The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is one of the largest shows for innovations in consumer technology. During this year’s show, from 9 to 12 January in Las Vegas, we saw a host of new gadgets and innovations, ranging from industrial robots to refrigerators, from smart televisions to toothbrushes, that point to momentum for some longer-term trends.

Our observations

  • During a panel discussion called “Mobile Innovation: How 5G will enable the future”, telecom and hardware specialists from the industry stressed that the standards and hardware for the next generations of the mobile network technology are nearing finalization.
  • Self-driving vehicles were abundant at the CES, with large automotive behemoths and tech companies presenting new ideas and concepts. For example, BMW showcased how virtual reality could enhance driving; GM revealed its first Level 4 autonomous car (without a steer and pedals); and Nvidia, a chipmaker, introduced two new software platforms for creating artificially intelligent co-pilots for self-driving cars.
  • Voice appeared behind television as the most frequent word in news coverage about CES. Generally, voice-activated digital assistants and conversational computing were one of the biggest themes of this year’s show, pushing smart speakers in every corner of our house and workplace.
  • In his book From Luxury to Necessity (2017), our colleague Sjoerd Bakker examines seven everyday consumer practices – living, eating, working, traveling, shopping, leisure, and communicating – and shows how they co-evolve with technological innovations. In his book he shows how technology changes our practices and enables new ones, although not intentionally inscribed in these technologies.

Connecting the dots

Every year, the CES renders an avalanche of announcements, innovations, collaborations, and useful and useless gadgets. Although these provide a reliable barometer of the state of the tech industry and the future of consumer applications, they do not tell us whether consumers will adopt and use them and how they will be integrated in the daily lives of consumers. In this note, we examine some technological innovations from the recent CES, and speculate how they might change our seven everyday practices.

Firstly, the home is becoming a place of ‘professional luxury’. For example, Kohler announced several smart kitchens appliances, such as smart ovens and smart pressure cookers. Assisted by these artificially intelligent products, consumers can start cooking like a real cook. Furthermore, the cinema experience might come to the consumers’ homes. Sony’s 10,000 nit television is 10 times brighter than our current TVs and allows for 8K video streaming and with a host of virtual reality announcements for entertainment systems, the better-than-cinema-experience comes to the living room. Moreover, 3D printers allow amateur craftsmen to create and design their own stuff, like furniture or handicrafts, in their own garage. These technologies enable luxury goods like high-quality food, entertainment, and decorations to be produced and consumed inside our own homes, and they empower the regular consumer to work like a professional.

The enabling technologies that smarten up our house and allow for HD-streaming on our devices, especially 5G, can be useful within the automotive industry.

For example, multiple exhibition and panel discussion at the CES examined how to put an extra layer of intelligence over cities and infrastructure using 5G mobile networks, for instance Bosch’s idea for ‘community-based parking systems’ in Las Vegas or Panasonic’s concepts for smart highways. Furthermore, new ‘last-mile solutions’ were introduced, like OjO’s e-scooters partnering with Ford or Ujet’s foldable e-scooters. These concepts reduce the need for Level 5 autonomous vehicles to manoeuver in busy and urban environments, and boost the potential for autonomous vehicles in the near future. These vehicles will change the way we understand driving and being on the road. For example, one can use the car as a working space, while AR – for enhancing the ride itself – or VR – to transform the car into an entertainment hub – will create whole new driving experiences and ‘free up’ the driver as a consumer.

Lastly, the CES showed how technology is making inroads into the digitization of our perceptions and senses. Voice and speech technology were ubiquitous, with Amazon’s Alexa fighting its ‘battle for the home’ with Google’s Home. But besides voice, there are more senses that are becoming digitized. For example, Moodo introduced a smart-smelling device that combines modular cups of scents that can be modified by wearable devices, while new haptic interfaces, controlled by ultrasound waves to ‘touch objects in mid-air’ or bionic gloves, are digitizing our touch. These innovations replace buttons and keyboards by touch and gesture, making our environment and buildings more adaptive to our needs. Furthermore, they can create more immersive experience, for example in eSports or entertainment.

Implications

  • With luxury and professional production and consumption coming into our homes, subscriptions and delivery services can benefit from more data about our everyday activities. Furthermore, platforms can integrate all these activities and data into a digital profile of our house, tapping into consumer’s needs of having ‘digital backups’ of their stuff and the things they do.
  • The concept of the car will disintegrate as consumers will use the car for different purposes: for work, entertainment, sleep. New car designs can help shape the future of the car.
  • With digital technology making inroads into our human senses, a new ‘digital phenomenology’ must be developed to understand future practices and to forecast which new practices will emerge.