CES 2019: 5G, autonomous mobility and entertainment

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Panasonic's autonomous cabin.

That’s a wrap on CES 2019! I've spent the last week at the annual consumer technology confab showcasing the latest upcoming technology that will imminently break into the mainstream and into the hands of consumers. While it can all look a bit science-fiction from a distance this year’s CES proved that now, more than ever we are even closer to science-fact than ever before. The following is a brief recap of some of the emerging trends from this year’s show and what it all means for marketers and consumers at large.

AR/VR momentum slows

AR and VR, which have in previous years dominated the conversation at CES, showed signs of slowing as this year failed to produce a true VR or AR breakout app.

Existing players in the VR space like PlayStation VR, Oculus and Vive showcased their latest hardware and iterative hardware improvements such as enhanced motion tracking but VR coming off tepid 2018 sales remains a largely tethered gamer-focused tech with limited marketing applications/consumer penetration.

AR has also failed to yield a true killer app (since the halcyon days of Pokémon Go) and has yet to find its way from a feature into a true marketable consumer product but that didn’t stop AR from finding its way into a few into a few prototype consumer headsets showcased at CES that look to rival Apple’s recently rumoured AR glasses - due to hit the market in 2019.

IOT & the 'Assistant Wars' escalate

CES 2018 was truly a battleground of the virtual Assistants - buoyed by strong sales of smart speakers (Google Home & Amazon Echo) during the 2017 holiday season - both Google and Amazon came swinging out of the gate in 2018 aggressively pushing both Google Assistant & Alexa, respectively.

Coming off the heels of increasing smart speaker sales during the 2018 holiday season, the battleground of the virtual assistants has expanded beyond the smart speaker into all areas of the home with both platforms vying to become the digital gatekeeper to everything from smart TVs, fridges, and doorbells to in-home robotics/self care. While there are many options for connected devices from stalwart brands like Samsung, Phillips & Lenovo, the next 12 months will reveal a clear winner of which tech titan owns the connected home experience - Samsung is the clear front runner in this race showcasing a robust platform of devices and connectivity tools running on it’s Smart Things home automation platform. The victor will be decided not by sales of the core smart speakers themselves but by sales of the vast array of devices now unleashed into the marketplace.

Even Facebook, which has entered the home device market with the recently released Facebook Portal (itself an Alexa-powered device) was largely MIA from the proceedings.

Worth noting: Google Assistant also promoted its presence with a Google Assistant-powered gumball machine featuring a 2-hour line with folks lining up to ask Google Assistant to dispense a gumball with various Google-related prizes.

Huawei prepares for a fight with Apple

Amid concerns about Apple’s sliding marketshare, Chinese telecom giant Huawei was the lion who roared at CES aggressively pushing Huawei’s line of mobile phones, tablets, and laptops. Huawei was clearly attempting to rival Apple; even modeling it’s massive retail pop-up with a vaguely-Apple Store-esque aesthetic.

Apple’s recent earnings concerns aside, Huawei doesn’t exactly have an easy road ahead of them given escalating trade war tensions with China and growing privacy concerns over the company’s products.

Apple took to CES after a year of growing privacy concerns with outdoor ads reassuring consumers that “What Happens on your iPhone stays on your iPhone”.

The 'Entertainment Experience' is enhanced and evolving

As media consumption continues to evolve, so does the in-home viewing experience: however this year we didn’t necessarily see the media consumption experience evolve so much as become enhanced, for instance, the debut of IMAX’s new ultra-high-def IMAX Enhanced format as well as various ultra-thin 8K QLED TV from, major hardware manufacturers like LG, Sony & Samsung. All of these hardware developments are very intriguing and set a compelling stage in 2109 given the forthcoming bows of premium OTT platforms like Disney+ and WarnerMedia’s forthcoming streaming service.

And a few manufacturers like Qualcomm and Huawei even proved that the entertainment experience doesn’t have to be confined to traditional living room walls. Qualcomm showcased an XR entertainment headset designed for media consumption on long-haul air-travel. Huawei’s VR Cinema also packs a living room worth of media consumption into a lightweight untethered headset.

Rise of the Machines

CES proved, once again, to be another major leap forward for robotics with various heavyweights like Samsung showcasing robot companions designed to provide in-home caregiving assistance as well as robots poised to potentially replace humans in Retail or QSR environments by delivering food, providing customer service, handling retail transactions and more. But as robots continue to permeate everyday lives there are bound to be new and complex social issues that arise such as the robot that was “killed” by a self-driving Tesla at CES.

All autonomous everything

Last but certainly, not least… the one major development that will leave a lasting impact on not just the consumer electronics space but humanity at large was this year’s major focus on autonomous mobility. Panasonic once again showcased it’s autonomous cabin and Intel showcased it’s autonomous ride-sharing concept car - a retrofitted BMW X5 that also featured a 270-degree immersive cinematic display presented in partnership with Warner Bros. featuring immersive content from recent box-office smash Aquaman along with the ability to sell tickets to riders. Intel estimates it’s autonomous concept could save up to 250 million hours of commuting time per year in the world’s most congested cities.

In closing

Beyond the trends we’ve seen emerging at this year’s CES 2019, there isn’t a clear victor when it comes to who had the most must-have device. However the forthcoming explosion and proliferation of 5G networks sees an industry of connected devices and ideas primed to truly revolutionize the way we eat, sleep, drive and live.

Dan Ortiz is director of global strategy and innovation at Think Jam

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