CES 2017 Musings

Internet of Things

Everything at CES was “smart” and “connected”. This is a continuing trend but it is getting tired. One big comment heard was along the lines of “do I really need a toothbrush that streams video of my mouth into the cloud?” and “Just because I can connect it, should I?”. Use case and semi-believable value proposition is not enough – a real, believable business model must be attached to the use cases.

There is a recognition that IoT is a BIG thing, especially when you focus beyond devices and more on big data, AI, and automation. A clear next level conversation was heard in multiple sessions around this topic. It emerged from the view that each of the current players is creating dark proprietary data assuming that the killer app will allow them to own data or, in the case of Google/Microsoft/Amazon, that a walled garden approach will be taken. The conversation was around opening this up to allow for market growth focused on three components: standards needed for open use of data, privacy concerns for proper use and tracing of data, and security concerns at all layers of IoT.

Also notable for IoT was wide partner ecosystems being highlighted, particularly in complex use cases. Large companies such as Intel, Ford, Toyota, Honda, etc. highlighted their ecosystem around their efforts to demonstrate their traction and credibility.

Cars

Automotive attention has moved at CES over the years: “cool car accessories” in 2008, to “connected car” in 2012 and then “autonomous car” in 2015. While all these are still there and autonomy remains a big focus, CES illuminated for me an emerging, culturally driven divide in this area between east and west. The Japanese car manufactures are focused on innovating towards cars being more like a personal robot that becomes your friend. This is an extreme extension of the recognition that cars are attached to our emotions. On the other side, the western car manufacturers were more focused on battery performance, driving experience, and entertainment integration. The American and Europeans are more focused on the future driving experience of a machine.

Car companies continue to shift to being “mobility companies” in recognition that autonomous driving will reduce car purchases (although I personally sensed less panic over it as a new idea this year).

One interesting data point was the feeling that the autonomous driving vehicle hype makes it seem like all the problems are solved and they aren’t. Particularly on corner cases that will need to be learned. But the feeling is that progress should not be stopped on the quest for the perfect and the regulatory agencies in the US are following that (other places, notably in Asia are being even more liberal in allowing experimentation). The general feeling was that AI technology is the main item that needs to advance further.

Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Assistants

Everything is “smart” now. Many products are being connected to AI engines – Alexa from Amazon was being supported by many devices and I would say that if there was a big thing out of the show, relatively ubiquitous Alexa support was it.

Microsoft, IBM, and Google are much further ahead in the AI arena and have further execution down a broader vision that would give them market power around true network AI beyond just intelligence for user interfaces. This means that a balance will create a hungrier set of competition and that these guys will be looking for partners to help them succeed.

Virtual/Augmented/Mixed Reality

There were several high profile VR events and I heard lots of comments that people were convinced of how good VR will be. Mostly the use that people are seeing is for entertainment, although there are use cases emerging for enterprises as well, including conferencing, training, and industrial uses.

Mixed reality is a combination of VR and AR where the real world is precisely mapped into a virtual world allowing for a blending of real world and virtual worlds… think objects and people being inserted into a room you physically are in.

Several discussions resulted in general agreement that mixed reality would be the big winner for enterprises and likely even for a whole new set of consumer uses. VR is definitely in the “trough of disillusionment” and there were a lot of jokes about the sick bags handed out at a big VR event (most thought the content, though, was great) and discussion of VR not taking off as expected.

Other fading trends

Drones: A lot less focus on drone innovation this year from previous years. The smattering of new innovations was moving to enterprise rather than consumer.

3D Printing: Very little compared to years past. Recognition that the cloud storage of device designs and maybe not consumer 3D printing, but maybe printing centers at retail locations would be a successful model for “long tail” parts etc.

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