2018 Preview: Five issues to watch closely at CES and beyond

CES 2018
Image credit: James Mattil / Shutterstock.com

With CES 2018 now underway in Las Vegas, here are my Top 5 issues that are likely to prevail at the event, and indeed for the rest of 2018.

Artificial intelligence hype, of course

I expect artificial intelligence to get top billing again this year as the both the hype and the flow of capital show no sign of abating. Consequently, 2018 is likely to be a year of more feverish investment and hype, making it more important than ever to separate real AI from those that are simply using statistics.

The three big AI problems remain mainly unsolved and RFM has concluded that progress in 2017 was very slow despite plenty of noise being made to the contrary.

I have no doubt that AI will become crucial for ecosystems trying to differentiate their Digital Life services from one another and the gap between the haves and the have nots is widening. Google has distanced itself further from its competitors and in my opinion remains by far the leader in this field.

Digital assistant battle escalates

The battle of the digital assistants is likely to heat up this year and Google is clearly determined not to repeat the own goals of 2017 that allowed Amazon to dominate the market with an inferior product.

Signs of this are everywhere at CES with the Las Vegas Conference Center and the casino monorail fully decked out with entreaties to use Google Assistant. Last year Google was nowhere to be seen at CES. But this year I am hoping to see the results of its H2 2017 efforts through the inclusion of Google Assistant support by smaller developers in their smart home products and services.

Although Amazon dominates the market for devices, it is capturing only a tiny fraction of the voice requests, as 91% of users that interact via voice use a smartphone compared to 17% that use smart speakers.

Data is the life blood of AI and the data strongly suggests that Google is collecting far more than Amazon thereby ensuring that Google Assistant will continue to distance itself from Amazon Alexa in terms of ability. If Google manages to close the gap in smart home this year, I think that this will put Amazon on the back foot and on a trajectory towards losing the smart home to Google.

Bezels, folds and the race to the bottom

Bezel-less screens have become table stakes at the high end of the smartphone market, meaning that 2018 will see this feature increasingly moving into the mid-range.

Samsung created the bezel-less market just like it did for large screens, and now it must now look for something else. The issue is that the Android user experience suffers from serious shortcomings compared to iOS, meaning that it must offer other features to compete at the iPhone price point.

Samsung has had foldable screens for some considerable time, but poor yield and a lack of interest has meant that they have never been launched. I have long seen the potential for foldable screens, as a tablet form factor that can be folded away and slid into a pocket has the capacity to fundamentally alter both the tablet and laptop markets.

2018 may be the year that Samsung feels ready to finally launch this as its options in terms of maintaining differentiation in an increasingly crowded bezel-less market are looking thin.

The car infotainment experience will still be terrible

The theme of digitization in the automobile is in full swing, but 2018 is likely to be another year where hopes and dreams substantially outstrip reality.

RFM’s analysis has shown that OEMs and Tier 1s have not really digested the degree of change that is required for them to remain major players in their own industry. For example, by locking the development cycle of the infotainment unit to the rest of the vehicle, the industry has ensured that units for which users pay thousands of dollars for are four to five years out of date and hopelessly outclassed by $150 smartphones.

This, combined with the almost universally awful user experience offered by automotive infotainment units, puts the OEMs at risk of becoming also-rans in their own industry. It also leaves the door wide open for ambitious newcomers like Byton, which has launched an EV and Digital Life experience which shows some signs of having been given a lot of thought to the experience issues plaguing the vehicle.

VR/AR/wearables – only one looks promising

With the exception of AR, very little is likely to change for both virtual reality and wearables in 2018 as the issues that hold them back remain unresolved.

Wearables are still a solution looking for a problem, while the health use case continues to be limited by the quality and reliability of the sensors that they use. Hence, wearables will still be a recreational health and fitness market where users soon tire of their devices and consign them to cluttered junk drawers. I would still be placing all of my attention on the companies that are working on making medical grade sensors that are both cheap and reliable to wake this segment from its slumbers.

I still see no real use case for VR beyond high-end gaming and events as the technical issues of cables, nausea and so on are still being worked on. This leaves AR which I think is going to have a good year in the enterprise, where the user experience matters less and the productivity use cases for AR are numerous and demonstrable. This is why many AR companies have pivoted towards the enterprise, leaving Magic Leap as one of the few that is left struggling along in consumer AR.

This article was originally published at RadioFreeMobile

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