The Consumer Electronics Show is great for revelations of the technology kind. Critics (who don’t go to CES) say you won’t see any innovation at CES. Apple’s absence from the show means that you can dismiss CES exhibitors as a bunch of followers, the critics say.
Indeed, you don’t have to go because VentureBeat’s team went and slogged through it all — the Las Vegas lines, the choreographed press briefings, the boring keynotes, the swanky dinners, the giant parties, the booth babes and dudes dressed like superheroes, and the unromantic walks through the equivalent of 37 football fields of booths. We tried not to get distracted by celebrities who rubbed off their coolness on decidedly uncool tech executives. And we focused on scanning the crowds for anything that stood out, the way that Arnold Schwarzenegger scanned the crowds for Sarah Connor in The Terminator. We did this for you, dear readers, and we’re not whining about it.
The show is good for showing the patterns of the tech world, over time. A trend begins at one show, and it becomes stronger at the next. Or it fizzles out. This year, LG said more than 70 percent of its TVs connect to the internet, compared to about half last year. Google’s Project Glass, however, isn’t a trend yet because nobody is copying the web-connected eyewear, which debuts next year. You could say that such patterns make CES a show of copycats who can’t teach you nothing. But part of the definition of innovation is building on what others have done before you.
If anything, CES gives you perspective on what is sticking to the wall. More than 3,250 exhibitors showed products across a record 1.92 million square feet of exhibits. Looking at those exhibits gives you a glimpse of the future and what will be on store shelves in the coming months.
We took a couple of stabs at this last year, once before the show, and once after. We didn’t do so great with a prediction that ultrabooks would breathe new life into laptops. But the two-screen experience materialized in a big way in 2012 as companies linked smartphones, tablets and smart TVs. For perspective, here’s our top trends of CES 2011.
Here’s our list of the top 10 trends of CES 2013. Please vote for your favorite in the poll at the bottom.
The mobile generation has become the biggest audience to target
When Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer gave up the opening keynote to Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs, it was the changing of the guard. Jacobs had a memorable keynote because it was ridiculed so much, but his theme of “born mobile” was genuine enough. A whole generation of kids are growing up untethered from computers and tethered to their mobile phones instead. They are embracing not just one platform, but many. As clumsy and laughable as Qualcomm’s keynote was, it got the basic trend right.
After all, Qualcomm has sold more than 11 billion chips for mobile devices over 27 years. And mobile is leading the way. U.S. homes now have 1.4 tablets per household, compared to 1.2 a year ago. We spend 130 minutes a day with smartphones and tablets, compared to 170 minutes a day watching TV. Expect that to flip. In the U.S., about 44 percent of homes have tablets, up from 1 percent in July 2010. Smartphones are in about 55 percent of homes, compared to 36 percent in July 2010. Jacobs said that 84 percent of people worldwide can’t go a day without using a mobile device. We look at our phones 150 times a day.
Shawn Dubravac, senior analyst at the Consumer Electronics Association, refers to consumers as “digital omnivores.” This generation isn’t picky. It loves anything tech that works and gets the job done. If you target this mobile market, you have a potential audience of billions, several times larger than the PC audience. This year, larger numbers of companies came to the show knowing that. Next year, they’ll call it the Mobile Consumer Electronics Show. — Dean Takahashi
Fitness and health tech get real
In the cavernous South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center, three exhibitor regions were clustered together: the Fitness Tech Zone, the Digital Health Zone, and Gaming. Some companies belonged in all three. The show space in Digital Health was up 25 percent from a year ago.
Last year, the realm of fitness counters was the domain of startups. But bigger companies are getting in on the act. The health insurance giant United Healthcare had a “fitness gaming” exhibit where people played Dance Dance Revolution. Clearly, if people are more fit, the health insurance company’s costs go down. Companies with new offerings in fitness gadgets included Fitbit, Withings, BodyMedia, Basis Science, and Hapilabs (maker of the Hapi Fork). They were joined by the likes of Bosch, Nike, and others. HealthSpot introduced an interesting Telehealth Kiosk, which takes your vital signs and then allows you to consult with a doctor via remote consultation.
Ariana Huffington, creator of the Huffington Post, moderating a session with Reed Tuckson of United Healthcare on “The Human Body: The Next Digital Revolution.” That must be a sign that digital health and fitness tech are revving up a hype cycle that could come crashing down. But we’ll bet that the square footage around these trends will be bigger at next year’s show. My own Striiv step-counting app showed I walked about 31 miles at CES across five days. — Dean Takahashi
The user interface is you
CEA’s analyst Shawn Dubravac also predicted before the show that gesture and voice will join touch as new ways to control devices. New technologies based on gestures and voice are coming from the likes of General Motors, Texas Instruments, Intel, and Nuance. Those controls will be useful in cars, and it is no accident that there are more car makers than ever coming to CES, Dubravac said.
“Over the next 36 months, we will see fundamental changes in voice control and gestures as well,” Dubravac said.
At Intel’s press event, Tobii showed off its “eye recognition” technology, where it would detect whether you spotted Waldo in a Where’s Waldo puzzle image. Meanwhile, Samsung included voice recognition in its smart TVs. And PrimeSense, maker of the depth camera technology used in Microsoft’s Kinect (the motion-sensing system for the Xbox 360), demonstrated further uses of 3D sensing technology, including sensing what objects consumers inspect on grocery store shelves. Movea, in a demo pictured above, showed how sensors on a dancer could be translated into an entertaining digital animation in real-time.
Intel calls this trend “perceptual computing” and it wants to mash-up all of the input technologies into computers to improve things such as device security. Microsoft’s slogan for Kinect, “You are the controller,” is looking better every day. — Dean Takahashi
3D glasses are undead
LG had perhaps the prettiest booth with scores of big-screen 3D TVs chained together in a giant screen. And Nvidia had showed off its 3DVision goggles for gaming. But all mention of 3D was curiously absent from the lips of many executives who touted it in years past. Some companies are still working on glasses-free 3D TVs. But the computing power required to produce a separate image for every viewing angle is a huge obstacle to doing glasses-free 3D right. That computing power is better used producing better images. That’s why 4K Ultra HD TVs were hot this year.
3D was a fad aimed at stopping movie piracy, or pumping up the box office receipts. 3D make an appearance as a zombie trend, or something that just won’t die, for a few years. TV makers may include it for free in a last-ditch attempt to keep it alive. But market penetration of 3D TVs topped out at maybe 20 percent or 30 percent. Judging from CES 2013, that market share is going to drop dramatically this year. — Dean Takahashi
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