Voice was once again centre stage at the Consumer Electronics Show. Google trebled the size of its booth from last year and device manufacturers are stumbling over one another to incorporate voice technology into their products. Samsung, in addition to (finally) announcing its Bixby-powered home assistant this past autumn, also shared that all 2019 televisions will be compatible and controllable via most home voice devices (goodbye, remote control!). Meanwhile, housewares manufacturer Simplehuman showed us how voice could enhance a rubbish bin so that no-one has to touch the dirty lid.
It’s not just about the incorporation of voice into new products, but an evolution in voice technology itself. Although 47% of UK parents say that their smart speaker already feels like part of their family, the experience can still feel cold and downright frustrating.
Now it’s getting more personal. Last year, Amazon Echo debuted whisper mode, which enables Alexa to whisper back when it has been whispered to. This year, it was announced that Google Assistant’s new voice interpreter mode would support 27 languages and that the device would be baked into Google Maps, combining the tech giant's maps personalisation with voice to create a truly individualised and relevant experience.
Voice-enabled products are also, finally, enabling smart homes to become a reality as consumers grow comfortable issuing commands to devices at home. A slew of manufacturers have debuted smart cameras, microwaves, door looks and more. LifeDoor, for example, will close interior doors to block smoke and heat when signalled by a smoke detector.
The other big buzz around the show is 5G, which is touted as the all-important enabler of all of these intelligent networks. Samsung (pictured, above) announced that it was the first company to receive US Federal Communications Commission approval for its 5G devices and that it would release a 5G smartphone (likely the Galaxy S10) this year. Meanwhile, Qualcomm showed off its 5G-ready Snapdragon 855 processor, which will find its way into 30 consumer products in 2019.
Consumers’ interest in "well-being" has been a boon for tech manufacturers and this year we’ve seen technologies that track wellness as well as the ability of this technology to diagnose illness and/or offer advice. Accurate Meditech showcased its hemodynamic technology that analyses pulse waves to monitor heart health and alert a consumer when potential problems are detected, with no need for an arm cuff. Slighter introduced a smart lighter that uses data and artificial intelligence to help people quit smoking. It develops a custom plan tailored to gradually reduce the amount of cigarettes smoked.
And, once again, we are talking about augmented reality and virtual reality. However, although we’ve seen the tech get better and better, the industry has yet to identify the right consumer need for it.
HTC had "big news" with the launch of its VR Vive Pro headset with eye-tracking technology. Eye-tracking allows for "gaze-oriented" navigation, eliminating the need for a hand-held controller. HTC claims that this opens up the technology to more businesses (à la Microsoft HoloLens). Start-up AR lens manufacturer LetinAR debuted actual working prototypes of its newest PinMR lens, which can be used by glasses manufacturers (and this could lead to the scale marketers desire), while AR display developer WayRay partnered Hyundai to show how an AR-enabled pop-up windshield display could work in today’s cars. However, nobody has yet cracked the content question – and until they do, AR and VR remain way off mass adoption.
Finally, Petronics showed off an AI-powered electric mouse for cats to play with and Basepaws showcased the world’s first DNA test for felines to inform you of your cat’s ancestry, breed and potential health and habits. These may not become as ubiquitous as the ever-expanding repertoire of cat memes, but cat owners may still find them interesting.
Jim Cridlin is global head of innovation at Mindshare