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CES 2018: Connected living takes centre stage at the City of Lights

Manny Pham
January 30, 2018

From Smarthome to drones and robotics to wearables, CES 2018 threw up plenty of talking points

The curtain has closed again on the Consumer Electronics Show, better known by its acronym CES, in the entertainment capital of the world, Las Vegas.

The convention is best known for its huge array of consumer products, start-ups and innovations we could see on shelves further down the line.

This year we saw Sony releasing a trio of new handsets, Vivo trumping Apple and Samsung to in-display fingerprint readers and Samsung deepening its commitment to the Internet of Things.

Outside the show, Huawei was widely expected to strike a distribution deal with the second-largest operator in the US, AT&T, which reportedly collapsed due to pressure from the US Government.

It would have been a major step for the Chinese manufacturer in its bid to become the world’s largest vendor. The consumer trade show was established in 1967, when it saw only 17,500 attendees and 250 exhibitors in New York.

This year more than 3,900 exhibitors displayed wares across 2.75 million net square feet across several locations in Las Vegas, including the Las Vegas Convention and World Trade Center, Renaissance Las Vegas and The Palazzo.

Up to 170,000 people from 150 countries attended the annual convention with more than 7,000 from media outlets.

Now the sand has settled, Mobile News asked a panel of analysts for their reaction to news coming out of the City of Lights.

How do you think the show went?

CCS Insight chief of research Ben Wood: “The scale of the show underlines its success but unfortunately CES 2018 will be remembered for the flooding and the massive power outage.

“We were expecting a plague of locusts next! But overall there was strong attendance and it is a great show to see lots of big and small companies in one hit.”

IDC wearables and mobile phones manager Ramon Llamas: “CES is a reflection of the consumer electronics market as a whole, both in terms of where it is today and where it is heading next.

“For the ‘today’ part, there were plenty of vendors crowing about how well they did in 2017, citing successful models and partnerships.

“But the more intriguing part was the ‘heading next’ as companies vied for the title of “must-have” consumer products.

“To this end, there was an abundance of companies showing what the world of the connected consumer will be, and while it ranged from overwhelming and sometimes even ridiculous, it was also exciting and inspiring.”

uSwitch mobiles expert Ru Bhikha: “Barring the power cut, the show was a success as always. Undoubtedly the biggest tech show of the year, the behemoth that is CES opened its floors to a vast array of products from all corners of the tech world.

“For start-ups in particular, the show remains the perfect opportunity to showcase and pitch their products to an audience in the same field, as well as to network with those who share the same passions.”

GfK key account director Imran Choudhary: “The overall show went very well, growing on last year’s. Plenty of varied and wonderful developments to engage with, however the power outage was a talking point!

No power at a consumer electronics event isn’t the best advert! In general, there was plenty of excitement and activity as devices and products were aplenty and brands and OEMs were showcasing their latest and greatest. A real sense of dynamism around given the exhibits and plenty to interact with.”

What was the biggest bit of news from CES?

Canalys analyst Ben Stanton: “The biggest news was Huawei and AT&T failing to strike a relationship. It shocked Huawei as much as it shocked the rest of the mobile industry.

“It is nearly impossible now for Huawei to make a dent on the market share of Apple or Samsung in the US. It sets a precedent, and could have ramifications for other Chinese companies hoping to extend in the US, as well as those already there.”

Wood: “Artificial intelligence was a big theme but it feels more like companies are using the term as a marketing exercise than delivering real intelligence. Our view is that consumers won’t ever want to “buy” artificial intelligence – they will buy smart products that deliver a great experience and happen to have artificial intelligence built in.

“Voice assistants were also very prominent. Google spent a small fortune promoting the Google Assistant but it was Amazon’s Alexa which was the real winner.

“Amazon claims there are now more than 4,000 smart products from over 1,200 companies that work with Alexa which is an impressive achievement.

“Other trends included the Connected Home where there was an avalanche of new products, a wide variety of robots, most of which were rather disappointing from a consumer perspective.

