Here at Cogniance, we always look forward to CES. As hardcore proponents of technology, we love this innovation showcase and are always inspired by getting a glimpse into the future. And let’s just say upfront that we weren’t disappointed. This year’s CES was all about the digital assistants and how they are enabling mobility and connectivity.

It was about the expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT), connecting virtually everything in our lives and making everyday objects “smart”. And it was also about how companies are leveraging the copious amounts of data these devices are collecting, in order to give consumers more insight into their daily lives and help them make more informed decisions based on the data their devices collect.

However, after spending a week looking at everything from the quirky to the absurd, we still believe the industry is lacking meaningful use cases. This technology has so much potential, yet we’re still waiting to see applications that can truly impact the future. Nevertheless, there were definitely noteworthy trends and products that could lead to the game-changing use cases we’ve been waiting for.

CES is a great place to spot the trends that will impact our industry over the next few years. Here’s a look at the top ten trends we spotted during our week at CES.

Trend #1: Everyone wants a “Jarvis”
Think of this as the rise of the digital assistants. Siri and Alexa have been with us for quite a while now, but at this year’s CES, we’re finally seeing digital assistants play a major role in our connectivity. Basically every aspect of our lives, every touchpoint, has the ability to interface with our digital assistants. On the homefront, we see smart speakers, such as LG’s ThinQ® Speaker, and smart displays by the likes of Lenovo and Samsung-owned, JBL, all angling to offer the next form of human-technology interaction, a Google Assistant-based experience that lets you do everything from finding recipes while cooking to syncing calendars with other family members. If you’re on-the-go, you can take your digital assistant with you, thanks to the introduction of Google Assistant with Android Auto. And should you be out of range of a microphone, there’s no need to worry; you can still access your assistant from your phone, or from your Google Assistant-enabled headphones. Yes, digital assistants are becoming ubiquitous. This year’s CES confirmed that they are the go-to interface for the connected world, accessible from everywhere and fully-integrated into every aspect of our lives.

Trend #2: Hardware and software: like hand in glove
This year’s CES also revealed some interesting developments in the symbiotic relationship between hardware and software. While CES has traditionally been all about the hardware, a large number of this year’s unveilings were on the software front. This makes sense, as software is what enables true innovation; it has the potential to be developed upon and expanded to include new services and features that can keep an existing hardware product relevant. An example of this is Sony, who announced that they would be updating older headphones with Google Assistant. On the flip side, you can’t have software without hardware, so we’re seeing an increasing number of software vendors venturing into the hardware space, such as Insta360 with the launch of its Nano S. This will be an interesting trend to watch, to see if the software vendors are capable of producing hardware that really amplifies the value and potential of their software.

Trend #3: Manufacturers Unite!
Consumers are no longer looking at brands as exclusive, standalone entities. They want to gain the advantage of having brands working together, enjoying the best that each brand has to offer. And they want brand-agnostic devices, so they can have the flexibility and freedom to connect their devices to the brands they choose. We’ve seen companies respond to this trend by offering support for both Alexa and Google Assistant, as an example. Companies are also realizing that they can’t survive on their own. Consumers demand a holistic, fully-connected experience, and it’s unrealistic that one manufacturer can cover all of the touchpoints in a user journey alone. They have to work with others. This type of collaboration also opens the door to true, groundbreaking innovation, as was the case with Intel’s headline-stealing debut of the flying taxi, the result of a collaboration with Volocopter. CES is doing what it can to reinforce this trend by offering a “Design and source market space”, where participants can find potential collaborators.

Trend #4: Your next doctor is a bot
There is no shortage of health apps and tech out there. So much so, that people are starting to question the real value that these apps generate. One of the major challenges is that these apps generate a plethora of data, yet without services that help put this data in a proper context, the result is an overwhelmed, rather than well-informed, consumer. That’s why we were so excited to see a wide range of products that capitalize on technology to make a real difference in the field of consumer health. For instance, we saw a wide range of smart hearing aids from companies like GN Resound, Oticon and Eargo. In keeping with the previous trend on collaboration, Bragi is putting their audio expertise to work in the health sector by partnering with Mimi Hearing Technologies to work on a personal sound amplification product, basically a hearing aid that won’t look like a hearing aid. Beyerdynamic also presented a set of headphones utilizing Mimi Hearing Technologies, this time where users can use an app to take a hearing test, and the app will create a personalized sound profile based on the results.
Hearing wasn’t the only health-related area to be showcased. We saw everything from smart reading glasses, to smart socks that use temperature sensors to detect inflammation in diabetics in real time. There were environment-related tech as well, including face masks with built-in air filters and Sensio Air, an allergen detection device for your home that works together with an app to help you identify and treat your allergies. Yes, “The doctor will see you now” is about to take on a whole new meaning.

