2018 Technology Trends to Watch

It’s on! CES 2018 is underway for the media with the traditional curtain-raiser, presented by Steve Koenig, senior director of market research, and Lesley Rohrbaugh, senior manager of market research, Consumer Technology Association (CTA). 2018's Tech Trends to Watch session is a preview of key industry highlights to look for during CES and throughout 2018 and the unveiling of CTA's semi-annual industry report, the U.S. Consumer Technology Sales and Forecasts.

The headline is that according to the CTA “Excitement about emerging technologies and the resilience of historically leading categories will drive the U.S. consumer technology industry to a record-breaking $351 billion in retail revenues ($266 billion wholesale) in 2018 - 3.9 percent higher than 2017”.  But what’s new and what’s driving growth? The presentation was split into three parts: ingredient technologies; in the market; and emerging tech.

The big three ingredients that are creating this growth in 2018 are 5G, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotics. 

5G is Revolutionizing Industries

5G is providing higher speed, greater capacity and lower (ideally zero) latency, enabling technologies like Virtual Reality (VR), smart cities and self-driving cars. 5G will provide solutions in just about every sector, and has the potential to offer the high data rates and zero latency required for the automotive industry. Just how fast is 5G going to be?  Downloading a two hour movie at 384 kbs (that’s 3G) used to take 26 hours, and at 100Mbps (4G) it took 6 minutes, now 5G will download the same movie in 3.6 seconds. Announcements this week are expected to give us a clearer event horizon for 5G roll out.

Artificial Intelligence: Ushering in a New Digital Age

Steve Koenig suggests that “5G and AI are heralds for the coming data age”. This is the first time I can remember the biggest topic at CES being the same as the biggest topic at the industrial manufacturing events like the Hannover Fair and Productronica. AI gives us the potential to create systems that learn to do things we can’t program them to do.

One product bringing AI into our everyday life is the digital assistant. In fact, the “Smart Speaker” category is slated to be the fastest growing market space in 2018 with revenue nearly doubling (93% growth) and units up around 60%. That’s $3.8 billion in revenue and 43.6 million units. Whilst Amazon’s Alexa is the leader, there’s plenty of choice and new offerings like Samsung’s Bixby.

For many new products on the market, digital assistant compatibility is becoming table stakes, enabling growth in smart home, smart cities and much more. Smart home products alone are expected to grow 34% in revenue to $4.5 Billion this year and more than 40% to more than 40 Million units.

Koenig believes that “people will expect this across their digital landscape” and moving seamlessly from home to car to any other environment with the same voice-activated assistant will become the norm.

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Arvind Krishna, senior vice president of Hybrid Cloud and director of IBM Research, said, “One of the major groundbreakers is going to be our ability to truly converse with artificial intelligence embedded in the fabric around us - this will be far bigger than people realize right now.”

AI is moving from simple conversations to a trusted relationship and the numbers and data imply that we are willing participants in the use of digital assistants to augment our own abilities and improve our lives.

Robotics Take on New Roles

Also ready to augment our lives, are robots. The new category here is companion robots, that use AI and voice activation to be part of the family, completing simple tasks and building relationships. Kuri, from Mayfield Robotics, is promoted as a family friend that can greet people when they arrive home, capture important moments using face recognition, be the life of the party with a mobile speaker and be a home video connection.

Somnox is a sleep robot that, using breathing regulation, sounds, and affection, offers a natural way of improving your night's rest. According to Koenig, “the latest trend in robotics is cuddling”.

These ingredients are set to impact most, if not all, product categories and will occupy much of the conversations at CES this week. Steve and Lesley talked a good deal about the role of these enabling technologies in various verticals and what could be achieved as a result, but that’s for another blog.

In the meantime, we’ll be looking out for a 5G connected robot with artificial intelligence and all that it can offer, as well as a whole lot of other new technologies, products, and solutions; we’ll keep you updated throughout the week.