“Finally, drones were a big feature of the show. It was also noticeable how many car makers were at the show, keen to show off the technology in their future cars.”

Llamas: “I thought the biggest news came from robotics: robots for security, for entertainment, for company and companionship, for cooking and cleaning… and those were just to begin with.

The thing is, some of these probably won’t make it to market until 2019 or beyond, but it was interesting to see just how bullish companies seem to be about robots becoming part of the consumer experience.”

Bhikha: “I’d say the biggest news at this year’s show was that there was no real ‘big news’ per se from the larger corporations. If I had to choose, the standout was Samsung who gave us ‘The Wall’ – a modular MicroLED TV that is set to change the way we use – and think about – our displays.

“It was also great to see disruptors such as Byton entering the space with its plans for affordable electric cars.”

Choudhary: “The rumoured Galaxy X – or the lack of an actual showing of this device which is now delayed – was pretty big.

There was talk before the show that CES might be a platform to showcase the rumored folding screen but there was no such device on display. However, there was plenty from Samsung and other mobile OEMs as activity looks to have ramped up from a mobile perspective in general at CES ahead of MWC.”

What surprised you?

Llamas: “Huawei had prepared a smartphone launch at AT&T, but AT&T backed out of that at the last minute.

Huawei has been trying to shed its reputation as an unwelcome guest at the major carriers, and this is yet another setback for the Chinese company.

Huawei has a track record of such deals not coming together, so while the cancellation of offering was a surprise, you can see why it came up again.”

Bhikha: “It’s been a long time coming but the biggest surprise for me was the Vivo phone that is leading the way in biometric technology, with a fingerprint scanner housed underneath the screen.

This is the perfect example of design and innovation coming together and making it work. Kudos to Vivo for proving it can be done and done today – albeit in a prototype.”

Choudhary: “The most interesting news from CES for me was around smart speakers. Last year Amazon certainly shone through at CES as the standout news and how Alexa was becoming more readily available with compatible partners.

“This year it was Google’s Assistant speakers that stood out as being the preferred choice from third parties as the assistant to use on their device. There was so much on offer when it came to digital assistants.

“Voice-activated assistants seemed to be everywhere, from TVs, cars, lighting and sound systems, through to everyday kitchen gadgets. It truly is a connected era we’re entering.”

Wood: “Sadly – not much this year. If I had to pick one thing it would be Intel’s keynote which was very impressive for its sheer scale and ambition.

“The focus was on how companies are going to deal with the huge amounts of data that will need to be managed in future and this was combined with some amazing visual experiences, including 150 drones being flown inside the theatre, creating a new Guinness world record.

“It also had an amazing drone show over the fountains at the Bellagio hotel with 250 drones in sync with the music.

“Although this was a great marketing stunt there is a practical advantage to be able to control a fleet of drones, be it for surveying buildings, undertaking search and rescue, doing real-time mapping or more.”

Which smartphone manufacturer made the most noise?

Stanton: “Honor made a big splash. It was a wise decision to host a big press conference on an otherwise quiet media day. It brought several of its most expensive and innovative devices to the US. But most important is its marketing message.

“Honor wants to outgrow its parent Huawei and become a global powerhouse brand in its own right. Honor’s lavish product launches and growing presence at trade shows are an indicator that it is willing to spend.”

Choudhary: “In terms of noise, Samsung, Sony and Alcatel brought credible mid-range devices outlining their plans for this tier of the market for 2018. The A series from Samsung certainly caught the eye, taking a lead in look and spec from last year’s Galaxy flagship launches.

“Alcatel split out their ranging with a couple of devices and Sony brought a much needed set of mid-tier devices to modernise their Xperia offering.

“There were more niche displays on offer, with the likes of the Vivo phone showcasing an in-screen fingerprint scanner which other OEMs will look to roll out in their flagship offerings later this year.”