Trend #5: Sensors are everywhere
Seamless connectivity, or the Internet of Things, requires sensors. And that is exactly what we saw as we roamed the exhibition halls at CES. Rows after rows of smart products. The home, in particular, seems to be the primary focus of this next wave of connectivity. There were smart mattresses that adjust to your body and collect data as you sleep. There were smart light switches, enabled with the digital assistant of your choice. And smart taps that allow you to track and control water consumption. Clothing brands are even getting in on the sensor trend, introducing smart clothing, offering everything from underwear to smart jackets. This is a really exciting trend, particularly when we consider the potential for energy conservation; however, as was the case with healthtech, the really interesting developments will come when these systems can connect with each other, so that several independent systems running various aspects of your household can be replaced with a seamless ecosystem that connects everything.

Trend #6: Human 2.0
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the trend that’s dominated the blogosphere for some time now, that of the augmented human. Countless techies are fascinated by the idea of technology supplementing our body’s natural abilities, bringing us closer to a world thought to be limited to the realms of science fiction. There were quite a few examples of this at this year’s conference, and with some interesting, real-world applications. Nissan, for example, showcased what it termed, “brain to vehicle technology”, which allows the car to respond to signals given off by the brain in order to improve reaction times and, hopefully, prevent accidents. And speaking of science fiction, Naver brought us one step closer to the universal translator with its Mars wireless earbuds, which provide everything we have come to expect from earbuds, plus real-time language translation, thanks to the Naver Papago Translate app. Bridging the gap between healthtech and wearable technology is Philips SmartSleep, a headband designed to optimize deep sleep.

Trend #7: Rooms-on-wheels
As autonomous vehicles rapidly become a reality, companies are focusing more on improving the in-car user experience. This makes sense, because once drivers become riders, they’ll be looking for something to do to pass the time. Thus tech companies are hard at work, trying to figure out how the riders of the future can be occupied and entertained while being transported. For example, Panasonic introduced their autonomous living space cabin, which basically looks like a highly-connected, technologically-supercharged living room, and Toyota premiered its e-Palette concept, a fully autonomous electric vehicle that can be outfitted for mass transportation, product deliveries or even temporary housing.

Trend #8: Data is precious
Companies have long been aware of the value hidden in the terabytes upon terabytes of user data they have accumulated. Now the race is on to develop algorithms sophisticated enough to mine the data and then to create service offerings based on that data. Yet, the flip side of this is that privacy has never been more top-of-mind, both for consumers and the industry. Companies are working to protect their data from any number of cyber threats. They are also working to comply with the upcoming GDPR regulations, and doing their best to ensure consumers that their data is safe in the company’s hands. And secure data transmission will only increase in importance as consumers gain more access to their health information.This year’s conference featured quite a few presentations about blockchain and how it has the potential to revolutionize the industry by offering a secure way to share data. This is definitely a trend to watch.

Trend #9: First the home, next the city
Feeling that they’ve conquered the smart home, companies are now shifting their attention to an even broader landscape to paint with their technology brush: the smart city. Part of the reason for the hotness of this topic is that the technology that would make a smart city possible is now well-established: 5G connections, blockchain and artificial intelligence, to name a few. You can see a large-scale example of what these technologies can mean for urban development in Panasonic’s smart city project. Deloitte has also done quite a bit of work in this area, highlighting all of the disciplines and industries that need to converge in order to make smart cities a reality.

A true smart city, no matter how you define it, is only possible if everything is connected. Building one will involve bringing together a wide range of connected technologies to enhance mobility, well-being and safety within an urban setting. We saw glimpses of what that could look like on a small scale at this year’s CES. Velco’s connected handlebar, as an example, provides a fully-connected experience for cyclists. The Coros smart bike helmet makes it possible for you to listen to music and still hear the traffic around you. The safety improvements also extend to vehicles, such as the Kia Niro EV’s Active Pedestrian Warning System, that can visually and audibly alert pedestrians or cyclists if the vehicle detects they might come in its path. So the pieces are there, we just need someone to bring them all together in a scalable manner in order for the vision of a smart city to be realized.

Trend #10: Ownership is so 20th century
For the big car companies, it was more a question of “when” as opposed to “if” car sharing would become a reality. Everyone was talking about ride-sharing, car on-demand and subscription-based access to vehicles. This was evident in Toyota’s e-Pallette, which is based on the company’s Mobility Services Platform, software that enables users to request and unlock a vehicle using their smartphone. Another example is the Smart Vision EQ, a concept vehicle produced by Mercedes and intended purely to be part of an autonomous, ride-sharing fleet.

