CES 2020: Tuesday 7 January

Headlines from the Las Vegas tech playground

Our third briefing from CES 2020 highlights announcements from the show’s official opening day. Watch the video below for a quick summary of the day’s stories.

The great 8K content conundrum

An inescapable theme of CES 2020 is 8K — it’s everywhere. Every TV manufacturer is leading with this technology as it seeps into commercial products after years of concept demonstrations. This raises the obvious question, where is the content? It was a similar story with 4K; TVs launched but it was some years before content followed. Many people in Las Vegas are making the same observation about 8K, but we believe that it’s different this time for three main reasons.

Firstly, it’s important to remember that although 8K TVs are launching at the show, commercial availability is expected sometime later in 2020, if not 2021. The technology is also a play aimed at the premium tier only, at least for now. This gives a longer lead time for content.

Secondly, artificial intelligence plays an important role in these TVs, something that wasn’t available in first-generation 4K sets. This enables 4K content to be intelligently scaled up. The result may not be true 8K, but the improvement is noticeable.

Thirdly, the content industry is now moving at full throttle. That simply wasn’t the case when 4K launched. Tens of billions of dollars are being spent on content annually. With investment flowing so freely and increased competition propelling the trend, 8K content will appear far faster than most people think.

Robots aplenty cover numerous uses

Over the years we’ve seen a growing presence of robots at CES, but this year’s event seems to count more of these machines than ever, covering an increasingly diverse range of uses spanning commercial, domestic and entertainment applications.

Robots are quietly proliferating in people’s homes through appliances such as vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers and even window cleaners, of which there are more than we can count at CES. Notably, Samsung captured people’s imagination at the show with its Ballie device, revealed at its opening keynote session.

We expect domestic robots to evolve quickly over the next decade and we predict that one in 50 households in affluent markets will have a domestic robot by 2025. We anticipate companies such as Amazon will join Samsung by evolving its Echo product line, for example with a domestic robot that could be called an EchoBot. However, such devices will be lightning conductors for privacy concerns and will generate deeply polarized views between people who like the concept and people who loath it.

MediaTek announces Dimensity 800 chipset

On Monday, Qualcomm revealed at its press conference that design wins for its Snapdragon 765 and 765G 5G platform are two and half times greater than those for the previous-generation Snapdragon 7 series solution (see CES 2020: Monday 6 January). Following hard on its heels, yesterday MediaTek introduced its Dimensity 800 chipset, which also comes after the company announced its premium-tier Dimensity 1000 platform. Dimensity 800 is designed to compete directly with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 765 in the high tier.

The new chipset provides further momentum for the 5G market and will be an important enabler of an expected flood of sub-$500 devices in the second half of 2020. The new chipset continues to lack support for millimetre-wave spectrum, but does support two-carrier aggregation at 100 MHz.

Although we continue to believe that the lack of millimetre-wave support will prove challenging for MediaTek in the high tier, the Taiwanese company will be a significant enabler of competition in the mid-tier. China is the big opportunity here, but a desire among operators for increased competition and lower prices is likely to see 5G devices using MediaTek silicon enter the US market and result in stiffer competition for Samsung and other Android-based manufacturers.

More true wireless headphones than the market might sustain

At the show, it seems like almost every consumer electronics company is now offering true wireless in-ear headphones. The phenomenal success of Apple’s AirPods, Samsung’s Galaxy Buds and devices from Bose, Jabra, Sony and many others has led to an explosion of products ranging from high-end, high-performance products, to hundreds of low-cost, copycat devices from the multitude of Chinese companies at the show.

We believe success for those trying to compete with Apple and Samsung will depend on elements such as design, brand and performance. A good example of this is Jabra’s efforts with its MySound software, which it will launch in the second quarter of 2020. Drawing on the expertise of its sister company GN Hearing, which makes hearing aids, Jabra has developed an app that lets users create a personal listening profile for their Jabra headphones. These are then calibrated based on a simple hearing test.

We expect other companies to follow in Jabra’s footsteps, as it provides an excellent way to optimize listening performance in a highly competitive market.

The Internet of farming

A notable exhibitor at CES is agricultural machinery maker John Deere, which at first appears somewhat incongruous alongside the thousands of consumer electronics stands showing off endless gadgets. However, its presence underlines the huge progress that the company’s Intelligent Solutions group has made over the past decade.

John Deere has identified that by exploiting technologies such as artificial intelligence and wide-area connectivity it can help farmers become more efficient through what it calls “precision agriculture”. This involves gathering data on all manner of metrics, enabling farmers to make more informed decisions, while helping John Deere understand how to evolve its machinery.

This is a tangible example of the power of the Internet of things, which for many years has been blighted with nebulous uses that often result in limited commercial opportunity.

Wearable tech feels like Groundhog Day

After some promising news in recent days of new smartwatches based on Google’s Wear OS, the CES show floor provided a mixed bag on the wearables front. Health, fitness and well-being undoubtedly remain the main applications that wearables companies are targeting.

A niche that’s in strong focus at CES is sleep-related technology. Exhibitors such as Urgotech are showing off devices that promise to train users’ brains to fall asleep more easily. Philips, for example, offers a headband that it claims guides users into a more restful state while they’re asleep as well as a chest strap that gently vibrates when it detects that a user is snoring. Beyond this, a range of meditation headbands from companies like Entertech are also on show, promising improved relaxation through biosensing technology.

Advanced health-tracking features are present on new devices such as Withings’ ScanWatch. This hybrid smartwatch can identify sleep apnoea and take electrocardiogram recordings. The competition to provide top-tier health-tracking capabilities is clearly a battleground among smartwatch makers, but we question whether identifying increasingly niche medical conditions is a genuinely valuable selling point for most customers.

There was a sense of Groundhog Day about wearables announcements. Sportswear company Asics unveiled smart running shoes that track and analyse users’ activity, measuring things like kick strength and stability and then giving users feedback on this to improve their performance. But we’ve seen this before; Under Armour’s Hovr range has offered similar capabilities for some time, but doesn’t seem to have taken off with consumers. Unless Asics radically changes the formula of smart shoes (perhaps by including the technology in every pair of running shoes as standard, which seems unlikely), it’s hard to see how this will differentiate from previous offerings.

This feeling of repetition isn’t limited to shoes. Across the show floor, wearables such as smart underwear and sports clothing are on display, but none of them bring anything different or especially innovative compared with what we’ve seen in recent years. Companies such as Skiin and Xenoma provide smart underwear and base layers that can be worn all day and can track activity and measure metrics such as heart rate. As these features are generally far more accessible on a smartwatch, it’s puzzling to see where their use lies beyond niches such as professional athletics.