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A Samsung television with SuperMHL. The Mobile High-Definition Link is aiming to replace HDMI as the primary connection for high-resolution images. (Photo: Frank Gorman)

The trends from CES 2015

Frank Gorman of Gorman & Williams is at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Here are the trends he’s noticing at this year’s technology expo.

Identifying trends in the consumer electronics market is far from a scientific inquiry. The process is a combination of feel and fact, and CES 2015 provides lots of both.  The sources for detecting trends are what you see and learn on the show floor, keynote addresses and panel discussions, the daily CES publication distributed to attendees, and discussions with people you meet at the show, whether on a shuttle or at an exhibitor’s booth. Here are the market trends derived from this year’s show.

Integrated circuits that sense and perceive. New technology is producing integrated circuits that do so much more than process data. The origin of this trend is sensor technology, but most consumer products with sensors were limited to single-purpose devices for health and fitness. Now, it appears that sensor technology is being incorporated into circuits that not only process data but also perceive motions and images.

Some examples are logging on to websites with automatic facial recognition (because your face is in front of the computer) and drones that avoid collisions because they sense the presence of other objects (not using GPS).

Walking 35-football-fields' worth of exhibit space takes its toll. (Photo: Frank Gorman)

Walking 35-football-fields’ worth of exhibit space takes its toll. (Photo: Frank Gorman)

Connecting devices with open standards. A challenge for consumers of electronic products is that the company that made or sold the product wants to control all aspects of the experience. While this is understandable from the maker/seller side, it can be a frustration for the consumer. With more software developers and device manufacturers using open standards, consumers could use devices across more than one platform.

This connectedness concept is promoted at CES 2015 by Samsung under the name “Internet of Things,” and the initial market focus is on the so-called “smart home.” A new protocol (IPv6) will provide vastly more Internet addresses to support this anticipated growth.

But at least one significant force in the industry, Apple, wants to maintain exclusive control over its devices and most of the audio and visual data on its devices. Connectedness may be at odds with competition in the industry but one evident result of this trend is more partnering between the technology companies (such as Intel) and device makers. Whether connectedness takes hold and flourishes remains to be seen.

Drones for aerial photography and package delivery. Small and mini-drones are prominent at CES 2015. Aerial photography is an obvious application for small drones — for example, a roofing repair contractor could photograph the roof before giving a quote for the repair job. The military uses drone for aerial reconnaissance. Amazon has suggested making package deliveries with drones, and at CES 2015 Qualcomm is demonstrating its early development of flying drones that can pick up and deliver a package to your doorstep, such as the Snapdragon Cargo seen in the video below.

Soft wearables. Electronic devices that are worn to detect heart rate, running distance or speed, and similar information have been trending for several years. What’s new at CES 2015 is that electronic chips are now so small that they can be embedded in jackets, scarfs, hats and other clothing.  Small electronic circuits in fabric likely are not far away. With sensing and perception capabilities so proximate, voice and hand motions could activate and control a wide range of actions.

Vehicle intelligence. Autonomous driving sounds scary — have these developers seen the Washington Beltway or I-95 near Baltimore at 7:45 a.m.?! Nevertheless, the Vehicle Intelligence Marketplace was back at CES 2015 after an exciting appearance in 2014. In-vehicle technologies are being demonstrated in the parking lot near CES Tech East. This driving-the-road aspect of vehicle intelligence goes beyond other exciting in-vehicle driver technologies such as touch screens, voice recognition, driver assessments, and predictive diagnostics.

A cybersecurity exhibit at CES 2015 (Photo: Frank Gorman)

A cybersecurity exhibit at CES 2015 in Las Vegas     (Photo: Frank Gorman)

A new emphasis on security. The hack of Sony Entertainment in November has been a frequent subject of conversation at CES 2015. Better security in consumer devices has been a recognized need for several years, and the Sony hack should kick this effort into high gear. Several cybersecurity exhibitors promoted interesting software and hardware at the Personal Privacy Marketplace, including iWallet, Silent Pocket, and Vysk.

Better security in consumer devices will be expensive and could slow down operation speed. The consumer electronic industry has a strong incentives to improve security. Consumers are also employees and customers who use consumer electronic devices to interact and connect with large and very sophisticated business and governmental IT systems. Security of consumer electronic devices and large IT systems are each protected by the strong security of the other.

Streaming TV with full program lineups but without Cable. CES 2015 brought announcements of new streaming services. HBO will offer streaming content over the Internet, and Sling Media has entered the consumer market joining many other streaming platforms selling subscription services and in-home converter boxes. Consumers clearly want to be free of the high monthly fees of the cable monopolies and are switching to streaming. (But for sports programming on ESPN, many more already would have deserted cable.)

What consumers want — a full lineup of programing — is not being provided by the different streaming services. Hulu, Roku, Netflix, etc. offer different lineups of TV shows and movies and in that sense each is incomplete. Before streaming, the consumer decision was what to watch on TV; now with streaming, the first decision what service to choose to receive the shows and movies you like to watch. Consolidation of streaming providers could bring more complete program lineups, but it could also bring cable-like prices.

The honeymoon with tablets is over. Tablet sales rose in 2014 but at a slower rate. Consumers are not upgrading or replacing tablets. Tablets are losing to bigger smart phones and the resilience of the laptops, which are more flexible and still the workhorses in many businesses and professions. And you do not want to be behind someone taking a picture with a tablet. The honeymoon is over.