The future of tech: Gazing into the CES crystal ball
One impression that we’re left with is that IoT is here, but we have yet to see compelling use cases solving real problems. The technology is there, and it helps us to do simple things, fun things, but not necessarily important things. We’re still waiting for the applications that will truly impact the future
Cogniance Design Team

Now that trends are done and dusted, let’s take a look at our highlight reel, featuring the products and companies that we believe have the greatest potential for impacting the future.

Pick #1: Toyota’s e-Palette
What’s interesting about this offer is the fact that it not only looks into the future of autonomous vehicles, it also takes into consideration the new economy of on-demand services and the future of urban planning. There is a growing need for flexible, modular spaces in cities that can be outfitted based on changing circumstances, providing everything from temporary housing in connection with large events to extra meeting rooms for businesses. This particular type of autonomous vehicle opens the door for a wide range of new products and services that offer consumers round-the-clock access to the convenience services they demand, such as dry cleaning, food and parcel delivery and courier services, all delivered right to their doorstep, wherever that might be. We believe this will be the next battlefield for companies, as they all race to create delivery services that can capitalize on the modularity offered by vehicles like e-Palette.

Pick #2: Byton’s Concept Car; aka the one with the screen
Byton’s prototype is impressive and does an amazing job of capturing the current trends dominating the automotive industry. It has the feel of a living room, and uses the latest interactive technology, such as facial recognition, touchscreens and gesture control. The car’s exterior is refined, robust and road-ready. The interior, however, still feels a bit unfinished. We had a test ride and, although we weren’t going that fast, the car felt like it was about to disassemble itself. And we’re not entirely convinced that gesture control works optimally in this environment. The UI is extremely complex, requiring the user to go through a series of elaborate gestures in order to navigate through the system. Gesture control works best when it’s limited to a few, simple actions. This is too much. It’s also unclear whether such a big, expensive screen is entirely necessary.
With the car set to hit the market in China in 2019, with the US and Europe to follow in 2020, this is definitely the product to watch. Will Byton succeed in being the first to redefine the automotive experience, introducing the first mass-production connected car? Or are they flying too close to the sun? Time will tell.

Pick #3: Skiin: your underwear is the ultimate wearable
Smart clothes were all over the place at CES, but this brand caught our attention because of its ready-to-market product and because of their overall vision. Their goal is to combine IoT technology with the data generated from the sensors in their clothes to create a truly connected consumer experience. Skiin’s current line of smart underwear helps consumers optimize their sleep, control their stress and adjust their home environment to their stress level, thanks to integration with smart home devices, so they’re well on their way to realizing their vision. It’s true that other brands might have more ostentatious applications of their wearable technology, like Xenoma’s e-skin, which lets you use your body as a video game controller, or more meaningful applications, like the diabetic smart socks we mentioned earlier. However, Skiin garners a special mention for the completeness and functionality of their products.

Pick #4: Netflix, aka Psychasec
No one can accuse Netflix of half doing things. They went all in and all out to promote their latest sci-fi series, Altered Carbon, creating a full-fledged booth for the fictional company, Psychasec. The series takes place 300 years in the future, where bodies are interchangeable, rendering death obsolete. People simply transfer their consciousness from one body to another. It was a bold move, based on a bold idea, that certainly wasn’t out of harmony with some of the other trends we saw at CES: healthtech, human augmentation and the blurring of the lines between flesh and code. Plus it was fun. The series, in case you’re interested, debuts on February 2nd.

Pick #5: Google: the omniscient assistant
Google was the clear star of CES 2018. Their advertisements were everywhere. There were Google people on all the floors, wearing white suits and always on-hand to explain how Google Assistant can be implemented on attendees’ devices. Clearly they are not willing to concede the digital assistant space to Alexa. As you could see from our trends report, the Google Assistant popped up in virtually every product, in the smart displays, smart headphones, smart speakers, etc. The main thing working in Google’s favor is the powerful Google AI. It will be exciting to see what companies will be able to do with Google Assistant, and if we can finally see these voice-activated assistants offering real value that transcends merely reading out loud information that is on our phones. The other interesting development will be to see who will actually dominate the market. While Amazon clearly rules the speaker market, they don’t own voice, as statistics show that 91% of users interact via voice with their smartphones (Score 1 to Google) as opposed to speakers, which only account for 17% of voice-based interactions. As we’ve mentioned several times already, data is everything, which is another factor working in Google’s favor. It will be interesting to see how the battle plays out, but expect to hear a lot more “Hey Google” in the future.

Where do we go from here?

Attending CES 2018 was a great way to kick off the year. One impression that we’re left with is that IoT is here, but we have yet to see compelling use cases solving real problems. The technology is there, and it helps us to do simple things, fun things, but not necessarily important things. We’re still waiting for the applications that will truly impact the future. We believe those applications are out there, and we want to help companies make them a reality. If you feel the same, get in touch. Together we can build something that will have a meaningful impact on your customers’ lives.

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