It’s been 4 years since neXt Curve last attended a CES event in person largely due to the Global Pandemic. Since, the global behemoth of the consumer electronics industry became a shell of itself. The virtual and hybrid versions of what was a high-touch event lacked the substance that CES veterans were used to pre-Pandemic.
Despite the concerns of a lackluster turnout of exhibitors and attendees, CES 2023 proved to deliver enough or at least the best that it could. Maybe this year’s event was a reflection of the times. We live in an increasingly deglobalizing world divided by increasingly acerbic geopolitics where trust in electronics and data are not as global as they used to be.
Nevertheless, a busy show for neXt Curve. A good show.
Our research agenda for CES 2023 focused on the following themes:
- Automotive (Infotainment & ADAS)
- XR/AR/VR and Immersive Media Technologies
- Smart Home Products & Services
- Conversational Assistants and Voice AI
- Electric Mobility & Transportation
- Personal Computing & Wearables
- Remote & Smarter Health & Fitness
- Sensor & Haptic Technologies
Here are neXt Curve’s key takeaways and highlights from CTA’s CES 2023.
TAKEAWAY 1 – South Korean presence and innovation dominates
It was undeniable, the South Korean companies and startups make their presence known and represented at this year’s CES event. Samsung and LG Electronics had they usual exhibit citadels packed full of leadership products across a multitude of electronics categories from 8K foldable/rollable TVs to a wide range of IoT devices for the home.
This might have come as a lesser surprise given the much lighter attendance of Chinese firm. In past years, Chinese companies were present in growing numbers with brands such as Hisense, Haier, and a galaxy of Shenzhen startups made their presence known.
The deepest impression was made by the overwhelming number of Korean startups. They were everywhere from Eureka Park to the 2023 Innovation Awards list. A surprising number of what we would consider pivotal technologies and applications were from Korean startups such as LetinAR with their innovative PinMirror technology for compact AR optic and Advanced View that has develop a microLED with potential use in AR devices and other compact applications requiring an ultra-compact display.
It was impossible to argue that the South Koreans were present and representing some of the best innovations across every imaginable category. However, they were glaringly missing from the Consumer Technology Association’s (CTA) list of “Innovation Champion” countries. Makes you wonder what kind of criteria was used to determine which countries should be recognized with such lacking diversity. It’s a result and oversight that the CTA should contemplate next year.
TAKEAWAY 2 – Cross-device and platform interoperability has its day
Outside of the Apple ecosystem, interoperability and cross-device, cross-platform experiences tend to be disconnected, fragmented, and user unfriendly. Ironically, due to a multitude of walled gardens, be it Google’s Android or Chrome, or Microsoft’s Windows, platform diversity in the non-Apple ecosphere translates into lack of seamless experiences and workflows for the users which has come to characterize the non-Apple experience.
Microsoft, Samsung, and Lenovo showcased their answer to the continuity challenge between your smartphone and your Windows PC. Hands down, Lenovo’s Think 2 Think feature stood out as an elegant solution to a glaring and irksome deficiency in the cross-platform, cross-device experience in a Windows-trying-to-play-nice-with-Android world. Lenovo demonstrated how workflows and content can be seamlessly and fluidly integrated between their new ThinkPhone and an X1 that they showcased at their exhibit at the Milo’s restaurant at the Venetian.
The smart home has suffered the same lack-of-interoperability plight as the non-Apple personal computing universe. Home IoT has struggled with a seemingly boundless range of protocols that have make it difficult for home hubs to deliver a unified experience to the homeowner.
To the rescue – Matter. The long-awaited IP-based standard that promises to unify smart home tech made its debut at CES 2023. Matter support was apparent at the Amazon Experience zone where they announced Alexa Ambient Home support for Matter. With support from the big players in home IoT such as Apple, Google, Amazon, Huawei, Schneider, and CSA (Connectivity Standards Alliance formerly Zigbee Alliance), Matter will undoubtedly make traction as new devices are introduced into the market and older hubs are upgraded to support the new standard.
Despite Matter its promised benefits of interoperability, it will not be a magic bullet for “brown field” smart homes outfitted with devices and/or hubs that do not support Matter. We agree with Schneider Electric’s CTO of Home and Distribution, Sitao Ma. Introducing interoperability into most existing smart homes will not be easy and will require clever options for a Matter-based modernization.
TAKEAWAY 3 – Big semiconductor brands take a pass
It was pretty shocking to not see a massive Nvidia, AMD, or Intel exhibit booth or what is often a citadel within one of the LVCC convention halls. The large name semiconductor houses were nearly absent opting for hospitality suites and 1-on-1 engagements with customers, press, and analysts.
