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The hottest tech trends at CES 2018

The hottest tech trends at CES 2018

For a few days in early January, Las Vegas becomes the centre of the technology universe thanks to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). As the world's largest consumer technology show, it stands to reason that there are many incredible products and innovations to be found each year. 

It’s a pretty profound experience to be among the more than 170,000 visitors doing our best to cover off just some of the 2.5 million net square feet of exhibition space. But through all the hype, flashy lights, robots, and gadgets, what I'm really trying to seek out are a collection of emerging tech trends and themes that will influence products into the future.

How can New Zealand tap into these trends or better yet, position ourselves to be a part of it? There is a lot to be excited about! Here is my short list of trends.

  1. WHAT IS A CAR?

Yes, that’s a legitimate question. Just a couple of years ago, cars were not part of CES. Now they are front and centre of the conference, which means that pretty much every car company is now also a tech company. Ford, Mercedes, Toyota, Hyundai, BMW, Honda and many more brands occupy more and more of the showroom floor each year.

One head turner (and CES award winner) was the Toyota e-Palette, a fully autonomous electric vehicle with a very simple design, in something we can now call the “mobile retail space”. According to Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda, it’s basically a customisable box with eight wheels designed with the intention to open up opportunities for businesses to create services that can “blur the lines between brick and mortar and online commerce.” Unfortunately, we have to wait a while. Testing of the e-Palette will not begin until at least 2020.

Toyota’s mobile retail space - the e-Palette car.

The vehicle space is not just restricted to car brands. Chip manufacturer Nvidia has seen massive growth in recent years due to its graphic chips finding new applications, mainly in autonomous vehicles (but also in machine learning and cryptocurrency mining). This year the chip manufacturer announced a partnership with Uber and Volkswagen with hopes of making further gains in the self-driving/autonomous vehicle industry. Nvidia said the development of the Uber self-driving programme had resulted in over one million autonomous miles being driven in just the past 100 days using its autonomous vehicle computers, aptly named Nvidia Drive. There are (at least so far) 320 companies involved in self-driving vehicles using Nvidia Drive, while elsewhere, everyone from software developers, automakers and sensor companies, to camera and mapping companies, are incorporating Nvidia Drive in their designs.

Nvidia and Roborace’s autonomous electric racecar.

  1. SMARTER HOMES

Organisers of CES, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), expect sales in this category (which includes products such as smart thermostats, fridges, security cameras, and locks) to reach 40.8 million units in 2018. This is a 41 percent increase over 2017, resulting in close to USD$4.5 billion in revenue. In response to this opportunity, Intel announced during its CES keynote a comprehensive five-point strategy focused on bringing more intelligence to the home. Intel had remained pretty low-key about connected homes in recent years, so it was interesting to see them doubling down in the space.

  1. DRONES - a BIGGER deal

Drones are maturing. Total drone sales are expected to reach record highs of 3.7 million units in 2018 (which is up 20 percent from last year) and earn $1.2 billion in revenue (which is up 17 percent). Drones below 250 grams (check out the image below) are expected to reach just over 2.2 million units this year, while drones above 250 grams will reach 1.5 million units shipped, according to the CTA.

But what really made an impression on me is that bigger drones are getting REALLY big, reaching a size that will allow them to autonomously transport humans. “Mega drones” are here, and Sky Uber is coming soon…

A Volocopter drone on display at CES.

  1. HEY GOOGLE! (or Alexa, or Cortana)

Google doesn't have a big presence at CES usually, but that changed in a big way this year. Even the Las Vegas monorail says "Hey Google!”.

Google was everywhere at CES 2018 including a huge Google Assistant ball-pit game at the convention entrance.

What this suggests is that personal assistants are the new battleground, and the race is on to serve YOU! The integration of consumer connected devices with the leading voice-based assistants from Microsoft, Amazon and Google was very noticeable this year, as these companies look to take advantage of voice platforms whose capabilities are now meeting consumer expectations for quality and accuracy.

Sales numbers of assistant-enabled smart speakers are very impressive. Google announced earlier this week that it has sold “more than one” Google Home device per second since its Home Mini launched in October. While that is very impressive growth, it stands in the shadow of Amazon, whose line of Alexa-enabled devices account for about 70 percent of all smart speakers sold in 2017.

