No organization or person has a lock on the future, and that applies to the big global event that starts next week in Las Vegas — the annual CES show, going strong after more than a half century.
CES is one of the year’s biggest and most important global events for those interested not only in consumer technology, but associated trends in payments and commerce. The devices and processes displayed at the show sometimes work their way in the consumer mainstream. The ideas expressed there, and the connections made, also have an impact, even if it tends to unfold over the longer term and in relatively quiet ways. It can be hard to break through the PR and marketing hype that envelops CES in an energetic glow, but we here at PYMNTS are up to the challenge so that our readers can have a better handle on what will happen at this year’s CES, which runs from Jan. 7 to Jan. 10, and what to expect in the months and years after.
Imagination vs. Reality
One of the main lessons of CES, perhaps, is that things often look better on maps — that is, the promise of something, or how something appears in the imagination, can be much more interesting than the actual reality. Who can forgot the excitement around, say, virtual reality (VR) and even Oculus Rift from past CES shows? People are still talking about VR, of course — and will keep doing so at the 2020 CES show — but even now, the CES promise of VR seems like some overhyped dream, a marketing exercise that has yet to pay off. That’s hardly the worst of it, of course.
After all, virtual reality has serious energy behind it — look at the history of technology and you will find numerous examples of things taking a long time to gain traction, with that traction often coming in unexpected ways. But at this point in human history — and we say this with reasonable humbleness — there seems little reason to bet on past CES-displayed products such as a TV that, in the words of one writer, “wants nothing more than to be a wall,” or the Apple Pippin gaming console. That tech, according to a CES hall of shame write-up courtesy of TheStreet, was introduced in the go-go 1990s. “Apple sold only 10,000 Pippin consoles,” according to that report, “and the entire project was considered a colossal failure.”
Products can be off-puttingly odd, too, and that is certainly the case at CES every year. Last year, show attendees had a chance to see a robot play Ping Pong, a hands-free, mobile-app enabled breast pump, and wearables that supposedly can reduce stress, according to one account. Weirdness doesn’t guarantee failure, but it potentially puts another obstacle on the long, expensive, frustrating path to tech success.
We don’t mean to suggest that CES serves mainly as a pre-party for product failure. Success is bred there, to use the terminology of the inspirational marketing industry. As homes get smarter, for instance — mainly by connecting to the Internet of Things, and become hot centers of commerce, as PYMNTS research and reportage has confirmed — smart outlets and other products are reportedly finding a path from CES to store and online shelves. Other potential and real success stories come from the world of power charges and, yes, even smart glasses — the spectacular failure so far of Google’s smart glasses products doesn’t seem to have dissuaded other players. Go back further into the history of CES — mind you, the show is only one part of the complex, usually drawn-out process of tech innovation, deployment and acceptance — and you find strong evidence for the positive impact the show has had for such technologies as compact discs, HD TV, satellite radio, 3D printing and even VCRs (which, we must remember, were all the rage for a relatively decent amount of time).
5G and Automobiles
Let’s get back to 2020, though.
Of all the near- and half-certainties of this year’s show, one that stands out — one that has captured the attention of observers and is even supported by PYMNTS research — is how the historic transformation in automotive technology will be represented at this year’s event in Las Vegas. CES promises to dig into that general topic as the automobile industry, along with Big Tech and various other players, rush to build the new future of automobile transportation. The show in Las Vegas in early January will include programs designed to explore the next steps for autonomous private and public transportation — autonomous freight also promises to play a big role — and how such technology will itself connect to other digital ecosystems and services, which is among the biggest challenges and opportunities for this brand new decade.
In fact, CES has arguably become one of the biggest annual auto events in the world. But all technologies are connected — especially these days — and the rise of auto at CES comes amid the rise of 5G mobile network technology there, and outside the walls of the conference areas. 5G, after all, is probably going to be key to the rise of connected commutes and autonomous driving, and experts are predicting a big 5G splash this year at the 2020 CES — even with notable exceptions. As one publication put it, “CES isn’t traditionally a phone show, but there are always a few — usually to demo new technologies like in-screen fingerprint sensors, and some companies might discuss their plans for 5G phones. Samsung and Apple stay away from CES, so it’s a place where smaller players can get a chance to grab some attention.”
This is just a brief look at the dense, crowded event that is CES. Who really knows what will gain speed coming out of this year’s show? Even so, it’s not hard to have at least a few general ideas.