CES 2020: Wednesday 8 January

Headlines from the Las Vegas tech playground

Today we bring you the final round-up from our team at CES. Check out the video below for our highlights from the day and read on for more opinion about the innovations on show. CCS Insight clients will also receive comprehensive analysis in the next few days.

Augmented reality steps into the spotlight

For some time, augmented reality has been somewhat overshadowed by virtual reality in the consumer space, but the technology may well have stolen the headlines back at CES. Chinese company Nreal has arguably been the main attraction for aficionados of extended reality, attracting large queues to its stand throughout the day and creating a lot of hype. Demonstrations of its Nreal Light glasses, which will go on sale later in 2020, have proven extremely popular.

The Light device is powered by a smartphone through USB-C and runs its own 3D user interface called Nebula. This allows Android users to view apps in augmented reality, as well as several games, using their smartphone as a controller. There’s currently no mention of compatibility with Apple devices. The overall experience is impressive and appears to be earning plaudits for Nreal.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and there has been an array of “me too” devices throughout the exhibition area. This is especially true for augmented reality, with several stands presenting glasses that are physically almost identical to the Nreal Light. However, these imitations have been inferior in terms of visual display and offer basic smartphone mirroring as opposed to a dedicated platform. In many cases, the build quality also leaves much to be desired.

Verizon to release 20 5G devices in 2020

5G got off to a bumpy start in the US in 2019. After the fanfare of 5G network launches, a wave of negativity descended with criticism of the performance of networks based on millimetre-wave spectrum from AT&T and Verizon. This overlooked the fact that the high-band roll-outs were just the start of a multiyear 5G deployment that will combine low-, mid- and high-band spectrum assets. We believe that the story will change in 2020, as operators deploy dedicated low- and mid-band spectrum and implement technologies such as dynamic spectrum sharing to make use of 4G spectrum assets.

The promotion of 5G is just getting started. This was clear from comments made by CEO of Verizon Wireless, Ronan Dunne. He argued against the low-band approach adopted by T-Mobile and AT&T, but remained steadfast in his commitment to millimetre wave and underlined the role that dynamic spectrum sharing will play in building out coverage. Although Verizon’s millimetre-wave approach contrasts sharply with that of most other global operators, the carrier remains highly focussed, promising 20 devices compatible with millimetre-wave technology in 2020 and prices below $600.

This is significant. We have consistently highlighted our expectation of 5G handsets priced at less than $500, but we anticipated that these would be sub-6 GHz and lack support for millimetre wavebands given the additional cost and complexity.

The announcement underlines Verizon’s commitment and bolsters our opinion that price erosion, competition and economics for the carrier means that 5G will find consumers rather than the other way around. Millimetre wave may be suffering from some bad press, but we fully expect Japan and South Korea to deploy the technology in 2020, with other markets following in 2021, lured by the need for fresh capacity and a thirst for the speed promise of 5G.

Virtual reality impresses in all shapes and sizes

Virtual reality is continuing to mature as a product category, shown by several impressive devices at CES. Beijing-based company Pico launched its Neo 2 headset, which offers an untethered six-degrees-of-freedom experience. It’s squarely aimed at the enterprise market; it will retail for $699 (with an $899 variant that includes eye-tracking), but will demand that customers buy a minimum of five units. The headset benefits from a counterbalance design that houses the battery at the rear of the device, preventing the Neo 2 from being as front-heavy as some rivals.

In addition to the Neo 2, Pico unveiled its new VR Glasses, a headset offering three degrees of freedom that tethers to a smartphone using USB-C. As a result, the VR Glasses are significantly lighter and smaller than other mainstream headsets also providing three degrees of freedom, such as the Oculus Go, as internal power and processing components aren’t needed. The headset weighs just 120 grams, making it a portable virtual reality device for users on the go. Given that several mobile networks have focussed on virtual reality as a use for 5G during their recent roll-outs, this device category could be an excellent focal point for further demonstrations what 5G can do.

Many other virtual reality headsets on display are competing to provide a best-in-class experience through improved resolution or field of view. Examples of this include VRgineers’ XTAL headset and Pimax’s Vision 8K X, both of which offer 180-degree field of view (100 to 110 degrees is commonplace in most consumer VR headsets), as well as incredibly high-resolution displays claiming 8K resolution (it should be noted that these standards differ from those for TVs, as resolution is split per eye). Although graphically impressive, the sheer bulk of these devices tends to make them uncomfortable and their prohibitively high prices will continue to limit their appeal to enterprises for now.

Smart home makes little real progress since CES 2019

Despite the prominence of smart home solutions at CES this year, we’ve concluded that there has been almost no progress in this space since the 2019 event. Once again, there’s a mind-numbing number of similar-looking smart switches, sockets, cameras, light bulbs, smart hubs and more in an exhibition area that covers what feels like the equivalent of numerous football pitches.

This is a technology category that has appeared ripe for consolidation for at least two years, but it increasingly seems that the vested interested of competing or proprietary standards and protocols such as Z-Wave, Zigbee, OpenThread, Bluetooth and others exacerbates the problem.

One ray of hope among all this chaos is the recently announced Project Connected Home over IP, whose members include Amazon, Apple, Google, NXP Semiconductors, Samsung SmartThings, Zigbee and more (see Instant Insight: Project Connected Home over IP).

It was too early for any details about this initiative to emerge at CES, but we fear that it currently comprises little more than a press release and a PowerPoint presentation. However, there’s little doubt that the industry badly needs some consolidation to get rid of the fragmentation and allow smart home solutions to advance to the next level. We hope that CES 2021 will highlight some progress by the industry, but worry that it could take years to make strides given the large companies involved and the numerous vested interests that will need to be overcome.

5G laptops launched by all leading PC makers

Feeding the 5G theme that’s everywhere at the event, Dell, HP and Lenovo have all announced laptops adding support for 5G.

The most prominent announcement came from Lenovo, which featured at Qualcomm’s press conference before CES officially opened and introduced a 5G variant of its popular Yoga line. Dell has added 5G to its more enterprise-centric Latitude platform, making the Latitude 9510 available in laptop and two-in-one variants. HP has built 5G support into its Elite range of laptops with the Elite Dragonfly.

All these products use Qualcomm’s 5G solution, leading to another significant design win for the company, which appears to be dominating 5G headlines at CES.

For PC makers, integrating cellular connectivity is nothing new, as all leading companies have previously offered products connected with 3G and later 4G. They’ve enjoyed encouraging traction with 4G products, thanks to growing availability of more-affordable data plans, which in some cases are now unlimited. However, the speed and capacity advantages that 5G will bring undoubtedly offers even more opportunity in this product category, and although it’s probably too early for significant sales, we expect 5G-connected laptops to be a strong category for PC makers in the future.

BlackBerry integrates Cylance into QNX for automotive

CES was the forum for a significant announcement in the wake of BlackBerry’s acquisition of Cylance. The machine learning-based security of Cylance is being integrated into BlackBerry’s QNX operating system to provide a deep-level security framework designed to proactively identify threats and offer behaviour-based authentication in vehicles. The technology is built using the BlackBerry QNX Hypervisor and incorporates features from Cylance’s Protect, Optics and Persona products to provide a broad solution based on real-time actions and anomalies.

Although this is in concept mode, it provides an opportunity for BlackBerry to identify suitable customers and allows partners to understand the extent of Cylance capabilities and how they can be integrated into vehicle software. QNX’s established position in the automotive market is a significant asset, which, combined with Cylance, should give BlackBerry a highly differentiated and tightly integrated software and security play.