CES 2018 Highlights: Wednesday 10 January

Our Review of News from the Las Vegas Tech Show

In our final round-up of announcements from CES 2018, we discuss the future of augmented reality glasses, competition in 360-degree cameras, Mercedes’ misstep in the automotive space, MediaTek’s new artificial intelligence platform and more.

Future of AR Glasses Lies in Specific Industry Sectors for Now

One of the biggest hype areas at the moment is augmented reality (AR) glasses. There have been repeated claims of science fiction-like glasses that overlay information onto the real world, offering all kinds of data.

The reality has been very different, with clunky designs, poor user experience, dreadful battery life and other challenges. In our view, the idea that mass-market consumers will be using AR glasses on a regular basis any time soon is nonsense.

However, in specific vertical market sectors, companies such as Epsom, ODG and Vuzix are making significant progress. We had the chance to try the latest iteration of the Vuzix Blade device at the show and were very impressed. The glasses feature a relatively slick design and promise to offer a full day of battery life and excellent visual quality in the line of sight.

We believe 2018 could see some meaningful advances (beyond the very small pilot projects we’ve typically seen to date), as field trials start to get traction in numerous segments such as field service, warehousing and more. This is definitely an area to watch.

Competition Intensifies in 360-Degree Camera Market

The main announcements in this area came from established players including Insta360, Ricoh and Kodak PixPro. This year we spotted several new entrants, such as Polaroid, Pisofttech, Yi Technology and numerous other companies from Shenzhen.

We expect the new arrivals to try to break into this space by undercutting established players. However, we believe that this tactic will prove unsuccessful in most cases. The past two years have shown that good supporting software is essential to the success of 360-degree cameras. In this segment, it would be unwise to place too much focus on hardware, specifications and competitive pricing.

One company that has emerged as a leader in this segment is Insta360. Aside from innovating in hardware, Insta360 has focused on delivering an outstanding user experience, and has gone as far as referring to itself as a software company during a presentation at the show.

Despite the growing number of players in this space, we caution that the market for 360-degree cameras remains largely beyond the awareness of general consumers.

Qualcomm Reaffirms Dominance in Smartwatch Space

At its stand, Qualcomm showcased a staggering number of Android Wear smartwatches. With Intel’s exit from wearable devices, Qualcomm’s authority in this area is evident.

However, the future of Android Wear smartwatches remains uncertain. Huawei and LG are the only smartphone companies still committed to Android Wear smartwatches — although neither made any mention of wearables during the show, aside from displaying their solutions at their stands. Despite Google’s strong investment in this year’s event, the company hasn’t given any updates on its wearables platform either.

Over the past year, Qualcomm has been shrewdly forming partnerships with numerous fashion and watch brands. Together, they have fuelled most of the recent innovation in Android Wear smartwatches. We believe that the Mobile World Congress and Baselworld events, which CCS Insight will attend, will offer a clearer glimpse into the future of Android Wear devices.

MediaTek Unveils NeuroPilot AI Platform

MediaTek used CES to unveil its Neuropilot AI platform for edge computing. The solution includes an artificial intelligence processing unit and a NeuroPilot software development kit to deliver intelligence across its full spectrum of products — a technology portfolio that powers smartphones, smart home, cars and more. The platform will work with existing frameworks including Google TensorFlow, Caffe, Amazon’s MXNet and Sony’s NNabla.

This is an overdue announcement from MediaTek, particularly given that its technology is integrated in several smart speakers. The move is also indicative of a broader trend of companies launching dedicated accelerators for artificial intelligence, and comes in the wake of similar announcements from Apple and HiSilicon. In many cases, these are marketing terms for digital signal processors.

By contrast, Qualcomm is highlighting its heterogeneous approach to artificial intelligence, which emphasises the selection of the right core for the workload, with particular focus on its Hexagon digital signal processor. Regardless of the approach, we predict that the marketing-led industry shift to dedicated artificial intelligence accelerators will gain speed.

Spreadtrum and uSens Launch Mass-Market AR Mobile Engine

Spreadtrum has introduced an AR engine in tandem with uSens that lets mass-market Android smartphones run AR experiences. An outcome of the joint development of the SC9853I platform, the companies claim that the system offers a smooth user experience with six-degrees-of-freedom tracking based on simultaneous localisation and mapping. The solution is designed from the ground up for mobile devices.

On paper, this is a major move that has the potential to open up AR experiences to a vast number of people. However, it’s notable that the solution is launching on Spreadtrum’s platform powered by Intel Airmont technology, which represents a fraction of Spreadtrum’s smartphone volume. For this to have any significant traction, it will need to be available on its Arm-based chipsets.

Mercedes Takes a Wrong Turn

During an announcement about Mercedes’ new multimedia and navigation user experience, the car-maker unveiled an all-new voice control system with speech recognition activated by the partially familiar wake phrase “Hey Mercedes”. This is a perplexing move. Just as most of the industry is recognising the need to integrate technology and improve time to market through collaboration, partnerships and open platforms, Mercedes is deciding to reinvent the wheel (no pun intended) with an entirely proprietary approach.

It’s hard to see how Mercedes can match the platforms of Web giants in natural language processing and ignore the broader need for seamless integration with the services consumers rely on outside a car. We believe that a move to support Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa is inevitable in the long term.

Although the automotive industry has transformed and largely embraced collaborations with tech companies, this illustrates that the sector is still learning where to partner and where to differentiate.

Philips Aims to Broaden Appeal of Hue Smart Lights

Having secured a leading position as a supplier of smart lighting products, Philips has cleverly expanded the appeal and reach of its Hue lighting range through two announcements at the show.

The biggest one was about an app called Hue Sync. Designed for Windows 10 PCs and Apple macOS products, the app uses a clever algorithm to sync its smart lights with what’s on the screen of a computer.

Although there’s one dimension of this solution that seems like a bit of a gimmick, the effect it delivers is extremely impressive. It certainly boosts the ambience when watching a video, listening to music or playing a video game.

Taking the concept further, Philips also revealed a partnership with Razer, a maker of gaming devices famous for its colourful accessories, most notably its rainbow-style keyboards. The tie-up makes it possible to enhance how players interact with about 40 games for Razer devices, by extending the colours and action during the gameplay through Philips’ Hue light bulbs.

Both these capabilities expand the appeal of the Philips Hue product line to a new audience and, more importantly, new distribution and retail channels. We expect this will allow Philips to further solidify its leadership in the market for smart lighting.

CCS Insight will issue a full report on CES 2018 to our clients next week.