In years past, the Consumer Electronics Show could be mistaken for the world’s largest Best Buy, with row upon row of giant, glowing, wall-filling television sets.
TVs still play a big part of the show, though the energy and excitement in Las Vegas this year is tilted toward smart speakers and intelligent connected devices and the powerful Silicon Valley companies whose technology powers them.
As the doors open today on the world’s largest electronics trade show, the Consumer Technology Association expects that voice computing, artificial intelligence and connectivity will be the dominant themes. That’s reflected on the show floor, where Google will have an outsized presence.
Voice-controlled smart speakers, including the Amazon Echo and Google Home, sold like crazy this past holiday season, with unit sales increasing 279% from a year ago, according to the CTA. The trade group expects similarly stratospheric numbers this year, with unit sales approaching 44 million in the U.S. alone.
The galloping popularity of devices that respond to the sound of our voice will have a ripple effect on the smart-home market, spurring consumers to experiment with a host of new “smart” products — from connected thermostats, WiFi-connected security cameras, smart locks and doorbells and the like.
“These devices are growing rapidly with lots of consumer interest,” said Mike Vorhaus, president of Magid Advisors consultancy. “Overwhelmingly, people want these devices not only as ‘assistants’ but as household safety hubs — alarms, cameras, etc.”
Television manufacturers have been eager to jump on the talk-to-me bandwagon, with Samsung Monday announcing it would bring the Bixby voice assistant now found on its Galaxy phones to its television sets in 2018, and LG opting for an assist from Google Voice.
Beyond televisions, voice assistants are lending an assist to Schlage Sense deadbolts, Whirlpool washers and dryers, and even a mirror that talks back to you (mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?).
The car companies, which in years past figured prominently at the show if largely to highlight aftermarket products, are expected to highlight work with autonomous vehicles. Newcomer Byton unveiled its concept car at the show, a smart car designed by former BMW and Apple executives.
Ford Motor Co. President and CEO Jim Hackett delivers a show-opening keynote this morning, where he is expected to offer an update on plans for self-driving cars. Lyft’s co-founder and president, John Zimmer, will speak at the annual Leaders in Technology dinner Thursday night, a high-profile show event where he’s likely to tout the ride-hailing company’s autonomous efforts.
“Lyft is going to be here in a significant way. That’s really interesting,” said Brent Weinstein, a partner at UTA. “Historically it’s been the car manufacturers and manufacturers of stuff in the cars taking up the oxygen.”
Off the convention’s various show floors — last year some 4,000 companies occupied more than 2.6 million net square feet of exhibit space — CES has emerged as a major event for advertisers and the digital platforms. Google’s YouTube is in Vegas in force, as are Facebook and Twitter, along with representatives of such major brands as Unilever, Coca-Cola and General Electric.
“It’s become one of the two most important tentpoles for the video media advertising industry,” said Michael Kassan, chairman and CEO of the advisory firm MediaLink, which plans a series of events at CES for media, brand marketers and and advertisers. “You begin the year with CES and mid-year you have Cannes Lions.”