i3 | January 22, 2018

New Tech, Individual Products Share CES Spotlight

Steve Smith

In the weeks before CES 2018, guesses as to what would take the show spotlight included 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), IoT, smart home, virtual reality and voice activation.

For this CES veteran, who has covered the show in all of its versions since the early 1980s, I wondered if the new technology news would overshadow the products – usually sold at retail – that were always the stars of CES.

What I learned at the events I attended on Media Day, the series of two dozen or so press conferences the day before the show, and CES itself, is that both new technologies and the devices that feature them shared the Vegas spotlight, whether consumers can buy them at retail or use them via the B2B market.

LG Electronics opened the Media Day marathon, highlighting its new LG ThinQ AI system which "thinks about the user." As I.P. Park, CTO of LG Electronics put it, consumers will "no longer need user manuals" for their devices. LG, an electronics and major appliances leader, highlighted the ThinQ system's ability to have home, office and car devices communicate with each other and cited numerous examples.

The emphasis is on "openness" with ThinQ as a platform that will emphasize partnerships and open connectivity. Scott Huffman, engineering vice president for Google Assistant, came onstage and emphasized that his company’s partnership with LG will enable consumers to "get things done in a seamless way" using Google Assistant.

LG's robotics capabilities were on display, with marketing Vice President Dave VanderWaal showing how LG ThinQ can work with appliances and electronics throughout the home with LG CLOi, its robot. VanderWaal adeptly explained how CLOi and AI can make consumers' lives easier. He moved on to the voice-activated OLED TV ThinQ and how Google Assistant will enable consumers to easily access news, weather, entertainment and photos, as well as control lighting, air conditioning and other home functions with a few voice commands. Tim Alessi, senior director of LG's home entertainment division reviewed the company’s wide line of upscale 4K TVs which feature HDR 10, Dolby Vision and a variety of improved technical specs.

 Panasonic, celebrating its 100th anniversary, highlighted its B2B business using IoT, AI and robotics but also its long-time consumer expertise in making these products easier to operate, as exemplified by its tag line, "A Better Life. A Better World."

Tom Gebhardt, chairman and CEO of Panasonic North America, emphasized its expertise in disruptive technologies and discussed the company's work in the B2B areas that involve IoT and AI in the automotive and airline businesses, as well as partnerships with Amazon Alexa in the automotive business. They also announced gaining approval to begin building the first intelligent highway in the U.S. in Colorado.

In the automotive market Panasonic is advancing in the autonomous vehicle area and working on its Skip Gen entertainment system for cars with Google, an ongoing partnership producing a variety of products across several categories.

Hisense was more of a traditional CES press event, highlighting its Laser TV lineup which includes 80-, 88- and 100-inch 4K UHD TVs, as well as its 150-inch Laser TV which debuted at the show featuring technology from Texas Instruments and Harman Lifestyle. Jerry Liu, CEO of Hisense Americas, highlighted that company sales in the U.S. reached $1 billion last year and that on Black Friday, the company sold one million units.

But the biggest news was the Hisense worldwide partnership with the FIFA 2018 World Cup championship, which should make the brand even more of a household name in the U.S. and around the world.

Samsung continues as the global leader in TVs, and now is number one in home appliances, according to Tim Baxter, president/CEO of Samsung North America, at the company's CES press event, but the news was much more than product introductions.

Baxter's message was that last year Samsung's R&D budget was a massive $14 billion and that much of the company's focus is now on IoT, AI, AR and self-driving car technologies, and 5G, which effects them all. Samsung is working with partners such as the Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF) to set common industry IoT industry standards. Samsung said its ARTIK chip, air conditioner and Family Hub refrigerator have already been certified by the association for interoperability criteria needed for IoT.

In spring 2018, Samsung will unite its IoT applications, including Samsung Connect, Smart Home, Smart View and more into the SmartThings app to connect and control any SmartThings-enabled device directly from a phone, TV, or car from a single application. And Samsung announced plans to connect HARMAN Ignite to the SmartThings Cloud, moving the IoT experience to the car. Consumers will be able to manage their connected home from the car and vice versa.

Samsung is also using its personalized intelligence service in more devices. In 2018, select Samsung Smart TVs and new Family Hub refrigerators will have voice control via Bixby to make everyday tasks easier.

Sony closed out Media Day with its media presentation at its massive booth at the Central Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center, starring CEO Kaz Hirai discussing the TV, digital imaging, audio, video, smartphone and PlayStation products and sales performance that have made its electronics operation once again a premium and a profitable line.

The philosophy behind Sony's fashionable and cutting-edge products in the past several years is based on the Japanese word "Kando," meaning that these items should provide an emotional response to consumers, as something that they not only want but need.

While Hirai highlighted the new products that debuted at the Sony booth during CES, Hirai made sure to remind the media that he feels, "we can do so much more to innovate" in electronics, especially when it comes to core technologies that make the products work. For Sony that means technologies such as high-capability image sensors, Hirai noted.

These high-capability image sensors will contribute to fully autonomous driving. As demand rises for technology that allows automobiles to detect their surroundings in 360-degrees during various driving situations, Sony’s advanced image sensor technology can capture information about its environment faster, more accurately, and more precisely than the human eye, Hirai claimed.

And Hirai demonstrated Sony's ability to combine its strengths in areas such as video and audio technologies, sensors, and mechatronics with AI, robotics and communications. He brought out Aibo, Sony's robotic dog (an autonomous entertainment robot) which made its CES debut and its first appearance anywhere outside of Japan.

The message from CES 2018 is that the new technologies that will transform the future are already here in the present and should generate consumer interest and retail sales volume starting right now. Or as LG’s VanderWaal summarized his company’s media presentation, which could have encapsulated the industry’s message at CES: "2018 will be the tipping point for the smart home."

Steve Smith is a contributing editor of i3, was the longtime editor in chief of TWICE and is a member of the Consumer Technology Hall of Fame.

January/February 2018 i3 Cover Issue

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