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Tracking Consumer Electronics

By Debra Kaufman

Digital Production Partnership (DPP) managing director Mark Harrison, a long-time attendee of the HPA Tech Retreat, has been roaming the aisles of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas for the last 10 years, tracking trends. He presented his findings most recently at the just-concluded HPA Creative Tech U.K. event in London. “A few years back, HPA asked me to talk about CES and in order to do that, I had to go back over a few years of reports, and that’s when I constructed the heat map,” says Harrison. “I’ve been able to maintain a record of primary trends and then use that to predict what might happen in the following year.”

Mark Harrison

Mark Harrison

The trick, he says, is to look beyond CES’ face value into “what’s sitting behind the trends, the messaging, the semiotics and signals that CES is giving at any one tine.” He explains that CE manufacturers target technologies where they see product opportunities. “But it doesn’t mean they will develop,” he points out. “You have to look at it over time and see if it’s catching.” As an example, he points to 3D, a trend pushed by manufacturers that never became mainstream. “I’ve found that most trends at CES burn out after about four years,” he says. “Either it never catches on or it becomes mainstream and is no longer a thing to talk about.”

To create the heat map, he walks the show, listens to the buzz and looks at everything from how much square footage is assigned to a technology to the recurrence of technologies shown before. Then he assigns a one-to-ten score. “It’s subjective scoring,” he says. “But the thing is, there is no other scoring. So far, what I’ve been predicting has turned out correctly.”

Take the Internet of Things (IoT). “I think IoT will be big again this year,” he says. “I suspect the term might not be used, and we’ll see lots of business-to-business (B2B) implementations.” More specifically, Harrison believes that we’ll see solutions for how people can carry their personal data from home to car and into the workplace. “Our obsession will be how we take ourselves into different spaces and maintain continuity,” he predicts. “Currently our home, our commute, work, our family, our leisure are still quite separate, and I think we’ll see companies trying to bridge those gaps.”

Part of his prediction is due to his CES visit to Eureka Park, which highlights startups. “Maybe 75 percent of the products were B2B, although CES is supposed to be a consumer electronics show,” he says. “The problem CES has is that technology giants are controlling so much of the real estate that it’s difficult to make your mark if you’re not one of them.” That imbalance impacts the smart assistant and wearables space, where Amazon, Apple and Google dominate voice assistants and Apple’s Watch is head-and-shoulders above other similar wearables.

Voice will be big at CES 2019, says Harrison, but he warns we’ll have to pay close attention to the difference between voice assistants and voice control. “Voice assistants are designed to be intelligent and to learn who you are and carry out intelligent searches,” he explains. “There will be plenty of that. But we’ll also find a much simpler level, where voice control can, for example, switch a light on or off.” Harrison just got a Sky Q set-top box that allows him to bypass clunky menus. “The remote has a very basic voice control,” he says. “You can search for a channel of a program. It’s extremely functional and not particularly smart, and I think we’ll see a lot of this kind of simple voice instruction being integrated into products.”

He predicts we’ll also see a lot of wearables related to ways to control our technology. “We’ll see technology promising to, for example, anonymize your activity or supervise how much screen time your children have,” he says. “It’s a response or backlash to a desire for data privacy, and will go hand-in-hand with increasing anxiety about personal security.”

Mobile-based AR will also be big, says Harrison, who adds that, “VR is already effectively dead at CES.” “Most of the floor space was occupied by AR and gaming in 2018,” he says. “I think AR will be very present at the next CES, particularly smartphone-based AR apps. A lot of it will be for fun, games and AR emojis, but there’ll also be a lot of business-type applications for use in design and architecture in Eureka Park.” He also predicts that AR and IoT will come together. “People will build an IoT infrastructure for the AR app in more controllable spaces like retail,” he says, pointing to interior design, fashion and make-up as potential markets.

Harrison predicted that the Chinese were coming to CES 2018, which they did. “What will be striking in 2019 will be not just the presence of Chinese manufacturers but the quality of product they’ll be bringing,” he says. “This year, those manufacturers will be displaying some of the best technology, and they’ll be stronger than ever.” The heat map this year will also show 5G. “It’ll be big at CES 2020,” he says. “But we’ll start to see noise about it in 2019 with big infrastructure providers like Intel, Bosch, Cisco, Qualcomm and others.”

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