Author(s): Ben Wood
This year delivered the biggest but arguably most diverse CES yet, despite the lack of big announcements.
Although some commentators have made the observation that CES has peaked, we would argue the diversity of products on show has made it more interesting than ever before.
Hot topics included connected cars, drones, wearables, health and well-being, smart homes, 3D printing, virtual reality and the usual spread of every conceivable consumer electronics device from washing machines and fridges to TVs, cameras and more.
An overarching theme that has dominated the show is the so-called Internet of things. This nebulous term has become a catch-all for everything we own becoming connected. There is no doubt this is happening and as the average number of connected devices in households continues to grow (currently estimated by CCS Insight at about nine devices per household in Western Europe) there is clear momentum behind this trend. The next phase will see products such as fridges, washing machines, home security systems and cars becoming connected.
However, just because something is connected it does not mean it is "smart" or an Internet of things device. The intelligence stems from how a device connects and interacts with other devices and objects and how data is captured, managed, analysed and used. This is the challenge that, as CES 2015 showed, has yet to be fully addressed.
The inability of major companies such as LG, Samsung and others to clearly define what they mean by "the Internet of things" shows how much work needs to be done. At CCS Insight we believe it is akin to telling someone from the 19th century that we are entering the era of the "electricity of things" with the promise that soon you will be able to connect a light bulb, toaster, iron and other devices to this new technology called electricity.
Wearable devices were once again a hot category at CES but it feels like there has been little progress from this time last year. Once again the show delivered an avalanche of "me too" products, mostly from China. Many of them feel as though they are still a solution looking for a problem. We have also seen the first wave of poor copy-cat Apple Watch devices; they merely underline how critical the Apple Watch will be in raising consumer awareness and adoption of smartwatches.
That said, there has been a notable improvement in the design of wearable devices with more fashionable products as brands like Guess, Oakley and Swarovski work with wearable makers. This year has also seen the "long tail" of wearables start to emerge, with devices to measure your tennis skills, connected socks for runners, connected jewellery and much more.
A quiet war is being waged between Apple and Google to provide the platform for the connected home and connected health. Apple has HealthKit and HomeKit; Google has Nest and Google Fit. In cars we see the same story: Android Auto versus Apple CarPlay.
In terms of hype, drones were omnipresent. They are the hottest geek gadget right now and we expect a lot more Christmas stockings to have one at the end of this year.
Smartphones were the big losers at CES 2015. The commoditisation of mobile phones to a generic rectangular block that comes with any screen-size, processor, camera specification or coloured casing has become acute. It is little wonder that large manufacturers like Samsung and Sony are suffering from an identity crisis as they try to stand out from a growing crowd of ever-improving Chinese rivals. Looming largest among these is Lenovo, which after its acquisition of Motorola looks poised to cause major disruption in the mobile phones space in the coming months.
It speaks volumes about the state of the industry when commentators are talking more about the proliferation of selfie sticks at the show rather than the latest smartphone. The only significant device to be launched at CES 2015 was LG's G Flex 2 — a curved-screen device that is essentially just an upgrade to an existing product. Obviously we will see further smartphone announcements throughout 2015, but the excitement such launches used to generate has clearly waned. It could be that we are merely seeing a lull in innovation; emerging developments such as augmented reality and 3D and array cameras could make the category more interesting again in 2016 and beyond.
In contrast, we have seen signs of renewed innovation in the capabilities and product designs of PCs. Foremost is HP's impressive Sprout (shown on the right), which cleverly uses Intel's RealSense 3D camera to deliver new experiences and capabilities; it is a product that is worth watching closely as it could provide pointers to future directions in user interaction and product design processes (see Instant Insight: HP Reveals 3D Printing Products).
Connected cars were also a big story. All the big manufacturers, including Audi, BMW, Ford, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen, had a major presence. They all believe technology is central to their future, whether that is driverless cars or the latest and greatest connected entertainment systems.
As ever, the show delivered a range of quirky products too. Highlights include motorised roller skates, connected socks, headsets to measure your brainwaves or make your hair grow, no end of wearables devices that can be attached to any part of your body or indeed anywhere else, with a plethora of devices for pets.
In the next few days CCS Insight will publish a series of Hotline reports about International CES 2015 spanning many of the the topics above.