CES 2020: A Year of Competing Opposites

  • POV’s
  • January 6, 2020
  • Jack Smith
CES 2020 will be a year of competing opposites with some more of the same.

Despite the overwhelming volume of new and shiny objects on display in Las Vegas, CES is not about the gadgets.

This thinking may be heretical to some electronics companies, but the best way to read CES is to look for the long-term effects of technological change on people and businesses.

In the last five years, CES has been taken over by the less sexy – yet much more significant – enabling technologies that power the gadgets on display on the show floor. It’s been a nearly invisible revolution. The software and connectivity that drives interoperability to cloud computing resources and massive storage are now central to new consumer experiences, but these aren’t easy to demonstrate in a booth or a press release.

Exhibitors have always struggled to frame their new technologies in language that’s easy for consumers to understand. As a result, in the last 10 years, they have reduced the selling point for their screens as “bigger and brighter,” their bandwidth as “faster and more ubiquitous” and their chips as “more powerful.”

This year, we will hear these claims once again. The years long battle of OLED versus QLED will get a new combatant in MicroLED. 5G will be touted as becoming even faster with a larger coverage area and more supported devices. This year, though, look for technologies offering new ways of solving old problems, allowing people more time to be creative and productive.

Most importantly, I believe it will be a year of competing opposites, evident across the show floor in three areas:

  1. Simpler but also more complex. AI is driving simpler ways to interact with complex or cumbersome products. Intelligent assistants have made simple information retrieval easier, but they’re not yet evolved enough to be invisible. AI has also made personalization easier, but the black box nature of these algorithms has made it nearly impossible to understand why certain personalization decisions are made. Robots that appear “more human” will also make the rounds at CES this year, but we don’t yet know how to interact with these human surrogates.
  2. Smarter and somehow, dumber. Expect to see companies play out their products’ intelligence to its illogical conclusion. Autonomous vehicles have the potential to make travel safer in the long term but, this year, we will see personal autonomous vehicles that remove nearly all manual control from its operator, effectively making a very smart product dumb.
  3. Sustainable and more disposable. Technology is resource hungry, consuming electricity and bandwidth. Sustainability will be a greater requirement benefit in a resource hungry business, and we can expect smaller footprint personal appliances like single serving dishwashers that consume less electricity and water and generate less heat. Innovation in sustainability also helps smooth inequality and distributes the benefits of technology widely, but expect to see thousands of smaller, more disposable gadgets in addition to more use of plastics in areas like indoor farms that use Keurig-like pods.

I believe the short-term dissonance in these three areas will be good in the long term. Understanding the extreme boundaries in each of these areas will help us highlight long term problem areas before they become catastrophic.