Another CES “down”. That was my 15th! In some ways it exceeded expectations, too. In particular, here are the areas that caught my eye and imagination.
Let’s begin with considering CES and its importance. Some say it is mostly a retail show with far too many TVs and little bearing on the telecom industry. Yes, as usual, there are a lot of TVs there and as someone that has attended the show every year, this is a common refrain. However, I would suggest that the show also is a good precursor for the overall health of the various sectors of the electronics business and there was an emergence of new “big boy” industries (automotive, smart home, wearables) whose large presence is notable. The common thread of course; connectivity is quickly and profoundly adapting these industries. So with that in mind, here are the most important vectors of the CES show, in my opinion; not necessarily in any order.
I like the Automotive industry. (I worked for GM for over 15 years and grew up in Detroit.) CES 2015, had a very large auto presence, larger than ever before. Expect it to grow again next year; in fact we wouldn’t be surprised to see it start to run over into other halls. Ford, GM, Audi, BMW, Audi and Hyundai had a presence. Of course, it’s no surprise that CES is getting so much attention from automakers. Cars have become synonymous with tech and CES is still the pre-eminent tech show.
So what tech companies are driving the trends at the show? More than most other makers in the space, QNX and its QNX Car platform is proving to be the most disruptive. Consider that this “little Ottawa, Canada” company has its fingers and code in the likes of Audi, Volkswagen, BMW, Porsche and Land Rover to name just a few (http://www.engadget.com/2015/01/08/audis-latest-supports-android-auto-and-carplay). In fact, in early December QNX announced with Ford that Microsoft was “out” as the software provider for Sync and QNX was “in”. Little known companies like QNX and Elektrobit are contributing so much to the space and most of us have never even heard of them. The takeaway is that QNX is positioning itself to be an OS between the automakers and enabling the other competitive higher layered (Apple, Google, Microsoft) BYOD software to coexist and be flexibly updated and adapted over the longer term of the vehicle’s life – which is at least 10 years by law in North America.
As for the network needs, around 15 million new cars and trucks are sold in North America per year and 350 million currently on the road. This is a sizable market for connected vehicles. Additionally, we expect to see multiple other connectivity needs. The automakers want access to the data which the sensors and monitors of the vehicle itself create (telematics); government regulators want to track and charge the drivers for usage based on location, compile statistics on driving behavior; and the actual drivers have a great many service and feature needs (navigation, infotainment, safety, security). All require robust and reliable connectivity.
We’ve been hearing about the promise of the connected home, or the “Internet of Things,” for years. At this CES, one thing became clear, the connected home of the future is achievable today. Qualcomm’s smart home, for example, was a mock-up showing how tech could change the way we live. Unlike past years, however, the vast majority of “things” on show were off-the-shelf products you could buy and install in your home right now. If you need further proof that we’re already living the connected dream, a lot of the “new” products from CES 2015 were refinements on previous ideas. Simple to deploy cameras, electric outlets, pet doors and locking mechanisms were prevalent. Smart lightbulbs are nothing new, of course, but the MisFit (you met them) Bolt dramatically lowers the price and complexity of adding them to your home. Elsewhere, mainstream companies — everyone from Honeywell to D-Link — announced families of sensors, cameras and hubs to add some “smarts” to your home.
A notable of the show was something entirely different. Energous’ WattUp technology is a wireless charging solution that uses RF to beam “power” to your devices from up to 15 feet away. WattUp has the potential to enable everlasting wearables, toys and smart sensors. It’s not going to be the only name in wireless power — WiTricity’s magnetic resonance tech, for example, is a way more efficient way to power high-energy devices over short distances — but its 15-foot range could make it an important part of the connected home. Unfortunately, unlike the rest of the tech on display, WattUp isn’t likely to make its way into our devices for at least a year. So, while you can have your fridge talk to your TV and your washer discuss politics with your toaster, they’ll all need to be wired up to the grid, for now.
