31 December 2016

No this isn’t a rant against the sprawling excessfest of consumer electronics that is CES, Las Vegas. Tempting though that was to write.

It’s more intended as a homage to Bob Dylan’s classic lyric you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”. An attempt to sift the shifting Vegas sands of CES reporting (as well as finds by our Iris team on the exhibition floor). And point to some conclusions so blindingly obvious they could go unrecognised. Things that are born out of broader cultural winds of change and need to be seen in that context. Things we really need to pay attention to because they will shape the year ahead in real world markets.

In no particular order here are our top 5 CES ‘Blowing in the Wind’ big themes.

  1. Peak Smartphone? Long live the Partphone.

Deloitte has been promoting the view that growth in smartphone penetration is slowing in mature markets and we are entering a period of consolidation. Samsung’s new A Series may be a good indicator example; devices with the greatest hit features of their premium S7 siblings, but a much lower price.

We didn’t expect much smartphone news at CES. That usually comes later at the big mobile shows. But if you look at CES broadly, many other ‘smart’ innovations - from Withings smart hairbrushes to the handset-embedded SCIO molecular scanner that can tell you what’s in your food (calories, alcohol content and even raw materials) – do derive from mobile tech. Look forward to a future of multiple dedicated digital devices in every bag and pocket. Let’s call them PartPhones. Established successes include Kindle, Go Pro and FitBit. A lot of these new devices may have voices and personalities rather than screens. But that’s another story. Ask your nearest Amazon Alexa for details.

  1. IOC (the Internet of Cars) is the new IOT

Some of the most breathlessly excited reporting that came out of CES this year was about automotive. There were over 500 exhibitors, including electric vehicles (like Faraday the Tesla challenger), concept cars (Toyota’s was a particular crowd pleaser), digital in-car experience and assistance like Harman. It’s amazing how fast the whole car industry is moving now. Ford for instance announced 7 electric vehicles. Cortana and other on board voice assistants abound. And most of the car marques predicted their driverless autonomous vehicles will be here by around 2020.

The obvious conclusion being that compared to most commentators seeing smart home innovations as a great yawn (18 years after Bill Gates predicted your fridge would re-order for you, yes we do have Amazon Dash….) car tech really excites the media and general public. The former will make you a super homebody and save drudge and the latter makes you feel like James Bond?

  1. The Real Winner in the TV Format Wars is TV

Amazingly it looks like UHD or ‘4K’ resolution television is going to be the next big thing. A few years ago it was still the province of over-bonused bankers and obsessive pixel peepers. And might well have failed to catch on, just like 3D TV. But this year new TV sets were probably the only thing more excitedly reported at CES than the soon to be self-driving cars. So I expect we may all be upgrading soon, like back in the day when flat screen HD TVs were a new thing.

There is a format war underway with everyone arguing over whether the deep blacks of OLED or the fuller better colour of QLED is better. Or over different high-bit standards like Dolby Vision and HDR10. Or a new bragging rights race to impossibly thin TVs or ones that look like wall art. The consensus among neutrals being a slight sense of ‘who cares?’ it is all amazingly great.

Why the excitement about TV? Well it has to be because there is so much great content. Including lots of 4k content via the popular Netflix and Amazon platforms. And from sports channels and 4K console gaming. We are a video watching species. We watch more of it than ever, from YouTubers on our phones to box set binges in 4K. And we love it. And we watch so much of it that £2000 or more on a TV seems almost good value in pleasure/hour?

  1. Technology that Cares.

Wellbeing is a huge trend outside tech world. Kale and avocado, gluten free, Lululemon, mindfulness, Ariana Huffington quitting Huffington Post to start a business (thriveglobal.com) devoted to avoiding stress and sleeping better. 

It’s little wonder with the 2016 we just had. And the global trends in obesity, stress and antibiotic resistant superbugs. Tech is generally seen (for all its excitements) as part of the problem. Witness the French government moving to regulate against of work hours email. Or the assumption that sitting on a sofa watching TV is responsible for the obesity epidemic. But technology can also look after people and – most strikingly in the case of voice and AI – even nurture, coach and care for them. CES was full of Technology that Cares this year; babytech, carer robots for the ageing, wearable devices that track emotions, sleep tracking interactive mattresses….

  1. Security is like HIV. Where are the condoms?

Well publicised cyberattacks on corporate sites and phishing of personal data mean the public is running scared. One recent survey by the US National Telecommunication and Information Administration found that 45% of the general public had avoided doing something basic online – like banking, shopping or posting in social media - recently for fear of cybercrime. The Chapman University annual survey of “American Fears” found more people were afraid of identity theft, government snooping of their data or credit card fraud, than were afraid of climate change, disease pandemics, unemployment, murder or sexual assault. Or random shooting. (Strange but true in a country where a toddler shoots someone every two weeks!)

And this has a serious impact on adoption of new IoT devices. A recent survey (by MEF) found 60% of the public “distrust connected devices”. So with all this sexy tech on show the new question is “where are the condoms?” One answer being touted at CES this year was secure wifi routers from companies like Symantec. Or as Popular Science Magazine put it: “These boring wifi routers are actually some of the best tech to come out of CES.” Watch this space.


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