For tech geeks like us, the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas offers a fun—and overwhelming—glimpse of things to come in our industry. We’re excited to share what we learned from this year’s show.
Ash made the annual pilgrimage to the world’s largest trade show with a group of technophile friends, as he’s done for the past 15 years. Reminiscent of the Great Salmon Run, they squeeze through packed corridors of the show’s nearly 3 million square feet of exhibit space checking out the latest gadgets and emerging trends.
Mike takes a different approach. He typically declares this is the year he won’t attend—only to get lured to Vegas for meetings far from the exhibit floor. This year was no different. CES continues to grow and draw thousands of companies and C-level executives from around the world, so fighting through a crowded Las Vegas has consistently been the most efficient way for Mike to have the highest volume of meetings. Plus, it’s a great way to start the year and get a real sense of how Fortune 500 companies feel about innovation, acquisitions, investments and growth plans for the upcoming year.
This year, all signs pointed to healthy confidence across the board—from tech giants like Sony and Samsung, to nontraditional tech companies like John Deere and NBC Universal, to the conference’s burgeoning startup scene.
Up and down The Strip, network carriers touted 5G on gigantic, gleaming billboards. On the exhibit floor, Fortune 500 companies in every major category erected over-the-top exhibits. Down the street at the Venitian, a record 1,200 startups formed a mini-CES of their own.
Even Apple jumped back into the action after a 28-year hiatus.
Delta Airlines made history as the first airline to exhibit at CES. The company Delta unveiled a robotic suit—a full-body powered exoskeleton—that creators claim will allow baggage handlers to repeatedly lift as much as 200 pounds without fatigue (think Iron Man hucking bags into a plane’s cargo). In a keynote address, CEO Ed Bastian painted a picture of the future of air travel that included AI, AR, biometric security and a “Parallel Reality” experience—a convergence of data technology 38,000 feet up.
Not content showing off just concept cars, Toyota introduced a prototype of an entire city. The Woven City was designed to be a fully sustainable and pedestrian-friendly city built around autonomous cars.
In private meetings, executives of large companies told us they remain bullish on technology investments for 2020. This year, leaders were much more eager to talk about expanding opportunities with technology—and especially direct-to-consumer—than topics like operational efficiency and cost-cutting that have been discussed in past conferences.
Startups take over
One of the more interesting developments this year was the expansion of Tech West, a Kickstarter-like display of products not yet ready for primetime.
CES moved this into a new space at the Venitian and greatly expanded the presence of early-stage startups. Show organizers touted this area as the “world’s largest startup event,” with more than 1,200 companies.
“But what about the gadgets?!” you ask.
No iPhone moment
CES tends to ebb and flow from year to year. Some years, a company unveils something universally recognized as a gamechanger (think post-CES debut of the iPhone in 2007 or Sony’s launch of the VCR in 1970). Other years, we merely see a maturation of technology we’ve seen before, but no major breakthrough.
This year felt like the latter.
The Verge described this “tick-tock cycle,” concluding that this year was “a lot of show with not much substance.” We tend to agree.
It’s no surprise that drones continue to expand their dominance at CES. Drones of every conceivable type were on display, from Hyundai’s new flying taxi service with Uber (set to launch in 2023) to underwater drones that shoot video and help catch fish.
Show organizers noted a 25 percent increase in healthtech exhibitors this year—a significant expansion of a major tech vertical that has our keen interest.
Among many wearable medical devices, one that stood out was DNA Nudge. Armed with your genetic code, the wristband alerts lets you know if a certain food you scan is a good idea or not. So, if you have a genetic predisposition to high blood pressure, the device will tell you to stay away from salty snacks.
Rollable, foldable screens
TVs are always a focal point at CES. Samsung introduced the world’s biggest TV, which they dub The Wall for obvious reasons (the microLED screen is 24 feet corner to corner and stunning). The company also unveiled what they called the world’s largest 8k TV, coming in at 150 inches.
Everywhere you turned this year, you saw one of two things: a mile-long line for massage chairs or an 8k TV on display.
What caught our eye, though, was LG’s new roll-up TV. The 65-inch 4K screen rests, rolled up, in a piece of furniture that sits on the floor. The screen unfurls vertically when you want to watch and then returns when you’re done.
Exhibitors also showed off an array of foldable screens. Lenovo debuted its ThinkPad X1 Fold, planned for release this year, while Louis Vuitton displayed its previously debuted flexible screen handbags. While this technology isn’t quite ready for the masses, we see where it’s going: screens on everything.
We were struck by Samsung’s Neon, a virtual human intended as an interface to AI systems. All around the booth you could see models smiling and talking on screens. They look like ordinary people, but they are computer-generated, giving us a glimpse of what’s to come.
While the technology isn’t fully baked, it is impressive and likely something we’ll see more of in coming years—in advertising, virtual visits, and, sadly, “deep-fake” propaganda.
The automotive section was larger and more exciting than usual. Major car companies like Audi, BMW, Ford, Honda and Nissan showed off new concept cars next to a huge array of companies offering other types of transportation—from scooters to flying taxis to wheelchairs for all.
Fisker launched a new electronic SUV called “Ocean,” which is made of 100 percent recycled material. The vehicle comes with a solar-panel roof and a “vegan interior.” Sony generated headlines introducing its first-ever concept car, Vision S, alongside its Woven City concept in a greatly expanded Smart Cities exhibit area (CES reported 25 percent more exhibitors than compared to last year).
What will stick?
It will be interesting to see which of these emerging technologies takes off the way of drones and wearables and which ones fizzle the way of 3D TVs and Google Glass.
One thing’s for sure: Ash and his band of technophiles will be there next year to find out...and Mike will too.
About the authors
Ash Patel and Mike Marquez are co-founders of Morado Venture Partners, a seed venture capital firm dedicated to capturing investment opportunities in emerging technologies and data-fueled businesses.