Lets also not forget that we have our first Alexa-powered toilet (I’m not sure how you feel about talking to your toilet, but “Alexa, lift the toilet seat,” is now a phrase you can actually use). Alexa owns 100 percent of the voice-toilet market. Apple is, of course, the 800-pound gorilla in the room and hell may freeze over if Apple make an appearance at CES next year with its home-based speaker products (and, of course, Siri).

Returning to cars for a moment, Panasonic announced plans to bring Alexa and Google Assistant to its in-car infotainment systems, while Toyota announced cars equipped with its most current infotainment systems will receive Alexa capabilities this year, and Kia revealed that many of its 2018 car models will add Google Assistant capabilities.

Amazon and Google are clearly looking to capture users in the connected car market because the car is likely the next big digital platform beyond the home (and the hand-off between home and car can cement the utility and adoption of a Google or Amazon platform). It is projected that more than 77 million connected cars will ship annually around the world by 2025.

  1. WEARABLES

The wearables market includes everything from high-tech fashion to familiar wearables that track your activity, mood, and even your pets (the smart pet bed is finally here folks). It is estimated that 310 million wearable devices were sold worldwide last year. At CES, we saw wearables crop up in unexpected niches. L’Oreal are now in the wearables game (yup the cosmetics company) with a device that fits on your fingernail. We saw the launch of smart swimsuits, and New Zealand's own StretchSense once again had its product featured in the Intel Keynote, with Shin Jeong Park, marketing director from StretchSense, speaking on a CES panel focused on next-generation fitness wearables.

Shin Jeong Park, Marketing Director from StretchSense on the CES panel talking next generation fitness wearables.

Hearables is now a subset of the wearable marketplace that I’m actually excited about (I did not expect my Apple AirPods to be such a profound user experience). Jabra has released a new wireless earbud that is powered by Amazon Alexa and another set of earbuds that offer real-time language translation.

  1. WALLETS

Our wallets will be doing most of the talking in 2018. Consumer tech spending is forecast to hit a record USD $351 billion. Included in this number for this first time is consumer spending on music and video streaming services, which includes the likes of Netflix, Hulu, Sling TV, Spotify and Pandora, which is projected to reach USD $19.5 billion in revenue in 2018 - a 35 percent jump over 2017.

Because we’re talking about CES here, there is, of course, some exciting tech features in wallets themselves! Sprint took the CES opportunity to unveil the first self-charging digital payment card that can download multiple card profiles and modify its magnetic strip. Google couldn’t keep away from announcements here, revealing that it’s simplifying the mobile payments ecosystem under one umbrella with its ‘Google Pay’ service (finally uniting Google Wallet and Android Pay).

  1. EMERGING TRENDS TO WATCH FOR THE FUTURE

While not large-scale trends yet, the following emerging trends are worth keeping an eye on.

Cryptocurrency is hitting the general consumer market soon, and at CES we saw some interesting crypto tech. From companies who store digital currency offline, to Kodak who blew everyone’s mind with the release of its own cryptocurrency called KodakCoin. What’s incredible about this announcement is Kodak’s stock price more than tripled since this announcement. Kodak also launched a cryptocurrency mining computer and a Cloud-based mining service for the crypto committed digital coin fans.

Kodak’s bitcoin mining machine --The Kodak KashMiner --showcased here at CES as part of their crypto pivot.

Quantum is here. IBM and Intel both announced impressive advances in quantum computing chips. IBM even had a quantum computer on display, which was a thing of beauty.

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich announced its own 49-qubit quantum chip at CES, calling it a major breakthrough in quantum computing and the next step to "quantum supremacy” (IBM’s chip is 50-qubit).

A work of art – IBM’s 50-Qubit quantum computer.

Hyperloop gains momentum. The ability for us to zoom down airless tubes that are hundreds of miles long and can transport us from one city to another at near-supersonic speeds just got a little more real by having Virgin's Hyperloop One show up at CES. Reality is far away for this concept, but the fact that we even have a unit (from a company like Virgin) is evidence that we are way beyond concept for this new technology.

Virgin's Hyperloop One: the future is coming at supersonic speed.
Jon Davies is head of Tech Sector for New Zealand Trade & Enterprise in the US.

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