I’ve just recently returned from my whirlwind trip to The International Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas.
As a lover of gadgets and tech toys, it was a bit of a winter playland for me. Having worked with or at CES for many years — they were my first-ever client — I have both a strong history and affinity for the show. Although I was only there for 48 hours, I thought it was a particularly interesting show. Here’s why…
We are at the nexus of a new era of transportation. I was a bit of a skeptic before CES, but I left feeling that autonomous driving is becoming very real. Virtually every major automotive OEM was at CES talking all-things autonomous, and you simply can’t have that much industry alignment and marketing firepower without it manifesting into a reality. And transportation isn’t simply limited to cars. Intel was showing Volocopter — what they are hailing as a “flying car” (think very, very big drone). While this was a concept demonstration at best, the fact that they could even bring a quasi-working concept to the table is illustrative of the change that is going to occur. Even Segway — yes, Segway — was showing something different and interesting. Loomo is a combination robot/hoverboard that you can ride to the grocery store and then have it carry your groceries home for you.
Speaking of robots, our client Seven Dreamers was showing Laundroid — a robotic device that folds your laundry. This machine has WiFi connectivity, and has an app that tracks everything the machine folds. Is it worth $16,000? That’s for you to decide. Is it demonstrative of future lifestyle applications of robotics? You bet.
AI was another popular theme of the show. I can’t imagine how much money Google spent on its Google Assistant presence. Although it wasn’t communicating this point directly, it was obvious that they are competing fiercely and almost singularly for mindshare against Amazon’s Alexa, which was virtually everywhere in terms of both conversation and partnerships (yet without having as strong a Google-like presence). As a side note, it was astonishing to me how much traction Alexa has gained across multiple industries and how much of a player it was at this show. It’s far superseded Siri from that standpoint. In fact, I’d almost go so far as to say that the Alexa-Siri battle has been won, which might be a post for another day.
Drones were popular too, though notably, much less so than when I was last at the show in 2016. Back then, the market was pretty green. Today, I’d say that this battleground has been won by DJI. If ever there was a consumer tech company to watch, I’d say it is DJI. They have so much traction and such terrific products in the drone space (disclosure: I own a DJI Spark - which I love) it is going to be very hard for other brands to compete. That was a point hammered home earlier in the week, when GoPro announced that they are getting out of the drone business altogether and I think others will soon follow suit. Prediction: I would not at all be surprised to see DJI buy GoPro this year. I also think that DJI will soon become one of the biggest and most consequential Chinese-owned technology brands. On the subject of China, Chinese companies were absolutely everywhere. The power and scale of their manufacturing abilities were truly revelatory for me.
Wellness and Fitness
One of my personal favorite areas in the consumer technology space is wellness and fitness. It marries my other passion, running and endurance sports. The last time I was at CES, the wearables section was absolutely booming. Fast forward two years and my observation was that this is a market that has diminished considerably. Probably the most interesting thing to me in this area was the new Peleton Tread. I might devote a separate post to Peleton and its business at some point. In the watch/wearable space, short of Garmin, there was a lot less noise than before. My working theory: the Apple Watch has hit this market hard and forced a lot of OEM’s to either retreat (see: TomTom) or try to find another pathway altogether (see: Fitbit). But it was a disappointment, and makes me wonder whether the “hot areas” of today’s show (robotics, AI), might take the pathway of wearables tomorrow.
Overall, there were a lot of interesting things at CES, but I think the macro takeaway is to keep an eye on autonomous transportation, robotics and AI. I’ll be sure to report back in two years as to how these markets manifest relative to this particular show.