CES 2020: What Did We Learn From The World’s Biggest Tech Show?

Another year of the Las Vegas-hosted Consumer Electronics Show (CES) draws to a close today. Every year the world’s biggest and most closely watched tech show sees companies large and small present their latest innovations.

Some of the tech exhibited never sees the light of day, proving less commercially viable than its creators hoped, or overtaken by more efficient solutions and formats before making it out of the lab. Others go on to shape the world we live in. Last year’s most significant CES unveiling was Impossible Food’s latest faux beef burger patty – the Impossible Burger 2.0.

A controversial inclusion, with some arguing food technology shouldn’t be part of an electronics show, the media attention the Impossible Burger 2.0 received paved the way for 2019 to be a breakthrough year for plant-based faux meat products and vegan alternatives. Beyond Meat, a peer and rival of Impossible Foods, went on to launch a hugely successful IPO and enjoy a blistering start to life as a public company.

But the CES has long evolved beyond being just a consumer electronics show. Despite its name, the event is wide-ranging technology show, embracing all branches of ‘tech’, from electronics to bio, agri and food tech. And the innovations on show offer a unique insight into the technology trends that will shape the years ahead.

So what did we learn from CES 2020? Here are three of the key takeaways that are being talked about:

The first big theme that could be seen running through CES 2020 is that Big Tech is focusing its efforts on the battle to be the tech ‘ecosystem’ of choice for consumers. The strategy being adopted by particularly Amazon and Google is to provide core software that hardware produced by other companies run on or support. The two have been especially driven in their pursuit of getting their voice assistant technologies into as many pieces of hardware as possible.

Apple have also been getting in on the act. Oral-B has an electronic toothbrush that links to the iPhone and Sengled new lightbulbs that connect into Apple’s HomeKit smart home platform.

But third-party hardware producers are also showing signs of irritation at the extent of Big Tech’s ambitions and perceptions they are throwing their weight around in a non-competitive way. Sonos, which makes high-end speakers that have been integrated with Google’s music streaming service and digital assistant, announced that it is to sue its partner over patent infringement. Sonos accuses Google of unfairly sweeping up user data.

The next major theme obvious throughout CES 2020 follows nicely on from that Sonos-Google spat – Big Data. A theme of 2019 was the friction between the opposing forces of the convenience of new smart technology and consumer privacy concerns. That theme continued this week with news of privacy breaches of Amazon Ring doorbell users. The company fired a handful of staff who had accessed theoretically private user video data.

But tech on display at CES suggests that big data-enabled smart devices are proving popular enough that most consumers are ready to turn a blind eye to privacy concerns. The most noticeable evidence of this is the prevalence of cameras in new tech, aided by the huge drop in their cost over recent years. CES 2020 featured hearing aids with cameras that watch who the wearer is talking to in order to tune into their voice by a company called OrCam, a yellow ball developed by Samsung that follows you around your home anticipating your needs and a suitcase by Ovis that independently travels alongside its owner.

Big data is also hugely prevalent in the health and medical tech that is coming through. Users of health and medical wearables and apps seem quite happy to offer access to their personal data in an effort to ‘join the dots’.

The third major  theme apparent at this year’s event has been what the Financial Times referred to as the ‘identity crisis’ of car manufacturers. Toyota admitted during the week that it honestly has ‘no idea’ about its long term future. There is now a potential reality companies such as Toyota consider as far from impossible as coming to pass, where autonomous ‘robo-taxis’ see the once huge car industry replaced by ‘mobility as a utility’.

That would be expected to see the wide range of automobile models and characters replaced by ‘bland pods shuttling around smart cities’. Today’s car manufacturers, to survive, would have to evolve into mobility utility providers. With that in mind, Toyota will next year start work on the construction of a test smart city that it will use to inform its future strategy.

Sony showcased an electric car it has no intention of actually producing. But, equipped with 33 Sony sensors, the message being delivered was described by analysts as:

“in the electric car future, the vehicle itself will be little more than a lump of metal on wheels. Instead, it is the intelligence and the digital experiences that will comprise the soul of this new machine”.

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