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Tech to Expect at CES 2019

CES 2019 is almost here, but before the lights come on and the crowds begin to gather, here’s a sneak peek at what Futuresource Consulting expects will be the key tech trends to hit the global consumer electronics stage in January.

This pre-CES roundup is brought to you by the consumer electronics team at Futuresource Consulting and highlights the tech to watch out for in headphones, home audio, smart speaker, smart appliance and TV category ranges. With more than 4,500 exhibiting companies, 250 conference sessions and nearly 200,000 attendees from 150 countries, Futuresource insights will help you chart a course across CES 2019 without missing the showstoppers. And if you need any further guidance, the Futuresource team will be on the show floor throughout the event to make sure you get the best possible experience.

Headphones Will be High Profile

Headphones have been making a resurgence over recent years and the category’s ascendance shows no signs of stopping. Listen out for big news on hearables, voice assistants and True Wireless.

True Wireless

Expect announcements on a range of new and improved true wireless offerings from a variety of established and emerging brands. Skullcandy and 1More will be debuting their latest true wireless earbuds and it’s possible bigger players such as Sony will be showcasing new products in this area too.

This will be the year of extended battery life, with many products leaping beyond the 5 hour mark, due to the new Qualcomm QCC5100 series chipset. Bluetooth 5.0 and USB-C charging will also be popular and inevitable upgrades, becoming entrenched within all form factors.

Wired Headphones

All signs point towards more USB-C headphones in the wired category, after the iPad Pro switch to USB-C. This area is undersupplied, so it’s the perfect opportunity for a savvy vendor to emerge with a strong product.

Voice Assistants

Look out for more Alexa integration in headphones in the wake of Qualcomm’s new Alexa developer kit. Google Assistant integration is likely also to feature amongst the announcements. We may also see wake-word technology finally enter the market at CES, as brands have previously struggled with technically implementing this feature.

Hearables & Hearing Aids

This relatively-new category has ushered in a number of crossover brands, with Wear&Hear and Oticon heading to CES to showcase hearable products. Be on the watch for nascent technologies from the likes of Audio Analytic, as they showcase new directions in hearables.

Other Headphones News From the Brands

New opportunities are pushing through for home entertainment headphones with 3D audio, immersive technology and head-tracking for a true cinematic experience. Explore Dolby Dimension, created for in-home listening, as well as Audeze Mobius, which is in contention for a CES innovation award.

A new Pioneer over-ear active noise cancelling model, the S9 has just been released with Google Assistant. Microsoft Surface over-ear headphones will also be on display.

It’s highly likely that there will be more wearable audio devices making an appearance, following releases such as the JBL Soundgear and Bose’s AR Sunglasses.

Talking Points in Smart Home & Appliances

Now that voice control has pervaded the smart home, there will be plenty of talk on the subjects of AI and IFTTT (if this then that) from a range of vendors and technology providers. Watch out for discussions and solutions that centre around smart home user scenarios, such as lights coming on in a certain mode, along with curtain commands, heating and associated triggers when the homeowner approaches their house.

Get ready for a range of new Wi-Fi and hubless smart home devices, particularly in lighting, with more Wi-Fi offerings in lightbulbs from the likes of LIFX and WiZ.

Alongside the new tech announcements, companies will also be pressing home with ways to address privacy and data security concerns. This will be a talking point across the smart home category at CES.

Health and Fitness Will Remain Key for Wearables

CES hosts a wide range of health, fitness and sports brands launching smart products from bike helmets to connected thermometers, with significant expo real estate given to wearable, health & wellbeing and sports technology. Some wearable announcements are expected at the event, from Fossil expanding their range of fashion driven smartwatches, to Garmin and their range of dedicated sports watches, however CES is expected to have more of a focus on an ever-evolving ecosystem of discrete wearables accessories.

Following the latest product launch of the market leading Apple Watch, it is expected that companies will be keen to capitalize on the product’s success, offering compatible products with the smartwatch and further building the health and fitness IoT. Connected products such as smart shoes and advanced sleep trackers are emerging through eco-systems including the Apple Health Kit. With advanced health trackers such as the Apple Watch ECG monitor becoming more commonplace, connected blood pressure or other vital monitors are likely to be seen among the wearables halls.

