Alexa, what were the key trends at CES 2017?

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is over for another year. Held in Las Vegas, CES is the biggest technology event within the industry, bringing together a whole host of companies including appliance manufacturers, automotive brands, service providers and software firms. Our team spent four days at CES exploring the latest technology, products, gadgets and innovations. 

Here we look at the five trends we think will impact the industry in 2017 and beyond:

- Voice Assistants
- Connected Car
- Connected Home
- Mixed Reality
- Healthcare

1) Voice Assistants

CES demonstrated that the voice battle is heating up. Consumers can expect every new product they purchase, be that a phone, TV, car or kitchen appliance to include a voice assistant. Despite Amazon not having a stand, its voice assistant, Alexa, was on display everywhere. It’s been stated that 600 apps were released during CES for Alexa; Ford and Volkswagen both showcased their vision for Alexa integration, LG’s Smart InstaView Fridge had the voice assistant embedded, and Lenovo’s smart assistant is powered by Alexa. All of this means consumers will soon be able to create their own ecosystem, enabling users to communicate directly with products and products to interact with each other, controlled through one platform. It’s very much advantage Amazon at the moment, but there is definitely competition hot on its heels.

Microsoft’s Cortana and Google Assistant also featured at CES, predominantly in partnership with automotive brands. Nissan announced a partnership with Microsoft, integrating Cortana into certain models to allow drivers to set preferences and control some features. Cortana will also be present in select BMWs, with a host of features available through a dashboard screen. Not wanting to miss the party, Google has partnered with Hyundai and Chrysler to integrate Google Assistant. Welcome to a world where we no longer have to interact with clunky in-car UIs to control our cars.

It doesn’t matter what industry you’re a part of, voice assistants will soon be integrated into everything. As we see a move towards conversational UI, companies need to consider how they adapt and evolve their products and services to design for this new form of interaction.

2) Connected Car

CES has become renowned for the launch of new consumer technology within the automotive industry, and 2017 was no different. In addition to the integration with voice assistants outlined above, there were a host of other connected car launches/technologies present at CES, from both automotive and technology companies. In particular, there was a big focus on bringing electric and autonomous cars to the public.

CES was host to an array of autonomous/self-driving vehicles. Faraday Future unveiled the production model of the FF91 for the first time, packed with technology such as facial recognition and driverless features. Audi announced a partnership with NVIDIA to have its own self-driving car technology on the road by 2020. The German car maker needed to catch up with competitors such as BMW, Daimler FCA and Ford who already signed strategic partnerships to develop their core connected car technology. Meanwhile, FCA showcased the Portal, a self-driving concept car that is at the heart of the collaboration project with Google and BMW presented a self-driving prototype of the new 5 Series.

We also witnessed some new in-car UI concepts. BMW premiered a HoloActive cockpit concept that combined gesture control with a holographic infotainment screen. Panasonic and Bosch focused their designs on entertainment and personalisation, with cockpits that offer large screens, recognise individuals and automatically adjust in-car preferences and settings based on the driver. Even more interesting was Hyundai's 'wellbeing' UI concept, where biometric technology is used to monitor the driver's physical and emotional state, adjusting the lighting, seating, sound, and even scent accordingly.

While a lot of what we saw remains at concept stage, this is a trend that both automotive and technology companies are viewing seriously. What’s interesting is that the changes that we’re witnessing in the automotive industry are providing new opportunities for both existing automotive brands, but also new businesses that are latching onto the transformation. Your car is no longer just a vehicle that gets you from A to B, with the ability to talk to your home, your wearable, and even your insurance company. It won’t be longer before we start to see new business models surfacing that may or may not be controlled by companies that currently exist within the industry.

3) Connected Home

As discussed in our IoT Breakfast, the connected home is swiftly becoming a saturated market. According to research published by Juniper at the end of 2016, the number of connected home devices is growing exponentially and has already reached between 15 and 18 billion units. This is pushing businesses’ attention towards the opportunities offered by the growing ecosystem, such as service offerings, data collection, monitoring, and AI/machine learning features.

At CES this was a trend that we definitely witnessed, and at the Sands Expo in particular, there were an overwhelming number of connected home products on display. As we expected, there was a long list of new smart devices presented for the first time or re-designed to offer more functionality. We’re now seeing all types of products become connected, ranging from large kitchen appliances (Samsung and LGs Smart Fridges) through to small household objects (Withings Hairbrush). While it’s great that we’re seeing the industry grow at such a rapid rate, companies should be continually challenging whether (a) their product is adding real value to the customer and (b) what differentiates their product from competitors. All too often at CES we saw companies with products that in our opinion were not solving any real customer problem (have you ever thought ‘what I really need is a pair of connected underpants’?) or touting exactly the same benefits as the company next door. In what is fastly becoming a convoluted industry, it’s important that companies make it as easy as possible for customers to understand why and how their product adds value.

On the topic of added value, one trend that surfaced at CES was the rise in companies looking to provided added value and/or additional services to customers. Businesses have realised that simply selling a piece of hardware is no longer sufficient, and that they must consider what else they can provide to their users. For example, French company Sowee (an EDF incubator) provides a service that allows its users to manage their heating budget. Customers simply enter their monthly budget, and Sowee will predict the cost based on the temperatures that you’ve set. Sowee can then adjust and suggest the correct temperatures to meet the customer’s budget. It will also alert customers through the mobile app should their monthly allowance look as though it’s going to be reached. This is just one example of the type of service offering that we can expect to be commonplace as the industry continues to expand.

