CES 2018 Best Tech

CES 2018: Top Tech and Trends to Watch This Year

CES brings together thousands of international brands and hopeful start-ups to showcase the technologies they believe have the power to change the future. From 5G to smart cities, voice assistants, VR/AR, and more, Annalect and Hearts & Science bring you the top tech and trends to care about in the coming year.

In the beginning of January each year, Vegas transforms into a massive tech trade show, each exhibitor in hopes of becoming the next break-through innovator or mainstream electronic staple in people’s lives. This year, Annalect teamed up with Hearts & Science to scope out CES, where all the latest consumer gadgets were on display. Our team walked over 570 collective miles to cover as much of the 2.75 million square feet of floor space as we could. Though at times mesmerized by the next shiny new toy, our focus was always centered on what technologies, companies, or concepts will be impactful from a media and marketing perspective, and which underlying trends have the potential to change our landscape as we know it in the coming years.

From the reality of smart homes powered by voice assistants connected to sensors in everything we own, to self-driving vehicles that communicate with smart city systems for safer commuting, an over-arching theme was at the center of it all — artificial intelligence. We now live in a world where automation and hyper-personalization reign supreme. With AI and its linked technologies (namely machine learning, computer vision, and natural language processing) built into the shows’ most impressive products, connected devices now recognize users’ preferences and daily routines to breed better and more efficient ways of living. In turn, by learning and predicting consumer behaviors, AI, not people, may be the key decision maker for the brands we buy and learn to love.

Below are some of the significant products and themes that we think will impact our industry the most in 2018.

5G: A better way for connected living

Many technologies we saw at CES were in some form connected to the internet. With the proliferation of sensors and smart devices, quicker internet speeds and larger broadband capacity will be crucial to powering the life of connectivity and seamless experiences we’re expecting.

If you think your Wi-Fi lags over the holidays when extended family floods your home, just imagine when each person is fitted with multiple devices and smart product sensors are scattered throughout every room. The Consumer Technology Association likened it to downloading a two-hour movie; 3G networks would’ve taken 26 hours, today’s 4G network completes it in six minutes, and 5G will accomplish this task in a mere 3.6 seconds.

As we increasingly urbanize and evolve into intelligent communities, 5G will be the backbone of the smart city infrastructure — a necessity that couldn’t come faster. Autonomous cars powered by 5G, for example, will not only alert vehicles when an obstacle is in its path but quick enough to take immediate action to avoid collision. Short-term development and implementation are expected to start at the end of this year, with full development extending into the 2020s.

Why It Matters: Be it indoors or in congested areas, 5G will support the influx of connected devices and respond with speeds reduced to a millisecond. 5G’s decreased latency will thus deliver better media and entertainment to people’s devices — from smart home screens to wireless VR headsets — in a consistent and uninterrupted way that consumers expect. Lastly, it will help more data flow than ever before but it will be crucial for marketers to capture the right information and implement it in meaningful ways.

Voice Assistants: in everything and everywhere — say what?!

While we saw plenty absurd and downright unadaptable pieces of technology (think fire extinguishers built to look like toy gun blasters), voice assistants surely were not one of them. In fact, they seem to be one of the most adapted pieces of technology coming to fruition from previous years. With one in six Americans now owning a smart speaker, 7% of whom bought one this holiday season, and roughly 46% using a voice assistant in some capacity, their integration was a staple across the CES floor. This means the concept of the smart home is finally (really this time) a mainstream reality we will see in 2018.

Google showed up in full force with its first official presence at CES, and their branding could be seen in every corner. All across Eureka Park, “Works with the Google Assistant” was plastered across nearly every smart device display. The Google Playground highlighted Assistant’s ability to seamlessly integrate with connected home products, from TVs to vacuums to refrigerators — complete with hot cookies from the oven, all directed with the familiar “Hey Google.”

Google was undoubtedly trying to close the gap with Amazon’s Alexa, who has dominated the space in previous years and makes up 70% share of U.S. voice-enabled speaker devices in the market. However, Amazon still seems to be one (or more) steps ahead. For instance, one smart light switch, Instinct from iDevices, is enabled with Alexa. This means Alexa is incorporated into the switch as one comprehensive device vs. just being integrated with a stand-alone speaker. Packed with the same sound and command capabilities, users can interface with their assistant in rooms (say, a guest bathroom) where you may not want to keep even the smallest Echo Dot or Home Mini.

As home automation and smart routines become a certainty, no one will want to remember which devices connect to which assistants, shouting “Hey Google this” and “Alexa do that.” The ease that third-party developers can integrate voice-control technology into their products is crucial. And with increasing device fragmentation, the question here becomes, does “enabled with” vs. “integrated with” drive user dedication to one assistant in order to have a seamless user experience? Smart home technologies that can remain assistant agnostic or serve as a smart home hub may have the best chance of user adoption and capitalize on the full power of routine automation.

Why It Matters: Interacting directly with voice assistants has created a new sales channel — speak to shop. Voice-enabled assistants from your phone to your fridge can schedule appointments, buy products, and even create and recite daily custom news updates. As they learn your behaviors, they will soon be able to tell when your oil needs changing or predict when you need to re-up your favorite mascara. Companies who can capitalize on commercialized skills or find innovative ways of highlighting their brands as a recommended purchase will surely have a leg up on their competitors.

VR vs. AR: which is a reality?

