The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) celebrated its 50th anniversary this year by continuing its gargantuan showcase of the latest in consumer tech gadgetry and innovation. While there, I saw an abundance of clever new items and curious oddities, which help maintain the theatricality of the CES experience. I was also on the lookout for the big themes that impact the technological and strategic considerations our clients and colleagues should be mindful of in the coming year. Below are four themes that particularly resonated:
1. Amazon’s Alexa Was the Star of the CES Smart Home Show
In nearly every smart home-related booth, whether it was a home appliance maker, a smart home gadget, a full-on connected home automation service, or EVEN a connected car, the exact same phrase prevailed: “works with Alexa.” For the uninitiated, Alexa is the voice activated system (and now ecosystem) of the Amazon Echo home automation product. Through voice command, the various Amazon Echo devices act as a central point for many connected services in the smart home.
A few years ago, Waterstone noted that one of the big smart home developments to watch for in the coming years would be around who ultimately “owns” the smart home experience. The theory at the time was that whichever vendor had the best control over the unified connected home ecosystem and experience would emerge as the winning face of the smart home market. Alexa certainly has the makings of being that winning player. Its interface is simple (requires only your voice to use), integration effort for the consumer is negligible, and the ecosystem now has around 7,000 third party integration points. Alexa doesn’t necessarily have feature functionality or integration capabilities greater than rival ecosystems like Nest and Apple HomeKit; it is primarily succeeding on the simplicity of its user experience. This is an important lesson for all potential ecosystem providers, not just in the connected home space, but in the broader IoT space as well.
2. The Maturing Consumer IoT Market Is Bringing Greater Focus to Selling Solutions
Anyone who walks the floors at CES is likely to be overwhelmed by the number of products and offerings labeled “smart” or “connected.” Often these take the form of very specific, single use case items: an automated power outlet, a smart thermostat, or more theatrically, an automated garbage/recycling sorting can or an automated cat litterbox cleaner. These are manifestations of the growing popularity of the smart home market and the endless stream of people trying to cash in with a cool use case. While sometimes interesting, these displays rarely keep my attention for long.
What did capture my interest were those displays and offerings that demonstrated a more sophisticated approach to using smart home technology to appeal to the consumer. More and more providers are starting to sell real solutions to real-world consumer use cases that can bring together several functional devices to deliver on a bigger consumer goal. Philips’ Personal Health Program is one such example. The goal of the program feels less about showing you “nifty” stuff, but rather achieving specific health goals, like lowering your heart rate, improving physical activity levels, etc. Any number of Philips smart devices will work with it (pulse trackers, scales, etc.), but the key is around ultimately defining a health outcome goal and tracking to its successful realization. I anticipate seeing more solutions-based selling like this throughout the smart home space in the near future.
3. Expect Virtual Reality to Be Ubiquitous in the Coming Years
Virtual reality (VR) was a common sight at CES this year, and not just because there were VR-specific gadgets on display for their own sake. I encountered several booths for completely unrelated technology using VR goggles as part of their sales approach. An example of this was the home security solution provider Aura, which used a VR system to demonstrate how its solution used Wi-Fi network signals to detect movement. I was impressed with the clarity and simplicity of the demo (which is hard praise to pull out of an occasional new-tech cynic like myself). It’s clear that VR use cases are expanding, and are doing so in line with the broader context of augmented reality and other such practical use cases outside of pure entertainment.
4. Driverless Cars Are the Next Big Bet in Automotive Technology
It might be an over exaggeration to say that anyone who could be involved with driverless cars is active in the space, but that’s certainly the impression I got at CES this year. I can’t think of a major auto manufacturer present at the convention who didn’t either display a model of driverless car or provide their vision for driverless automotive solutions for the near future. The auto manufacturers weren’t the only ones in on the developments in this space either. Chipmakers NVIDIA and Intel both made major announcements that they would be significant players in developing the enabling technologies to put driverless cars on the road in 2017. Even Alexa had her role to play in the automotive announcements when BMW announced that it would integrate with Alexa to provide voice controlled automated solutions for its vehicles.
Given the plethora of announcement and investments in this space, it’s clear that business as a whole should begin preparing for the upcoming reality of driverless vehicle technology. I am certainly anticipating a parallel development in smart city technology and solution designs as a natural complement to the automotive technology.
The 50th anniversary year of CES certainly didn’t disappoint, and I expect to see the natural outcomes of the major themes discussed here feed their way into the strategic thinking and opportunities for our readers and clients.
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