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CES, technology and the hypes

Updated: May 28, 2020


CES 2020 has just passed – and this year I didn’t go. I went last year, however, as a first-time experience. Reading some press and hearing from people that actually did attend, however, the main themes seem very much to be a continuation from last year, with a lot of drones, autonomous vehicles, robots, fancy TV sets, Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, gaming – and, of course IoT and 5G, with 5G consumer devices coming out. I understand that Google also this year had a strong presence, although somewhat reduced from 2019.

TV sets: As last year CES had a lot of new and fancy TVs. Last year LG launched their OLED “roll-up” TV, which this year is expected to actually come to market. Samsung, on their side, launched their bezel-free (frameless) 8K TV this year – and there were curvy TVs and also a rotating TV (portrait-mode) from Samsung, designed for applications like e.g. TokTok. While I would personally question the market for huge TV screens that probably would not fit into most people’s living rooms, more interesting to me, however, would be the “transparent” TV, that is like a see-through glass frame when not in use.

Drones: Drones have clearly been one of the hypes over the last few years – and also this year CES had a number of drones on show. One notable highlight is Uber and Hyundai planning to offer flying taxi rides by 2023. As soon as the regulatory regime for flying drones is stable, maybe we could see a new way of local transport? This will probably take a while, as we have already today seen various concerns and incidents with unmanned drones, both from an invasion of privacy perspective – and also e.g. Heathrow airport having to close down due to drones flying around. When human safety coming into play in addition, it will get even more complicated. Drones of various kinds are, however, already in the market – and we should expect to see more of them going forward.

Autonomous cars: Autonomous vehicles were heavily featured at CES also this year – and even Sony showed off a concept car last week. Every car manufacturer is working on various degrees of autonomy for “self-driving” cars, with 6 different levels of automation – and various standards bodies and industries are working on applicable standards. In my view, again, technology (or at least parts of it) will be ready for this. However, some key questions still need to be answered - and most of them are related to policy and regulation, like: Who is liable if an autonomous car crashes and kills someone? The driver? The car manufacturer? IS there a driver – or is there only a passenger? Does the person in the car need a driver’s license? etc. By the way: Who shall the car hit, if there is a choice?

On top of this, there are practical challenges also: If you have ever tried to drive around Paris or Rome in rush hour with traffic lights not working, it will be interesting to see how self-driving cars would meet the challenge … or, driving around Delhi or Dhaka, there are clearly a few additional challenges for self-driving cars. Winter driving in snowy conditions would also be interesting. Personally, I have an L1 autonomous car today, and I am particularly careful when I overtake another car just behind another – as you will expect the last car to suddenly shift lane … and I have simply switched off the lane assist function (it is annoying). Anyway: Yes, autonomous vehicles are a hype, but development should probably take them to market to some degree. However, I am not sure I will live to see them to their full extent – or the fullest extent will never be reached – unless all cars would be autonomous – and there would be no people or animals in the streets. Time will show.

5G: 5G has been a hype for a few years already, for various reasons. Telco suppliers need new equipment to sell - and governments need more spectrum to sell. Coupled with governments wanting to outcompete each other in “taking the lead on 5G”, it is all bound to happen – and we saw last year the first 5G networks being launched, with corresponding claims of being “first” – while the majority of 5G handsets will be coming this year. See also my previous article on the real scope of 5G. While the first applications of 5G naturally will be for consumer handsets (or Fixed Wireless Access), the network coverage will be limited for a few years still – as will the full vision of 5G on digitalizing industries. At CES this year, Lenovo launched the world’s first 5G laptop, the Lenovo Yoga 5G, however.

What we see today is that all equipment suppliers are developing 5G equipment, be it network equipment or devices (actually for once, devices are there in time – at least for the obvious consumer applications). We also see a number of operators placing bets on early network rollouts (specifically in some regions with a new technology drive and with a favourable regulatory regime). The fundamental questions still remain, however: Who will make money from 5G? Someone probably will, but it is not clear it will be the operators. It is also not clear it will be the traditional network equipment suppliers, as 5G could be seen as a disruptive technology due to disaggregation – and new players are likely to emerge. I would also expect that the IT industry or system integrators could take up a much larger role in 5G than what they have in earlier generations, simply due to B2B. For device manufacturers, refer my previous article. Maybe they will struggle too?

Foldable or dual screen phones: The first examples of these were first launched a year ago. However, this year there was more. Several companies demonstrated dual-screen phones - and the foldable Samsung Galaxy Bloom was leaked in a secret CES meeting. Samsung is planning its official Galaxy Unpacked event on 11 Feb – so we should expect more in a few weeks.

Google: Also this year, Google had a strong presence, with a main focus on the Google Assistant providing a range of new features, like webpage reading, scheduled actions, sticky notes and more – and while I last year saw several interesting examples of instantaneous language translation from smaller companies, this year Google is driving use of this within their Google Assistant functionality, quoting partnerships with e.g. American Airlines, HSBC and more.

Playstation 5 (not): For the gaming community, a major announcement was expected around Playstation 5 as CES. However, Sony turned out to simply launch a logo for it. We might expect Playstation 5 to come out later in the year, however.

While I did not visit CES this year, I have attended MWC in Barcelona every year (except once) since it grew out of Cannes - and I plan on attending it in late February as well. These events are both huge – and probably already too big if you want to catch it all. In Las Vegas it also complicates quite a lot that you have several major locations with 30 min in between. To get a good picture, you either have to send a number of people – or it is just as easy not to go and to read about it from others – which is what I did this year.

It is not straightforward to compare CES and MWC. Normally, there are some clear differences, but they are also getting more similar, as are also the mobile and ICT industries. CES is a larger event, but also has a much broader focus and is (mostly) focused on consumers - while MWC has a clear B2B focus. CES also has a predominantly US focus, while MWC generally is an international event.

It will be interesting to see the main topics at MWC this year – probably a lot of the same commented above, except the TVs, laptops and gadgets – but more on 5G, IoT, AI, big data and more.

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