As another CES winds down and the 3,800 exhibitors face the task of packing up and shipping home their wares, we look back at the highlights of the show and how each of our predicted categories fared.
This year established CES as a mainstay of the automotive industry calendar, something few would have predicted even a few years ago. The convergence of sophisticated navigation, entertainment and automation technologies with connected electric vehicles have made CES an important showcase. In addition to executive briefings, keynotes and demonstrations from a wide range of well-known manufacturers, we had a new car company announced (Faraday Future), one of the most eagerly anticipated mainstream electric car introductions (the Chevy Bolt EV) and VW’s BUDD-e concept which their new CEO described as “… the first car in the Internet of Things”.
VR also had a strong outing at this year’s show. The highlight was probably the Oculus Rift opening pre-orders at a price of $599 for their headset (set aside at least double that again for a PC powerful enough host it), with initial volumes selling out quickly and those not lucky enough to secure a March shipment date being queued up into the summer. The updated HTC Vive (developed in partnership with game maker Valve) also looked very impressive and pre-orders will open at the end of next month. Sony had a quieter show but still could prove to be the most mainstream VR system when it launches for the PS4 later this year. Sony’s CEO said that over 100 titles are currently in development for the platform.
As anticipated, UHD TV really blossomed at the show with beautiful displays on stands around the venue. The announcement at CES by the UHD Alliance of a new ‘premium’ specification for UHD was followed up by a number of manufacturers showing compliant hardware. The LG 4K OLED displays drew particular praise and maintain hope that OLED might yet make it to the mainstream if manufacturing yields can be overcome. Expect to see UHD TVs on a lot of shopping lists for the next holiday season.
The drones certainly showed up in numbers at the show. Leading vendors such as DJI showed off their latest updated flying machines and were joined by a large number of new entrants. The quality and sophistication of the equipment also seems a lot higher than last year, with an increased focus on smart flying capabilities such as collision detection. Two of the more surprising devices were the Parrot Disco drone, a fixed wing rather than rotor based design that claims higher speed and longer flight times, and the Ehang 184 that can carry a passenger for a claimed 23 minutes at speeds of up to 100km/h. Maybe the flying car is closer than we thought.
A lot of floor space was taken by wearables with head, arm, waist and other devices competing for our need to install telemetry on ourselves. In addition to new product launches from established vendors such as Fitbit and Misfit there was a dizzying array of gadgets from lesser-known brands. Nothing truly ‘category changing’ appeared which suggested an industry that is maturing and focusing on fully realising the initial promise of such devices.
If we don’t include the people carrying drones and electric cars in this category then we were left with a large number of electric skateboards, hover boards and scooters to ease the morning commute or trip to the fridge. For now they occupy an interesting niche (with some social stigma) but hint at a longer term vision of assisted mobility.
Smart toothbrushes, smart lights, smart sleep sensors, there was no shortage of smart home tech on offer at the show. Unfortunately there is a problem. A number of competing but incompatible smart home eco-systems are available with no clear dominant platform emerging. This greatly complicates the process of building out a smart home and creates consumer confusion and inevitable frustration when things don’t play nicely together. One of the surprises this year was the number of devices built around Amazon’s Alexa platform (implemented today in their Echo device). Alexa and the Echo itself provide a very capable voice interface for controlling and monitoring connected devices and a number of vendors seem to have got on board.
Finally, there were the robots. There was nothing quite as impressive as Star Wars’ BB8 (although the toy ones are pretty cool) but the biggest surprise was Segway, famous for its range of self-levelling stand up transportation devices, entering the market with a strange combination of mini Segway scooter and robot butler. Incorporating technology from Intel, the device is expected to go on sale later this year and will likely change our lives just as much as the original Segway did. It can not only take you to the fridge with minimal physical effort but can potentially go there for you instead and bring you back your cheese sandwich. I want one.
Steve Plunkett, Chief Technology Officer