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The most significant trend of all for CES 2018 will be the need completely to rethink previous trend categories. The language of the last few years, which has centred on areas such as the smart home, internet of things, smart watches, smartphone, AI, immersive tech, smart TV will collapse in on itself. The attempt to create integrated data-rich environments (all over-claiming the use of AI) that cut across different devices, lifestyle themes and contexts, will render the use of individual categories redundant.
CES 2018 will be preoccupied next year by three environments: home, car and public realm. The common theme will be the attempt to apply machine learning, automation, and responsive interactions to all of these. It will be as if the whole world is one big user interface. And mostly this will feel very messy.
The DPP correctly predicted in 2016 that voice-based interfaces would be big at CES 2017. What we didn’t guess was that Amazon, specifically, would steal the show with its voice assistant, Amazon Alexa.
Our experience tells us that when a single innovation has this much impact, what comes next is a copycat frenzy.
When the iPad launched in April 2011 it spawned no less than 100 other tablet launches eight months later at CES 2012. Most were terrible. So expect in 2018 to see an absurd number of pale imitations of Alexa. What will confuse the picture a little this time is that Google Home is now on the market, and December 2017 is likely also to see the release of Apple HomePod. The response to this may be multiple integrations with Amazon, Google and Apple, or the creation of numerous new voice products. If so, it will be a tedious technology detour before the industry regroups again around the major players in a couple of years’ time. Why? Simply because there’s only a small group of players – Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook – who have the richness of search data to offer a serious product.
We’ll also see a leap to voice assistants with video screens. Amazon is again leading the way on this with the release of its Amazon Echo Show. The addition of a screen is such a logical step, since it brings the features of other devices into the home hub.
THE CAR AS SECOND HOME
We have talked in the past of how compelling the car is as a captive environment for consumer technology. Of all the trends at the show it is the one that has proved steadiest and most enduring. That will continue in 2018. But rather like home-based technology, we expect to see a great deal of activity without a clearly defined focus.
The focus on the self-driving car will continue apace, and will drive other applications of visual processing and machine learning that will be applied to the interior of the car. Here they will collide with the same kind of functionality as the home hub – with voice control applied to information and content. The car as technology hub will be fast moving; and it will form an important part of the attempt to make personal data highly mobile.
DEATH OF THE BRAND?
The presence of Amazon, Google and maybe Apple in the home hub area could make the competition between these giants compelling. Meanwhile the Eureka start-up zone will be bigger and busier than ever. This is where we will see the real innovation – but in a very scattergun way. And finally the Chinese and Korean manufacturers will feel very present as the popularisers of the work of the US tech giants.
All this will leave a vast swathe of established small, medium and large vendors looking rudderless. The consumer tech landscape is being reshaped; and their place in it will be as unclear to the consumer as it is to themselves. It may well be the background brands – the business to business giants such as Cisco, IBM, Bosch, Qualcomm, Nvidia and, to some degree Panasonic – that look best positioned.
What this may amount to in total is a sense that brand is becoming less important in the technology choices made by consumers. But meanwhile operating system becomes more and more important.
PROTECTING THE PARANOID
2017 saw a new technical category creep onto our heat map: security. Security really means ‘safety tech’ – devices focused on keeping you, your family, your property and your data safe and secure. Anxiety about data theft, combined with a general anxiety about crime, and the ability of connected devices to record and report, represents a natural consumer market.
It is arguable whether security should be treated as a separate category, since security features will be built into so many other devices. Or, put another way, other devices will now draw attention to their safety features. The tendency for products to draw attention to security among other features means that security may not feel especially hot as a topic. But we expect it to be pervasive.
IMMERSIVE IN THE PALM OF YOUR HAND
We anticipate another downbeat year for VR. AR and Mixed reality will continue to have a resurgence, building on 2017. But we expect to see a number of user-friendly, app-based applications of AR – particularly using the smartphone as a device for viewing virtual products in real environments.
Robots have occupied a significant part of CES for a few years now. But they have been frivolous and peripheral. This year we expect the obsession with AI to prompt a sudden growth in the number of robot ‘assistants.’ We don’t expect many, if any, of these robots to be compelling. But robots may be about to have their 3D printing moment, where they suddenly start to find real world applications – and this is likely to be more around public realm environments than the home. Of course, the robot could already be said to have arrived in the car environment: the autonomous car.
This blog post was written by Mark