Wood: “None of them really. It should have been Huawei but after the deal with AT&T fell through they did not really have any news.

ZTE had a dual screen folding phone and Razer showcased a prototype of a laptop with a slot for the Razer phone – but bottom line is there was no real smartphone news – you’ll have to wait for MWC.”

Bhikha: “Both Sony and Huawei showcased their latest breed of smartphones at this year’s show.

“Sony released three new handsets called the XA2, XA2 Ultra and L2 in the mid to entry range, three handsets perfectly poised for selfie fans to embrace the arrival of wide angle. However, the winner for me is the fingerprint sensor on the back.

“Huawei announced that our neighbours across the pond would be able to get their hands on the Mate 10 Pro from major retailers, which for many was the standout handset of 2017. Smartphones aside, it was also nice to see ‘Aibo’ back!”

What did you see more and less of this year?

Stanton: “Smart speakers and voice assistants were the stand-out category of the show.

“The marketing war between Google and Amazon was clear to see on every billboard, digital sign and public transport.

“It has penetrated all kinds of tech categories – from TVs to home appliances and PCs to automotive. “However, former hype categories are starting to wane.

“There was far less emphasis on drones, action cameras and wearables this year. CES is also failing to attract automotive vendors away from dedicated car shows around the world.”

Choudhary: “This year there was certainly more from the smart speaker category. There was also more noise from the collective chorus the mobile OEMs made this year.

“It’s always difficult to tell what there was less of, as one is pulled towards the areas that capture the eye, but my colleagues felt there was less of a focus around wearables.

“As this category has been around for some time and developments seem iterative in terms of pace rather than taking revolutionary leaps,
perhaps this isn’t surprising.”

Wood: “There is no question that connected home products have real momentum at the moment. At CCS Insight we think there is a big opportunity as consumers seek to add smart home devices in their houses.

“Our research shows that smart heating solutions such as Nest and Hive are popular. Smart lighting from companies such as Philips are also very popular.

“We are also seeing fantastic momentum for Amazon’s Echo devices. In future consumers will also continue adding other smart product such as cameras, door bells and more.”

Bhikha: “I think this year’s show hosted fewer standout moments – but that’s not to take away from what was actually there.

Instead, we had a number of smaller and less prominent manufacturers showcasing some really exciting technology. For me, this sort of diversity is what CES is all about.”

Where has there been a slowdown?

Choudhary: “The overall show was conveying a greater sense of the connected adventure we’re on the cusp of. Advances in robotics and use cases around ‘smart’ thing were in abundance.

“Some categories like wearables did feel like they weren’t making as much progress as others but that’s to be expected.

“New areas are usually more exciting and when you look at areas like VR, the Vive Pro brought some solid advances on the previous iteration but compared to some other categories perhaps this still felt a step forward rather than a giant leap. There were many farfetched ideas that might never make it to mass market but are still exciting to see.”

Stanton: “The decline in wearables at CES has more to do with the demise of Android Wear than anything else. Major technology companies are ditching the category, leaving fashion brands like Fossil and niche specialists.

“In terms of product shipments, watch OS and Tizen are doing well, but Apple and Samsung never launch wearables at CES. Hence, it is falling out of the headlines.”

Llamas: “It’s true that there have been several wearable vendors exiting the market (UnderArmour/HTC, TomTom, among others). But that’s true of nearly any market, to be honest; not every company is guaranteed to succeed.

“But of the ones that remain, we’re seeing much improved experiences compared to what we have seen even in recent years, and of those vendors who are still in the market, we’re seeing best-of-breed devices and experiences coming forth.”

Wood: “The hype has certainly gone off the boil for wearables and virtual reality. There was plenty of news around both at the show but a lot less noise than previous years.”

Bhikha: “2018 is clearly the year of the smart home and VR. There was a real focus on connected living at this year’s show – evidence that smart technology is taking centre stage ahead of the more standalone concept of ‘wearables’ that has been more popular at previous shows.”

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