Back from CES 2015: A Lot of “Smart,” But Not a Lot of Consumer

Samsung curved monitor
Definitely want this in my office!

I spent last week at CES 2015 in Vegas. This show was really different from all past shows. Central Hall, the traditional location for all the glitz and glamour at the Las Vegas Convention Center, was strangely flat. Sure, there were shiny TVs (4k, 8k), bigger TVs (105″!), curved TVs, and now, beautiful curved office monitors! There were even curved smart phones. There were ultrabooks, storage devices, and lots of gleaming household appliances (LG almost certainly has a winner with the door-in-door fridge and their Twin Wash washer-in-washer seems pretty convenient).

Washer-in-washer is a good idea
Washer-in-washer is a good idea

But it wasn’t, well, that exciting. Seen one supersized high-end TV, seen them all, eh?

Seen one, you've seem 'em all!
Samsung curved TV

It turned out that because there was so much “smart” stuff this year, CEA decided to move everything smart (i.e. everything exciting, new, and different) to a massive space over at the Sands Expo by the Venetian that CES had never booked before. They labeled this “Tech West,” called the main convention floor “Tech East,” and a really interesting distinction was born.

So, while my feet still felt like they were slapped by boards at the end of each day, I spent most of my time at the Sands Expo, roaming the different “Marketplaces” organized in ways that says a lot about how far we’ve come since last year and how far we still have to go. (As a practical note, next year we’ll book the Venetian instead of the Encore, and save about 5000 steps each day on our daily trek over to Tech West for the most interesting stuff in smart tech.)

Eureka Park, which was small and manageable last year with around 220 start-ups, featured about 375 this year, even devoting special sections just for start-ups from France and Israel, The 3D Printing Marketplace was HUGE! And boy is the category evolving. While  there are still all manner of

printed objects that look vaguely alien with their curved and open lattice style shapes, there were some real winners here, including printed food (chocolate!) and printed clothes.  And the printers are both much smaller and much larger, depending on the application.

ecovacs home bot
The benebot from Ecovacs

I spent some time with the drones and bots. The drones are getting bigger and scarier for serious applications

big, scary drone
big, scary drone

or smaller and cuter for fun  ones (auto selfi stick, anyone?). Home robotics has some interesting innovations. I liked the Ecovacs benebot, but it’s not clear what these can actually do. And of course, home vacuum bots were out in force.

The small, smart, put-it-on-your-body marketplaces have absolutely exploded. The category has been split up by obvious function, as opposed to underlying consumer benefit, with the result that there is a lot of overlap and a lot of confusion. Definitely an engineering as opposed to marketing approach! The main marketplaces in this category were labeled Smart Watches, Sports Tech, Wearables,  Health & Wellness and Fitness & Technology. But there were also small, smart devices in Family & Technology and Kids & Technology. It was absolutely too much to process and hard to tell the differences sometimes.

One main distinction that seems to be involving here are wearables for keeping time and other functions, wearables for athletes and sports enthusiasts, wearables for kids, wearables for healthy people and wearables for sick people. An emerging category is wearables or other smart devices for aging boomers, especially for assisted living facilities and for aging in place. These seem to have huge potential to me, but we have a long way to go.

Overall,  while some of these make a lot of sense (I liked the Visijax Cycle Jacket with built-in LED lights, motion sensing and self-canceling indicators to enhance cycle safety), there are far too many of these and the shake out will be coming soon. Let’s face it, you are not going to plaster your body with a separate wearable for each different function.Visijax Cycle Jacket

The most interesting part of the show was the Smart Home.  There were hundreds and hundreds of entrant – some offering complete, open solution like WigWag and others offering closed solutions like Lowe’s Iris.

WigWag smart home solution
WigWag open smart home solution
Lowe's Iris Smart Home System
Lowe’s Iris Closed Hub Smart Home System

Strangely, Samsung’s big push into the Internet of Things took place over at Central Hall (Tech East), so it’s big acquisition of SmartThings, which took center stage at its massive glitzy exhibit, was all by its lonesome. The exhibit was mobbed and impressive, but to me, it felt like the energy and excitement was over at Tech West.  By the way, Bosch sponsored the Smart exhibits at Tech West.

Smart Things demo of their home control interface
Smart Things demo of their home control interface

The one thing missing from everything I saw was the consumer. There were lots and lots of devices, mostly organized around use cases, but very little sense of how all these different pieces would fit together into a consumer’s smart home assemblage. I don’t think there’s been that much thought given to how consumers will actually use these devices or what kind of consumer experiences will emerge from their installation and use. We’re looking at this in our lab, but meanwhile, it will be interesting to see how this gets organized for next year. Until then…

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