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January 17, 2019

CES 2019: What's Trending

By Matt Maher

5G will be as revolutionary as electricity.


Each year, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) transforms Las Vegas into an epicenter of innovation, bringing attendees the latest and greatest in technology. The Assembly Innovation Team walked the showroom floors, attended talks, had in-depth conversations with clients and most importantly, went hands-on with the technologies that were showcased.

This deep dive led us to discover three themes that perfectly encapsulate what CES2019 was all about: Faster, Smarter and Better. For the TL;DR crowd, we’ve adapted our weekly Assembly Innovation Brief into three CES mini-episodes, each focused on one of these three themes:

FASTER and the promise of 5G

The fifth generation of mobile technology, or 5G, was one of the most talked about topics at CES, with companies like Qualcomm claiming, “it will be as revolutionary as electricity.” 5G gives us the promise of a future with zero latency, achieving speeds up to 100x faster than 4G. This impacts almost every industry on our planet. 5G will change the automotive industry by providing an ultra-fast network for autonomous vehicles to operate in, helping them communicate with one another, understand signals and react in real-time. It will transform smart homes into smart cities, giving the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) the speed it needs to create a connected ecosystem between all of our devices. Finally, 5G will transform the traditional television model, giving us the ability to stream 4K content to our smartphones and devices with no buffering. It makes those giant black rectangles on our walls the third or fourth screen that we can “cast” our content too.

SMARTER and the power of voice and ultra-specific wearables

Believe it or not, Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant are four and two years old, respectively. It’s a pretty eye-opening statistic, like the report Comscore released forecasting 50% of all search to be completed through voice by 2020. Amazon has claimed to have sold over 100 million Alexa devices, and this doesn’t even account for the thirty-thousand unique third-party devices that tout the functionality of Alexa and Google Assistant. All this to say, the complete ubiquity of voice was felt on the floors of CES. The difference this year, however, was a majority of products we saw didn’t ‘pick a side.’ With the market share of Amazon and Google devices growing closer to 50/50, marketers have realized they need to team up with both behemoths to make sure no current or prospective consumers are left out. What does this all mean? It means the products on the showroom floor were smarter than ever, allowing us to use our voices to unlock their full potential.

Wearables blanketed almost every aisle of every floor, but it wasn’t just smart-watches. Qus, an athletic connected shirt (or ‘shirtable!’), tracks heart rate, lung capacity, and calories burned. Ellcie’s smart glasses prevent drowsy driving by detecting nods, blinks and even yawns. Waverly Labs presented smart earbuds that translate and interpret fifteen languages and forty-two dialects in near-real-time.  If there’s one thing these three products have in common, it’s the specificity of their offerings. CES 2019 presented us with wearables that were focused on one or two outputs, not the prototypical smart-watches that offer fifty different functions. 

BETTER and the immersive content and experiences that permeated the floor

Augmented and virtual realities, or “immersive content,” took center stage at CES. Sure, nerds like myself can drool looking at the $5,800 XTAL VR headset, or even sweat riding the NordicTrack’s VR fitness bike, but we want to focus on the medium-shift we noticed. Whirlpool’s Connected Hub Wall Oven presented a 27-inch transparent LCD display that not only showcases recipes and step-by-step cooking instructions, but it also overlays 3D models of Yummly’s meals in augmented reality. As a result, we can’t categorize this Whirlpool oven as merely a product: it’s now a platform.

In closing, it was the Whirlpool revelation that resonates most with us – we just witnessed the birth of so many new platforms. As marketers, we carefully analyze, compare, select and plan our media mix to hit the platforms that matter most to our consumers. CES2019 brought us these new platforms, so it’s up to forward-thinking marketers to discover the new opportunities that lie within them.

Matt Maher
Matt Maher
VP, Director, Strategy + Innovation
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