5 Takeaways From CES 2018

Consumer Electronics Show 2018

The 2018 Consumer Electronics Show has come and gone—and if there’s one lesson to learn, it’s that marginal improvements are par for the course this year. There were surprisingly fewer new innovations and consumer gadgets to swoon over than had been presented at previous years’ shows. Both literally and figuratively, given the two-hour blackout we had to deal with, attendees of CES 2018 were left in the dark about what was truly “innovative.”

Traditionally a battleground for the coolest gadgets and hardware, CES 2018 turned Las Vegas into a different kind of battleground: one for advertising and brand awareness. This may have diverted some of the focus from product innovation at this year’s show.

Google and Amazon attempted to show off every place, product and service they can connect with their respective apps and devices. And, visually, Google sought to capitalize on every branding opportunity around the entire Las Vegas Strip (digital signage, monorails, sides of buildings, buses, cabs and more) to interject “Hey Google” into every discussion. They even had personal “assistants,” dressed all in white like modern Oompa Loompas, staffing booths for Google-enabled device manufacturers and holding signs indicating the wait time for the Google booth itself.

We spent quite a bit of time on the floor of the Las Vegas Convention Center and Sands Convention Center taking it all in and learning what we could. Here are my five takeaways from CES 2018:

#1: The Voice-Assisted Future Is Here

This year’s theme was clear: “One voice to rule them all.” From TVs to connected washing machines—and even an Amazon Alexa-powered toilet—the most common feature was how devices could not only be voice-powered, but could also be used to create a home mesh network of smart devices.

Gadget manufacturers want to make the human voice the most natural human-computer interface, controlling devices by speaking naturally. This could be either between rooms with a personal-assistant speaker (Google Home or Amazon Echo); using your smartphone to speak your oven during your commute home; or even speaking from device to device (one demonstration showed you controlling a device while talking to an Alexa-enabled toilet). Viewed another way, the future home network could serve as your digital “butler,” wired and waiting to make your every wish its command.

It looks like Gene Roddenbury’s vision of voice-controlled gadgets aboard the USS Enterprise is getting closer to a reality—we just have yet to see the replicator and teleportation come to fruition.

#2: Virtual Reality Is Barely a Reality

The top gadgets of last year were based on Virtual Reality (VR), and just about every booth showcased some kind of VR experience. But this year, VR seemed like more of a passing fad. There were enough head-mounted displays (HMDs) to make us aware some companies are still investing in it—not to mention Samsung’s VR “ride”—but nonetheless, there seemed to be a giant popping of the VR-hype bubble.

In 2017, there were at least 45 manufacturers showing a number of 360° cameras; stereoscopic cameras; 180° cameras; and drone and cellphone-mounted optics. Only a year later, that list was down to less than a dozen. Similarly, with about 30 HMD makers’ products on display last year, this year there were fewer than 10. Whether due to market attrition, or CES becoming too expensive to buy space, the VR showcase was far more concerning for a technology that shows promise not only for entertainment, but for a host of other applications, as well.

#3: Driving Ahead: Autonomous Cars Find a Home With Deliveries

As you walked inside the Las Vegas Convention Center, the sound of squealing tires filled the air: Participants in the BMW M3 Ultimate Driving Experience had the opportunity to fly around a drift track with a professional driver. But while this old-school tech still wowed crowds, it was the autonomous cars that turned the most heads in the Self-Driving Technology Marketplace.

About 20 different cars—some looking more like spaceships or android transport units from the Will Smith movie “i-Robot”—shuttled riders around the barricaded track to experience life without a steering wheel.

During a keynote address, Toyota President Akio Toyoda announced a new autonomous vehicle that will support a range of business applications, such as delivering pizzas. And Nvidia announced partnerships with Uber and Volkswagen, which are now using the Nvidia Drive car-computer platform. Other chip manufacturers, including NXP and Intel, also spoke about autonomous cars and how the car systems will talk to one another, and other services through a mix of mobile, Bluetooth, WiFi and proprietary communication technologies.

Overall, as one critic noted, many of the car manufacturers and ride-share services are getting good at creating self-driving “busses.” It may not be long until you start seeing these vehicles on your city streets.

#4: CES Is Still the Show to Display Displays

On the show floor this year, TVs were everywhere, and came in a variety of shapes and sizes. I’m glad we don’t live in the time of CRT monitors, as the sheer amount of radiation would have had the Secret Service on high alert for Vice President Pence’s visit on Thursday.

Samsung unveiled its offering with the Samsung “Wall”: a 146-inch TV that would make Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones jealous. There were TVs that could wrap around walls—or even create new ones, with LG creating a breathtaking “OLED Canyon” journey into its booth.

LG OLED Canyon CES 2018

Now, 4K and HDR (High-Dynamic Range) TVs are not only cheaper for consumers, but they’re also available from every manufacturer as a standard feature. Of course, that means 4K is already barely enough, as Samsung and LG both unveiled new 8K displays.

But amidst the nits, colors and quality, the most innovative display tech that I saw actually came in the form of a dress. Yes, a dress.

Somewhere in the back of the Sands, one Chinese company was showing how a dress could be made into a multi-panel display—either synced as a matrix to show a full-body display, or by using individual panels to show different scenes. This means that in the not-too-distant future, your own clothing could not only be used to project entertainment programming, but to advertise, as well.

#5: Sensors Are Everywhere as the IoT Pushes 5G

The last point is more of an observation. As a result of all of the smart appliances, autonomous cars, AI-powered devices, Alexa- and Google-ready gadgets and wearables that can track anything from your workout to your dog’s daily activities, the sheer volume of connected sensors in the consumer space is exploding.

These connected devices are also allowing more media to be consumed wirelessly, in ways we hadn’t dreamed. But all of that sensing, calculating, reporting, communicating and streaming requires a highly advanced network—more advanced than the current 4G standard. We need a network that will let you traverse mobile and Wi-Fi, with MIMO (Multiple In, Multiple Out) communications to seamlessly navigate between them.

One of the biggest promises from such companies as Google, Verizon, Vodaphone, AT&T and Rogers is that we’re soon going to experience 5G networks, with low-latency wireless up to 1Gbps. In a panel discussion at CES, executives from Qualcomm, Nokia and Ericsson discussed how 5G could transform industries far beyond consumer electronics.

Despite the general optimism for the 5G future, the rollout is going to take quite a while to become a reality. In the meantime, we’re going to need better intelligence in the current networks to automate load balancing and routing.

CES 2018 showed us a lot of things that will connect us and promise to make certain things easier, but not many mind-blowing innovations. In-fact, the overall feel of the show seemed much flatter than in years past. But if that proves anything, it’s that the off-show announcements from the leading tech companies are going to be even better.

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