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Trends on Tap: CES

by Brandon Gredler

The Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, plays host to companies, innovators, companies, startups, investors and the like each year in Las Vegas. Covering over 3 million square feet of event space, everyone shows up in full force to show off what they’ve been working on since last year and give a look at where they think the future is going. For me, CES is a love-hate relationship for several reasons. One reason I love it is things on display cover the spectrum from PR stunts to products already in production, complete with go-to-market plans. We thought we’d tackle the headlines flying out of Las Vegas to help run down some of our favorite things from this year’s CES.

So, first up, PR stunts: Sony unveiled a car. Never going to happen, and it’s not intended to. The headline was, “Sony Unveils a Concept Car,” but really what they’re doing is giving notice to auto-manufacturers that they want to be the displays inside cars. If the mission was to get noticed, then mission accomplished with the Sony Vision-S, positioning it nicely in line for the go-to entertainment display for our autonomous driving future.

Another one was from Charmin and their SmellSense. By detecting carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide, a user can know the state of the bathroom air before entering. Will that ever hit the market? I hope not. But maybe it should? Seems pretty useful. 

Another point on the spectrum of products unveiled was point-in-time solutions instead of fully designed offerings. A great example of that, and something I want in my home, comes from Moen with The U smart faucet. The Moen app powers the faucet, along with Google Assistant and Alexa, to fill the exact amount of water needed at the precise temperature desired. Think, “fill a baby bottle with 98-degree water.” If you’ve ever been in a kitchen in the middle of the night trying to sort out a baby bottle, the utility of this seems obvious. Probably not the end of the evolution of The U product line from Moen, and a nice leap forward.

This brings us to a great point on the spectrum of unveilings, which is things that need to happen. There was a lot of this in 2020; however, one that stands out comes from an Israeli company called OrCam and their offering OrCam Hear. What the soon-to-be-launched product does is help people who suffer from what’s called the “cocktail party effect.” When noise is abundant, people that are hard of hearing cannot differentiate between the noise around them and people they’re in a conversation with. OrCam Hear runs on a peripheral camera that is tethered to headphones or hearing aids and focuses the sound from that person and filters out ambient noise and voices—effectively allowing the user to focus just on the intended conversation.

Another point on the spectrum is things people think are going to happen that probably are not, and to be honest, I don’t know where this next one falls. Quibi is a startup focused on launching a new streaming platform, as you might know, with Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman, who raised $1.4 billion. What is unique about it is that they are doing Hollywood-level studio productions in 10-minute quick bites (Quibi) that are serialized and released weekly. Only after watching all smaller content portions will the entire production be released, allowing the user to watch from beginning to end. Steven Spielberg, 50 Cent, Jennifer Lopez, Guillermo del Toro and other heavyweights are all signing content deals. 

I don’t know if it’s going to happen. The trend in small consumable quick-hit content is there, and I think it’s fascinating, especially when you think of the coming autonomous commutes. A flash Google search found that the average commute time in major metropolitan areas in the United States is 25 minutes. That’s 2.5 Quibis in the morning, and five by day’s end—just in a commute. The reason I am unsure if this is going to happen is that it appears everyone wants it to happen, except the users. We are still without direct feedback. There are proxies for the service (like IGTV, TikTok, etc.) however, without direct experience with the service, it’s anyone’s guess. Especially at the $5/month with advertising price tag.

Somewhere along the spectrum there’s a category of things people think are not going to happen, but I am particularly interested in. That’s where Samsung comes in. Samsung was all over CES, but one announcement stuck out, which is their television that goes from landscape to portrait and back. Samsung calls it Sero. Many people think it’s a gimmick and nothing more than a PR stunt.

Here’s why I think they’re wrong. It reminds me of when people said, “Who wants a phone in their pocket all day?” “Who wants to see pictures that everyone can post? They’re not even professional photographers,” and “Who would hold a phone eight inches from their face to watch videos all day?” All of those people were wrong. Turning the television vertically amplifies the content trend towards the average creator, and towards creators with an existing audience on platforms like IGTV and YouTube. Once you pair the Sero with your soundbar content captured and designed for consumption on the phone, it will receive a proper living room treatment. I can easily see a future in which you sit down, log into Instagram, turn your television to portrait mode, and that’s your entertainment for the night. I believe that Samsung Sero will prove to be an inflection point in home entertainment consumption, and others will follow suit, and quickly.

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T3 Labs mad scientist Brandon Gredler gives his hot take on CES 2020 💥

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Brandon Gredler

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