Qualcomm was a bit of an exception making their presence known in the new LVCC West Hall that was dedicated to automotive as was NXP with their trademark tent situated in the plaza across from of the LVCC Central Hall. MobileEye, which Intel spun off in October of 2022, was situated next to Qualcomm. That was about it in terms of the marquee brands.
Lisa Su, CEO of AMD, did represent and kicked off one of the Day 0 press day keynotes introducing the company’s new line of processors. She also waxed poetic about the new age of adaptive AI architectures in the PC world as they adopt mobile computing paradigms.
She announced the new Ryzen 7040 series based on TSMC’s 4nm (2nd generation 5nm) process technology which she claimed could handle some workloads up to 34% faster than the year-old M1 Pro. Just a week later, Apple announced their M2 Pro and Max processors based on TSMC’s 4nm process. We will wait for the Apple-to-AMD benchmark results of the latest chips from both chip design leaders based on the same generation process technology.
TAKEAWAY 4 – Automotive hits puberty at CES
Everyone was talking about how CES 2023 was about the car. Not necessarily true. There was more about the car in 2019 when CES started to attract automakers to show off the latest and greatest in vehicular tech applications and designs. At the time, the most impressive showcases were Toyota’s e-Pallete which riffed off of the excitement at the time about autonomous vehicles and the forecasts that they would go mainstream by 2020. We have since learned that would not be the case.
This year, it was about Software-Defined Vehicles or SDVs. This is the new buzzword of the moment in the automotive world. Hyperscalers, not notably AWS, and semiconductor companies such as Qualcomm, NXP, and tier 1 suppliers such as Bosch are all jockeying for the sweet spot in the future SDV ecosystem.
Qualcomm captured the spotlight twice, once with their announcement of a win with the unexpected unveiling of a novel “digital vehicle” by a newly minted venture between Sony and Honda Motors called Sony Honda Mobility. According to Qualcomm CEO, Cristiano Amon, the car will be based on the Snapdragon Digital Chassis portfolio of SoCs which now includes their newly announced Flex Ride SoC.
It is quite obvious that there are a number of different architectures and approaches to SDV that are in play presenting automakers incumbent and emerging with a fragmented landscape of technologies, frameworks, tools, and applications to choose from.
We also had a chance to chat with ETAS, a group within Bosch focused on developing software, services, and tools that help their clients realize SDVs. A key takeaway from the discussion was the fact that there is not mature standard for SDV software and systems architecture. This is all in the works with a collaboration between COVESA and AUTOSAR announced in October of 2022 to jointly design SDV software standards and architecture.
For the moment, more entrants are putting their hats in the ring by the day in a crowded field occupied by tech-savvy incumbents and tier-1 suppliers who are looking to secure their future in the era of the software-defined vehicle. It’s going to get ugly.
Inevitably, the growing fragmentation in the technology landscape will need to be rationalized and reconciled over the next decade or so. For this reason, neXt Curve believes that automotive has only reached puberty in its digital evolution and has a long way to go before most of the vehicles on the road can benefit from SDV features and promises.
Though it got a little attention or notice, there was a massive increase in the presence of charging infrastructure and power management that had not been there back in 2019. Unexpected tenants filled a sizable section of the West Hall including Keysight Technologies known for test and measurement equipment were there to address the growing range of needs to configure, calibrate, and optimize infrastructure elements for charging and power distribution. We are going to keep an eye out on this domain as we believe it will be one of growing interest and importance as EV adoption continues globally.
TAKEAWAY 5 – Metaverse fizzles
While the session agendas taking place at the Aria where Digital Hollywood was hosting their mini event within CES was drenched in Metaverse talk, the nebulous and unproductive term didn’t rear its head much at all where we didn’t want to hear it. We didn’t hear much of it even in our exploration of the Metaverse section located in the LVCC Central Hall where Microsoft, which anointed itself the “Metaverse company” last year did little to justify this declaration at their booth this year. No sign of Hololens anywhere. Many of the companies that are deep enablers of “Metaverse” opted for more practical, dare we say reasonable, terms to talk about their technologies and what they do. Our favorite practical pivot was by Hugo Swart, GM of XR at Qualcomm, who opted for “spatial computing”, which we feel is a much more meaningful description of the immersive and perception technologies that Qualcomm is bringing to OEMs in creating the leading edge of personal computing experiences.
Qualcomm’s collaboration with Lenovo is a great example of how the company is enabling innovation at the leading edge of XR exemplified by the ThinkReality VRX headset. The novel headset that is still in development is a showcase of the Snapdragon portfolio of XR tech and tools from SoCs to Spaces SDK.