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear 3100 chipset will help revitalize the Smartwatch market in 2019 and Fossil has already adopted the new SoC as the powerhouse for its smartwatches moving forward. With CES as the first high profile event since the SoC’s launch, new product iterations are expected from other brands, with some primarily smartphone vendors again looking to join the smartwatch race.

The Home Audio & Smart Speaker Horizon

The Amazon and Google voice platforms will continue to dominate at CES 2019, although Samsung is likely to show its forthcoming Galaxy Home speaker, which features Bixby. It will be interesting to see if any products are announced that integrate both Google and Amazon voice interfaces and CES 2019 will reveal whether most brands focus on a ‘works with’ or integration strategy. If integration begins to take the lead, it will be interesting to explore how and why vendors are choosing the VA that they choose. Will many brands still believe they can integrate Google and Amazon in the same product, something which failed to materialise in 2018, despite attempts from Sonos to achieve this?

Plenty of Activity From Smart Speakers

In the wake of many smart speaker launches at IFA in September 2018, Futuresource believes there will be many more at CES 2019, although they may not get the attention that they deserve as voice technology is likely to be focused on penetrating other devices.

Speaker brands are starting to look at other ways to differentiate as voice is becoming a commonplace feature. Watch out for any new ways in which brands try to lever the competitive edge.

Some announcements will be seen around Bluetooth speakers with voice control, with some products landing at competitive price points of around $100 or less.

Smart Speakers with Screens

A range of brands will launch smart speakers with screens at CES 2019, as JBL, Alibaba, Tencent, Xiaomi and LG become entrenched in the segment, and Facebook already has product available in the US, although international roll-out is not yet confirmed. Screens offer the ability to complement the voice interface by choosing from a menu of on-screen options without the need for lengthy dialogue with the device.

Soundbars step up the game

Voice will penetrate soundbars more aggressively at CES 2019, so expect announcements from LG, Sony and a few other brands, including Samsung if it focuses on Bixby. However, immersive audio is still a much bigger focus for soundbars and was the key soundbar technology at IFA in September 2018. Futuresource expects immersive audio to continue to grow and move down the price points in 2019. Watch out for some major soundbar announcements at CES 2019, some of which may involve integration of additional functionality such as that of Home Hubs or Set-Top Boxes.

TV Trends to Watch For

An array of 8K TV sets will be showcased by the top brands, as they continue to jostle for position and expound their credentials in the premium segment. Expect a focus on upscaling technology, which will be promoted as a way to resolve the lack of 8K content in the near term.

OLED Gets a Boost

With Futuresource data showing 69% growth in OLED TV shipments in 2018, this technology will remain a focus for many brands. Although OLED TVs have been around for a few years, increasing numbers of brands are including them in their ranges at more competitive retail prices. This is now having an impact at retail, with many consumers putting OLED at the top of their shopping lists. In addition, with LG and Samsung using OLED and QLED respectively to target the growing premium segment, expect major promotional activity highlighting their individual features and benefits.

Voice Control Usurps Remote Control

Voice assistants (VA) are the latest development in an attempt to improve and expand upon the often clumsy user experience with TVs. Google’s Android-based assistant and Amazon’s Alexa are at the centre of this arena, and will be prominent at CES 2019, with the ability to work in conjunction with other devices, but expect Samsung to make some noise with its own in-house developed Bixby VA software.

AI as an Ecosystem

AI is still at a very early stage in terms of true intelligence, as the offerings do little more than offer basic assistance with a set of well-defined tasks. Nonetheless, the big AI developers are in the midst of a land grab to get their software on as many devices as possible. The aim is not only to build an eco-system in which consumers become reliant on their bespoke offering, but also to help gather more data on user behaviour, which can eventually be used to generate revenue through highly-targeted marketing activities.

The Final Word on Brands, 8K and OLED

Futuresource expects further expansion and improvement of OLED and 8K ranges, with announcements across the show. Hisense has recently launched its OLED range, so expect their production models to be prominent. Sharp too may show OLED this time. Samsung meanwhile looks set to continue its QLED strategy. It is likely that a range of Chinese brands will bring their first 8K models to CES, thus joining Samsung, LG and Sharp (who all showed 8K sets at IFA).

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