The major problem that the connected home industry is facing is the lack of a dominant player/players. Unlike other industries (mobile phone / console gaming), the connected home is yet to see one company really stamp its authority on the industry. Amazon, with Echo and Alexa, has gained some great traction over the last 6 months, but it still has a long way to go. Ultimately, if the connected home industry is going to succeed customers require the ability to integrate all of the hardware and services that exist into an ecosystem of their choice.

4) Mixed Reality

Mixed Reality was a trend that, unsurprisingly, we spotted at CES. Virtual Reality took off in 2016 with the release of a number of consumer headsets, and CES demonstrated that this isn’t an industry that’s going to slow down anytime soon. Virtual reality was present in the form of new headsets, marketing/stand activations and new innovations within the field.

There were a number of ‘major’ players showcasing their virtual reality headsets at CES, for example, Sony showcasing its PlaystationVR headset. However, we’re increasingly starting to see clones of these headsets appear at shows like CES, especially from Chinese manufacturers/companies. When looking at the headsets it’s often very difficult to tell the difference between these products and the ‘originals.’ What’s also visible now, and this has been happening steadily over the last 12 months, is the spectrum of virtual reality headsets available. Whether you’re looking for a £10 headset powered by your phone or a £500 headset run on an equally expensive PC, you can guarantee there’s a device out there for you. It’s now become really important for companies to ensure that they’re creating content that works across multiple device types to ensure it receives a good reach. An experience created for Oculus Rift or HTC Vive should also be compatible with Google Cardboard, ensuring customers can take the experience home with them.

Virtual Reality has become an almost essential part of brands’ event stands recently; it feels as though almost every stand you visit has some form of virtual reality experience available. In particular, the automotive companies at CES were using virtual reality heavily to promote their products and educate customers. Volkswagen, Hyundai and Honda were just some of the companies using virtual reality on their stands. As the volume of virtual reality experiences increases, so too does the quality of (some of) the activations. Samsung had 4 or 5 different virtual reality experiences on its stand, with several of them using ‘theme-park’ like seats to deliver 4D experiences. Given the amount of companies using virtual reality as a promotional tool, it’s vital that brands carefully consider what they want to use it for and how they execute it. It’s no longer enough to simply sit someone in a chair for three minutes watching a story - companies need to deliver an experience that excites and engages the user.

With the virtual reality market maturing, we’re now starting to look at what’s next. A big trend we saw at CES was untethered virtual reality experiences. Virtual reality has been held back somewhat by the fact that users are required to be tethered to a large PC rig. A number of companies are looking to change that; Intel’s Project Alloy has promised untethered headsets by the end of 2017, IEEE showcased a backpack to detach the user from a PC, and IMR a belt that delivers similar functionality. We can expect the majority of virtual reality experiences to be untethered by the end of 2017, allowing users to freely explore the space they’re placed in.  

Mixed Reality was also present at CES, although in nowhere near the same volume as virtual reality. Mixed Reality has received a lot of attention in the past six months and there were isolated mixed reality demonstrations, particularly for HoloLens. We also saw a number of AR/VR smartglasses on show, aimed predominantly at the enterprise sector. ODG has a pair of smartglasses that will be released later in 2017, powered by the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor.  While the mixed reality market remains in its infancy, we can expect some fairly rapid growth in 2017 as new headsets are released and brands start to create mixed reality experiences.

5) Healthcare

Perhaps a rather surprising trend from CES was the level of focus on the healthcare industry. Qualcomm has predicted that by 2020, 40% of IoT devices will be related to healthcare. As with the connected home, the healthcare space can really be divided into the products and the monitoring/services.

Wearables, while some of the hype has disappeared, are not going anywhere just yet. If anything, CES was home to more wearables than any previous show we’ve attended. We’re still seeing lots of connected watches/wrist devices (e.g. Fitbit), but a number of other connected wearables have started to appear. Under Armour had its connected pajamas at CES and it wasn’t alone in this field. In addition to the wearables, there were also a range of other connected healthcare products on show, particularly focused around improving sleep. The Sleep Number 360 bed reacts to your sleeping position and adjusts its settings accordingly; the product is supposedly able to prevent snoring. It’s clear from CES that companies have realised that customers are willing to spend money if there’s an opportunity to improve their health, and as such, we’re starting to see more businesses focus on this area.

In addition to the products, the monitoring/services provided by a company is equally important. In a lot of cases, we saw businesses at CES focusing more on the monitoring side of their offering rather than the product. TempTraq has a smart-patch which allows parents to monitor their child’s temperature. Parents are able to monitor key information through the accompanying smartphone app so that they can continually keep an eye on their child. Similarly, QardioCore provides a heart monitor for customers that delivers accurate ECQ, heart rate, heart rate variability, respiratory rate and skin temperature information for the user. The challenge for brands is how they start to monetise these services. Companies need to ask what type of service adds real value to a customer so that they’re willing to pay for it, either up front or on a subscription model.

Companies appear to have realised that the healthcare industry has huge potential. It doesn’t matter whether you’re five months old or sixty-five years old, there’s now a connected healthcare product out there for you. It’s still not a fully developed market, but we can expect some developments this year as businesses look to refine their business models and product offering.

Don't forget you can watch our videos from CES on our YouTube channel, which cover a few of the big trends for 2017. 

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Somo

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