It was no surprise to see many forms of virtual reality making their debut at CES. While the technology is not new, it still seems slow to user adoption outside of the gaming realm. However, gaming or gamification may be some of the best aspects of VR, knowing you can take your existing reality and turn it into something completely out-of-this-world extraordinary.

While the announcement of HTC’s Vive Wireless Adapter was enticing, some of the more compelling experiences we saw feature additional hardware that takes the technology to the next level of immersive exploration. From Samsung’s 4D simulation gear (think 360-degree swivel chairs that allow you to race a rhino or ride a space roller coaster) to real-life applications like Black Box’s VR Gym studio, just the headset alone did not provide the same range or depth of immersive experiences that the supplementary equipment can offer.

Black Box, for instance, is a new type of gym system where virtual reality, a cable resistance machine, and gamification competitiveness are used to complete custom gym routines. With the reliance on extensive (and expensive) equipment to enhance the experience, dedicated location-based VR environments or gaming VRcades may show how most users may first encounter true VR.

Augmented reality, on the other hand, has shown more promise for practical use, relevance, and everyday application. One example we saw was Magik, the AR toothbrush that gamifies the brushing routine for kids. The brush is fitted with sensors and monitored by computer vision to detect the toothbrush’s movement. Kids interact through its mobile game, in which they travel to imaginary worlds, defeat an “evil cavity monster,” and collect superpower AR masks by brushing effectively.

Why It Matters: VR is still at a limiting price point for consumers, but more VR dedicated locations and use cases could be the way to mass adoption. However, AR is here and has immediate applications for consumers and brands. With the ability to access AR from the camera phone already located in a consumer’s hand, AR dressing rooms and virtual in-home product trials can bridge the “try before you buy” online gap many consumers seek.

Smart Cities: the future is here

If you’re looking for the next big thing, smart cities are the trend that will impact and improve the lives of citizens everywhere. Our world has increasingly shifted toward urbanization — today it’s roughly at half and is expected to reach two-thirds by 2050. The need for technology, data, and connectivity to bond and form the intelligent communities of our future could not be more pressing. To meet this demand, our cities are getting smarter, and in turn, safer. Energy conservation, transportation, environmental protection, and security will be driven by a number of underpinning technologies we saw at CES.

Possibly the most fascinating area here was transportation in the form of self-driving, or autonomous, vehicles. This wasn’t just due to the familiarity, sleek designs, or promise of pizza delivery (yes, this is a real thing). With 94% of traffic accidents attributed to human error, autonomous vehicles and transportation as a whole will be reshaped to improve safety, increase mobility, and save lives in the people-packed future.

One stand-out example was from Toyota. They debuted their e-Palette concept vehicle, which in essence is a self-driving modular room on wheels. From typical mobility functions, like ride-sharing, to less conventional purposes, like a mobile office, hotel room, or on-demand retail space — the possibilities are seemingly endless. “Today, you have to travel to the stores,” Toyota’s president said at the event. “In the future with e-Pallete, the store will come to you.”

Why This Matters: As people shift from drivers to passengers, and steering wheels to dashboard screens — we’ve opened up a whole new channel for content distribution and entertainment experiences. We can expect some of the aforementioned technologies to come into play here as well, like AI, voice assistants, and VR. As brands look to the future of connected everything, they must be keen on seeing how these technologies will interrelate, which consumer data points will fuel in-vehicle experiences, and ultimately what types of content and promotions can be created based on predicted user and rider behavior.

Just Because: tech we loved

Merging Tech: when your phone becomes your laptop

Razer’s Project Linda is an exciting 2-in-1 concept, extending your phone’s display to your laptop. Our phones, though small, are just as powerful as our computers — but users still covet the convenience of a full screen and keyboard. Razer’s design lets you dock and duplicate your phone’s display to an ultraportable laptop, using the phone’s touchscreen as an intelligent touchpad. This mobile hybrid can provide the best of both worlds for users and marketers alike. We see identity resolution as a key area this can help marketers solve, when users’ actions are no longer split by device, but tracked all on one.

TVs: continually getting bigger, better, and brighter

We couldn’t do a CES recap without covering the ultimate entertainment device, the television. As many anticipated, the name of the game for TVs was 4K. LG used ultra-thin Wallpaper OLED displays in a few remarkable ways, from a projector style screen that could roll up into a box, to pairing their Signature W8 with ThinQ AI using Google’s Assistant. Samsung, on the other hand, premiered the use of MicroLED in Cinema Screen technology within a TV they appropriately named “The Wall.” Just like it sounds, this 146-inch television’s massive display also boasts a modular design — so when you’re not in the mood for movie-like screen sizes, you can reduce the aspect ratio to your liking. With unmatched resolution and integrated smart features, marketers have an opportunity to change how consumers see and interact with their advertisements.

Future Innovators: teaching kids to code

Our favorite among kids’ tech this year was Root Robotics, an app that teaches kids the basics of coding. The app plays on children’s imagination and problem-solving abilities to use coding to control a robot’s movements, like drawing shapes on a whiteboard. The app strengthens a child’s familiarity with the concept of coding, increasing the levels of sophistication, eventually allowing them to reach full-text coding capabilities in Python and JavaScript. As today’s kids will lead the charge in tomorrow’s tech innovations, the earlier we can get them acquainted with coding, the more opportunities they have to be the digital architects of our future.

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