eMarketer principal analyst Victoria Petrock attended CES this year, held January 7-10 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. She shared her insights and takeaways about the show.
Brian Chen of The New York Times recently wrote, "Like it or not, the future is connected." Was this a prevalent theme at CES this year?
It was absolutely prevalent. In fact, this year was a continuation of last year’s focus on 5G and the internet of things. It's becoming clearer how new technologies like AI, high-speed networks and huge cloud platforms are creating all types of interconnectivity between people and things around the world. Right now, there’s a heavy focus on smart homes and connected cars, but in the future, practically everything will have the ability to connect and communicate. Vertical siloes are breaking down, and new, more open ecosystems are enabling companies in different industries—which may have made strange bedfellows or even been competitors in the past—to partner with each other to deliver more value to their customers and to society.
The auto industry is one example of this. In the past, you’d see one car manufacturer after another introducing their latest and greatest technology. We still see some of that, but as the tech has gotten more sophisticated, these companies realize that they’re really good at developing cars, but they’re not necessarily tech experts. At CES, it was interesting to see automakers and parts suppliers working with so many tech partners, entertainment companies and other service providers to advance the concept of connected mobility.
Do you think companies are taking this vision more seriously?
Yes, absolutely. Many of the world’s top electronics companies, as well as Amazon, Google, Toyota—and even Delta Air Lines—were talking about a future where everything is connected and highly personalized. Everything is still very screen-based right now, but the day will come when we’ll have more ambient devices and sensors seamlessly operating in the background that know us and are ready to anticipate our needs. These devices will interact with us in various ways—maybe voice control, gesture control, biometrics or augmented reality [AR]. They’ll collect data and make decisions that I hope will make our lives easier and make the world a better place. At the end of the day, it’s really about the collection of massive amounts of data to inform what we’re doing now, but also help anticipate things we’ll do in the future that maybe we haven’t even thought of yet.
Besides connectivity, what were some other themes at the event?
Sustainability was a hot topic this year. Companies are responding to people who want their tech not just to be useful, but to be purpose-driven and do something positive and beneficial for society and the planet. This year, nearly all the auto companies were talking about zero-emissions vehicles and many even touted the benefits of data collection as part of their sustainability stories. For instance, collecting auto emissions data from vehicles can aid in the development of new, better products and can be used to help other industries like energy and healthcare. One of the most intriguing products this year was Impossible Foods’ introduction of plant-based “pork,” which the company is hoping will help make the global food chain more sustainable.
Privacy was also a major theme. With the recent hubbub about data collection and consumer privacy regulations going into effect, Facebook, Amazon and Google were out in full force, trying to carve out industry thought-leadership roles and get ahead of the issue. Even Apple, which hasn’t participated in CES in 28 years, sent their senior director of global privacy, Jane Horvath, to participate in a panel called “Chief Privacy Officer Roundtable: What Do Consumers Want?”
Another theme, more like a personal observation, is what I call the “over-engineering of technology.” Of course, this is CES, and there were all kinds of far-out gadgets that will probably never make it to market. But it struck me that some companies have developed technology to replace human interaction that shouldn’t necessarily be replaced. For example, there was a lot of sleep tech to help you get a good night’s rest, and I am all for that. But one company is now selling an electronic baby bassinet that can be completely controlled by an app. It’s meant to help sleep-deprived parents: If their baby is crying, they can stay in bed and just press a button on their smartphone to get the electronic bassinet to play sounds and rock the baby to sleep. It is a cool idea, but it got me questioning, “How far is technology going to go before we can avoid basic human interaction like cuddling your baby?” I’m not saying I wouldn’t be tempted to use this when my kids were screaming and crying in the middle of the night. But I also think we need to stay mindful of where we cross the line between being helpful and inadvertently creating new problems with tech.
You also cover augmented and virtual reality. Any highlights on this area at CES, specifically?
There was a lot of talk about virtual reality for gaming, sports and entertainment, but I didn’t see any huge leaps forward from where we are now. Meanwhile, there’s still a wait-and-see mentality regarding AR. Samsung showed off some prototype goggles that they’re targeting for fitness uses, and there were some other interesting industry-focused applications, but they were fairly limited to specific devices and ecosystems. I think people have acknowledged that something big is coming with AR, it’s just not clear when. Apple is rumored to be developing AR glasses, and these could have mass-market appeal because they’ll likely be compatible with a lot of other Apple products out there. But until the larger tech companies like Apple, Google or Amazon get behind the technology in a big way, larger-scale developments will likely be limited.
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