Yes, TVs, TVs, TVs. We did warn you that they would be big, everywhere and distractingly similar. The takeaway was that they are also becoming independent of the Cable and Telco IPTV service models. The “cord cutting” revolution is well under way. The TVs shown at CES 2015 almost universally have WiFi embedded chipsets and service layers loaded by the manufacturer (Samsung Smart Hub). There are also new Media service providers working in collaboration with these manufacturers to take on the laborious process of licensing the content. Yet, these business models are all still dependent of robust and reliable connectivity. As an example. there is the Sling TV product, the first non-traditional alternative that looks like it could really work. Not only does it bring an interest-grabbing slate of content (ESPN sports programming), but also the entire interface and system brings the “current in the home TVs” into the internet era. Even the price is on target, starting at $20 with no contracts. Internet TV hasn’t supplanted the cable hegemony yet, but this is the first significant strike — and it’s a good one. We are well positioned to benefit from this enormous shift in media consumption.
That is the good news… The not so good news is the rise of 4K and even 8K TVs (based on the new models shown). These will require new ways to deliver that much data, storage methods and pricing models. There are so many opportunities here.
Previously the wearable and fitness section of CES occupied a few hundred square feet. In 2015, the two categories had taken over almost half of the Sands Expo hall. That means that there are plenty more companies trying to get in on the action, but also that those that make the devices are starting to move beyond just making technology for marathon runners. In one sense it indicates a lot of money thinks this is a growth opportunity. It certainly is a lot of points of data creation and seems to support what the 5G messaging coming from Alcatel-Lucent is. The
takeaway is that wearable technology doesn’t mean “stuff you put on your wrist.” For years, Dr. John Rogers at the University of Illinois, amongst others, has been working to create a temporary tattoo that could be used to monitor hospital patients. The idea being that, rather than hooking people up to ECG machines, a device the size of a Band-Aid could push the data straight to the hospital’s cloud. We’re nowhere near that point just yet, but this year’s CES saw the first few companies take that idea and run with it at the show.
You met with Misfit folks and their vision that the monitoring can be achieved in all manner of wearable technology. Also in this space is TempTraq announcing its Bluetooth patch that pushes a person’s temperature straight to a smartphone. While intended to save you from disturbing a sleeping baby, it’s suitable for people of any age, and if it gets FDA approval, we could begin to see this in hospitals soon. Another similar product is VivaLnk’s NFC-based thermometer, which simply requires you to tap your smartphone onto the skin sensor to instantly check their vitals. Given that this latter product could come to the market for as little as $15 for a pack of three means that it’s not impossible to think that parents could be using this within the next 12 months.
Both of these technologies are simple compared to AmpStrip, an adhesive patch that’s designed to stick onto your chest and push your vital signs to your smartphone. That’s almost as exciting as XelfleX, a smart shirt from British R&D firm Cambridge Consultants that uses fiber optic cabling to track every part of your body’s movement in real time. Other available smart shirts only enable you to leave the heart-rate monitoring strap at home, but imagine if this becomes a real product — people can fire their personal trainer and use their app to shed those extra pounds. It is indeed a new area for data collection. We have made the proposition time and again that this generation is the first to have their entire life digitized: from the intial sonogram, to every interaction, financial transaction and health event. It is a tidal wave of ones and zeros!
CES overall was a better show than anticipated because of these various market segments and their embracing of new tech. It is entirely consistent and validates the mission of the ng Connect program where we seek to promote new business opportunities and models with the benefits that enhanced high bandwidth connectivity provides.Although it impossible to see everything at CES, these were the highlights for and please know we have contacts and communication with each through our ecosystem outreach.
We’d like to hear your thoughts of this year’s CES! ng Connect members, go to http://click.ngconnect.org/collaboration/ces-2015, enter your User Name and Password, and start a dialogue! It could be the beginning of some great ideation to define new ng Connect projects.
2015 seems to be open for a great deal of innovation – what do YOU want to work on. Let’s get started!