17 Jan 5 Things I Think About CES 2017

As I arrived at CES 2017 the first thing I picked up in McCarron Airport was my badge. Along with the badge this year, I received a ribbon for “10+ years” of attendance. Since 10+ is 10-19 (and I’ve gone to the Comdex / CES trade shows for more than 20 years), I realized I’ve been involved in CES and the computer industry for a long time—long enough to see many transitions. Today, CES is a show all about connectivity. Connected phones, laptops, tablets, watches, clothing, washers and dryers and, of course, cars (just to name a few). Here are 5 key things I noticed about CES this year.

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(Source: Mike Krell, Moor Insights & Strategy)

1. Connectivity is Queen and Data will be King

In today’s world, you are nothing if you are not connected. We already suffer this with humans, just try separating many of us from our smart devices. CES shows us just how important vendors feel connectivity is to our (and their) future. From connected cars to connected toothbrushes, everything will connect to the internet, gathering data on every one of our slightest moves. Where will this data go? How will this data be used? All this data is being collected—when I talk to my car and tell Alexa to order something—but who owns the data and who is responsible for the privacy that does along with ownership?

2. Alexa is everywhere

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(Photo credits: Mike Krell, Moor Insights & Strategy)

If we thought last year was the year of Amazon Echo (Alexa) integration, we were wrong. Just saying “Alexa” (I pity anyone with that name attending CES) aloud in the tradeshow halls triggered a flood of actions from every nearby booth. Already moving forward as the voice hub of your home, Alexa has expanded to non-Echo form factors. Ford integrates Alexa with their SYNC platform, allowing you to control your house from your car. Smart watches are getting the upgrade. Don’t like your Alexa speaker, buy a bluetooth speaker that can upgrade your sound. Most believe Google will be a player longer term (as may Cortona), and it’s “next” on developer’s lists, but right now, Alexa is where it’s at.

3. Home Wi-Fi is in need of an upgrade

My colleague John Fruehe has written on this topic before in Home Wi-Fi Is Broken, But Enterprise Technology Can Fix It. CES really drove the point home. Everyone was talking about home Wi-Fi issues, from the chip vendors, to the router / access point manufacturers, to the smart home system providers.

The new paradigm in the home—lots of connected devices (some using lots of bandwidth, some using little)—is causing a major disruption for home networks. Outlook for the future is 40+ connected devices in the home, and the network infrastructure we have today just can’t handle it. As one executive put it, “Our standard answer is to make the access point shout louder, and hope that you can hear it all over the house—this isn’t working”. Large access points with lots of antennas can only go so far.

This year we saw the introduction of a number of 3-access-point Wi-Fi mesh systems from Eero, Google and many others. Major home vendors like Comcast XFINITY also introduced major overhauls to their home Wi-Fi offerings. Right now the problem with these systems is cost: $299 and up. Most consumers won’t have the appetite to spend that kind of cash for Wi-Fi in their homes. Yes, the price will come down, but it still will be higher than current options.

If you are putting 3 separate access points in your home, why not integrate Bluetooth, ZigBee, Z-wave, etc. into those boxes. Might as well add voice recognition as well (think of Amazon Dot). Now we are back up into the $299+ range. 2017 is just the start and we are going to see a lot of improvements in home Wi-Fi in the future.

4. Everyone wants us to buy the Smart Home

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(Photo credits: Mike Krell, Moor Insights & Strategy)

This year, the Smart Home has continued to expanded to take over a large section of CES. I honestly admit that I didn’t see a lot of “new” products in this year’s home automation offerings. What I saw was more connected products (now expanding to appliances) and more companies wanting to be the center of your home service (think old / new “tech” companies like Whirlpool). The bigger issue with this year’s smart home offerings is that the industry doesn’t seem to be coalescing around any one platform, service or standard. The home wireless protocols remain in the same state they were last year; Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are required and ZigBee / Thread and Z-Wave solve some problems and are nice-to-haves. Alexa integration is required. The real question has been, and continues to be, how does the consumer figure out where to begin? Long-term integrated solutions from a single supplier will be the winners. I continue to be impressed with Vivint and their understanding of what the customer needs and wants—fundamentally a simple, full-featured, integrated system that they don’t have to think or worry about putting together. Comcast XFINITY also seems to be moving in the right direction on integration. The future is going to be trying for companies that don’t understand that everything has to work together simply and seamlessly to provide real value (and get consumers to pay for full value) in the home market. I continue to believe that for the long haul, mainstream consumers want one company responsible “one throat to choke” when it comes to purchasing and maintaining their home systems.

5. Engineering rules

Every year I go to CES I seem to see fewer and fewer products that are ready for prime time and that I would open my wallet for. Many of the vendors show wonderful engineering marvels that are great to look at and play with, but that either will never reach an end customer, are not close to productized, or are great visions of the future. What I would really like to see is more products that are focused on fulfilling customer needs, and that I can by today.