. Owning the Customer Experience within the Smart Home

Not to be completely outdone by Alexa and Google Assistant, major life-style appliance brands like Samsung, LG and Sony also took the opportunity to showcase their full suite of smart home capabilities. There were plenty of connected TVs, washers, dryers, stoves and refrigerators to go around for each vendor, but it was the intelligent, cross-device operating systems that were the central focus for each. LG’s SmartThinQ continues to expand its connected device capabilities, and Samsung’s virtual assistant Bixby is being incorporated into its next generation of Smart TVs.

Like Google and Amazon, smart home vendors understand that “owning” the customer experience via various modes of interface or interoperability between devices will be key to making the customer associate one interface with the smart home experience over another. In fact, we see this strategic branding in other markets as well. In Ecommerce for example, credit processors like Mastercard, PayPal, etc. are taking the extra step to ensure their digital wallet-like capabilities are prominently branded and associated with any potential Ecommerce transaction. Mastercard’s Digital Wallet solution MasterPass is heavily branded and visually represented in shopping carts and connected car commerce platforms. We anticipate more strategic efforts to win control of the customer experience across multiple developing connected customer touch points in the future.

4. Smart Cities Rising

Given This year’s CES dedicated a significant portion of exhibit space exclusively to a Smart Cities showcase, taking a big step forward in placing these developments at the forefront of the current digital transformation. A confluence of a number of wide-reaching infrastructural trends – from 5G networking to transportation, energy and utility developments, and of course business intelligence analytics – has reached a point where Smart City infrastructure is set to take off. Expect to see more announcements in this area over the year, and, in particular, we expect to see smart city developments that will enable other markets such as connected cars and city infrastructure management.

5. Huawei Stumbles, but China Is Strong

Chinese telecommunication manufacturer Huawei nabbed CES headlines ironically through failure. An anticipated partnership with AT&T to sell Huawei’s Mate 10 Pro smartphone in the US on the AT&T network ultimately did not come to fruition, causing some embarrassment for the Chinese firm. That being said, it would be a mistake to think this spells long-term doom for Huawei’s US ambitions. Other retailers such as Amazon, Best Buy and the Microsoft Store will be selling Huawei’s products into the US, and Huawei’s leadership seems determined to make a mark in this country.

Truth be told, the general Chinese tech presence in the US could very easily grow. Chinese manufacturers had significant floorspace of displays at CES this year, which has been the case for several years. In addition, the general level of innovation and price point competition from the Chinese will have long lasting implications on several tech industries here, from telecom to televisions.

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About the Author
Steven Michalkow

Steven Michalkow is a Senior Associate at Waterstone. Steven works with clients across a broad spectrum of initiatives, including new offer design and launch, acquisition due diligence, market research, and organizational and process improvement.