CES 2018: Highlights from Media Day

Our Review of News from the Las Vegas Tech Show

Our team of analysts at CES 2018 offer more highlights from press events ahead of the show’s official opening. They include announcements the areas of artificial intelligence, consumer robotics, automotive, smartphones, semiconductors and virtual reality.

LG and Samsung Want to Add “Intelligence” to All Their Products

The use of artificial intelligence as central pillar for announcements at CES was something we predicted before the start of the show and this came to fruition in several of the major media events that took place yesterday.

Consumer electronics giants LG and Samsung both outlined strategies to add “intelligence” to their entire portfolio of devices, spanning products as diverse as refrigerators, TVs, robotic vacuum cleaners, mobile phones and more.

LG used the ThinQ brand to describe its artificial intelligence platform, and Samsung talked about the “Intelligence of Things” and emphasised its SmartThings platform and its Bixby voice assistant.

Although the vision is impressive, we remain sceptical about this approach, not just for LG and Samsung, but all manufacturers at the show. In isolation at a showpiece presentation, this seems convincing. However, delivering real benefits to consumers in their everyday lives, when they own a wide range of devices from different manufacturers and use various platforms from the likes of Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft, will be a much harder task.

LG’s Troublesome Robot a Metaphor for Looming Technology Challenges

Unfortunately for LG, its press conference at the show will be remembered for the problems with its CLOi consumer robot.

This device seems to offer very similar functionality to a smart speaker, assisting users through a voice interface and a display that can show information.

During the press conference, the presenter tried several times to get the robot to undertake tasks like booking an appointment, checking a washing cycle and helping with a recipe. The robot remained silent after each command.

This episode may well prove to be a metaphor for a lot of the technology on show at CES this year, particularly in the area of consumer robotics. Based on what we’ve seen so far, it seems like many of the devices aren’t quite ready for prime time. Early adopters risk being alienated and mass-market commercialisation is likely to remain many years away.

Huawei Partnership with AT&T Falls Through

One of the most important smartphone news we expected at the show was a deal between AT&T and Huawei to offer the Chinese maker’s Mate 10 Pro smartphone directly to AT&T customers. We even alluded to this in our update from the event yesterday. But in an unexpected development, the Wall Street Journal reported that AT&T has backed away from the deal.

Although not officially confirmed, it seems likely the news may be true, and it comes as a major blow to Huawei’s plans to grow its global smartphone market share in 2018. The rumoured tie-up with AT&T looked like the Chinese company’s best opportunity to date to secure a deal with one of the leading mobile carriers in the US. Huawei will now have to rely on selling its handsets directly to consumers through channels such as Amazon, which can only deliver a fraction of the volume that Huawei could have expected from an agreement with a major carrier.

Intel Fires Back at Qualcomm with “Always Connected PCs”

Intel responded to Qualcomm’s entry into the PC space with its own line-up of always-connected PCs from partners including Acer, Dell and HP. Although the systems don’t offer battery life in the same league as Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835, which can exceed 20 hours, Intel’s solutions based on its Core i7 feature integrated LTE, thin and light designs and focus on full support of Win64 apps.

As we’ve previously stated in our research, this is far from a “winner takes all” battle royal. The PC industry has struggled to successfully sell the concept of connected PCs, but the rise of gigabit LTE and 5G, combined with broader support for the concept from chipset companies, operators and manufacturers means there’s now fresh enthusiasm and commitment. Qualcomm’s entry is fundamentally good for the market as it refocuses the industry on the opportunity. A rising tide floats all boats (see The Always-Connected PC, a Rising Tide).

Qualcomm Reveals Progress in Automotive

With the automotive industry so focused on self-driving vehicles, the broader semiconductor opportunity in cars has become largely overlooked. Qualcomm took the opportunity at the show to highlight its position in this area and counter the perception that this industry belongs to Nvidia. Qualcomm said it has commercial relationships with every major manufacturer, spanning telematics, infotainment and connectivity. It also has 25 new design wins in full-year 2017 with a pipeline of over $3 billion. Helped by new partnerships announced with Jaguar Land Rover, Honda and BYD, Qualcomm is well-positioned despite its lack of an autonomous driving platform to compete with Intel and Nvidia. Assuming it closes the acquisition of NXP, Qualcomm could extend its strength in smartphones into automotive to become a considerable force.

Toyota Unveils Autonomous Electric Car Project

Toyota has announced a self-driving electric vehicle concept for commercial use in scenarios such as ride-hailing and package delivery. This is a smart move from Toyota. We’ve previously highlighted that autonomous driving will arrive first in commercial cars, where their deployment and management can be very closely controlled (in contrast to private passenger vehicles). This means that applications like public transportation and deliveries are big contenders to lead in the race toward self-driving cars. The move also gives automotive companies an opportunity to create a service business. Autonomous cars are once again prominent at CES. They’re likely to take far longer to arrive than hype suggests, but this initiative is a sign of where the concept could start.

HTC Refreshes Its Vive Virtual Reality Headset

Two years after the release of its original Vive headset, HTC revealed an improved version called the Vive Pro. The higher display resolution places the Vive Pro ahead of the Oculus Rift and Microsoft’s Windows Mixed Reality headsets. The new device has integrated headphones and microphones, and HTC claims to have made it more comfortable for users who wear glasses.

Importantly, the Vive Pro is backward compatible with accessories and software for its predecessor. HTC didn’t reveal pricing details of the new device. Although, the Vive headset still offers one of the best virtual reality experiences, we believe this refresh is vital for HTC. It addresses some of the main shortcomings of the original device and yet again puts the company at the forefront of virtual reality.

In addition to the Vive Pro, HTC announced a new wireless adapter for both of its headsets, which uses Intel’s 60 GHz WiGig standard. HTC’s Viveport content platform also got an overhaul, with an improved interface for choosing and trying new games.

For more insights from our team in Las Vegas, follow @benwood, @geoffblaber and @george_ccs on Twitter.