While we agree that VR is about as mature as it can be for the moment, AR has largely struggled to get out of the gate. In our analyst roundtable with Qualcomm, we suggested that the “industry” has been and continues to be too aspirational about AR. That could be the barrier, not technology.
So yes, Metaverse fizzling is a good thing. Now companies can about what they really do and how their products and services will make a difference rather than confuse everyone with aspirational science fiction.
TAKEAWAY 6 – Can system-oriented thinking saving IoT?
IoT, even consumer IoT has struggle largely because there has been a general lack of system-oriented thinking. The stack is commonly thought of as the software stack as opposed to the system stack. Furthermore, connectivity providers struggle with the software and device side of the IoT equation, which the endpoint device makers are frustrated with the fragmented landscape of connectivity. In other words, there is too much siloed thinking getting in the way of solution design.
Nowhere is this lack of system-oriented thinking more evident in the smart city discussion which has gone disappointingly nowhere. We still have the same vendors, systems integrators, and strategy consulting firms presenting the same bullet points on why smart city initiatives are so difficult from 2018 and earlier. Not much has changed.
On a more encouraging note, we are seeing companies like Blues Wireless coming to market with packaged stack IoT stack solutions that bundles hardware, software, and connectivity services together into a convenient, fast-to-market bundle. Given the buzz the company has been making in the IoT community and the crowded booth, the team at Blues Wireless may be on to something.
TAKEAWAY 7 – Generative AI is the next detrimental hype
There was no shortage of companies and startups looking to capitalize on the generative AI craze that hit like a tidal wave a month or two before CES. Most of what we observed were conversational AI companions that we had featured in our takes from 2018 connected to ChatGPT or a variation thereof.
Generative AI is not new. We have seen many AI technologies and applications hyped at CES in the past. In 2019, IBM, which has pioneered many of these advance language applications showcased Project Debater which has been in development since 2011.
Undoubtedly Generative AI technologies and the applications have gotten better since our initial coverage of conversational AI, but these applications have not been game-changing by any stretch of the imagination.
So, what is the big deal about the current hype and insanity about Generative AI? It boils down to broad public access to a technology that the vast majority of users don’t understand.
While there are instances where the various Generative AI applications have produced impressive outputs, there are more instances where it has produced unusable outputs that are simply useless.
It is inevitable that there will be misuses of Generative AI as the public gains more access to it and applications are built upon it promising outcomes and value that the technology simply can’t deliver.
We are looking forward to how this hype plays out in 2023.
In short, it was good to be back at CES without as much worry about the global Coronavirus pandemic that has soured this and so many other industry events and trade shows.
How far have we come? Not that far. 8K TVs are still impractical and won’t be going mainstream as many of the assumptions for its transcendence have not panned out in the past four years. This has been the case for many other categories of electronics such as the conversation AI companions, which seemed to be a promising next step for the now lackluster smart speaker.
Automotive is indisputably the category of excitement. It will continue to shift toward power infrastructure and the battle for SDV vendor superiority either supplanting or complementing automakers who have made CES into an event for their industry.
We didn’t hear much about 5G, Metaverse, or much about IoT. Yes, surprisingly less focus on tech buzzwords (with the exception of Generative AI and ChatGPT), and a notable focus on value. This may be a result of a more challenging market and global economic environment. For certain, exhibitors were much more judicious in their investment in their presence at CES. Unintended but positive outcome? For neXt Curve, refreshing. We love it when companies focus on their identity, their products, and customer value rather than hype.
No CES event recap would be complete without neXt Curve’s top picks. There are always so many candidates to consider and choose from. Our top picks this year among the 2023 CES Innovation Award winners were:
- Vuzix – Ultralite AR Smart Glasses Platform, from a long-time player in AR seeking establish an entry point into consumer and industrial AR with a compact and practical design framework and philosophy.
- Hyundai Korea Shipbuilding – Hi-Electric Propulsion System or EPS for their novel hybrid propulsion design for one of the biggest CO2 emitters, ships.
- Samsung Electronics – 1 TB Samsung Automotive SSD. Cars don’t just need fast, reliable processors, they need fast reliable storage.
Congrats to our top picks for CES 2023!
Many thanks to all the companies that spent time briefing neXt Curve at CES 2023 and contributing to our research and analysis:
- Blues Wireless
- Magic Leap
- Wind River
- Quectel Wireless
- Amazon for Automotive
- Hyundai Mobis
Associated neXt Curve Media
- neXt Curve CES 2023 vLog – Day 0 (link)
- neXt Curve CES 2023 vLog – Day 1 (link)
- neXt Curve CES 2023 vLog – Day 2 (link)
- neXt Curve CES 2023 vLog – Day 3 (link)
- neXt Curve CES 2023 vLog – Eureka Park (link)
Recommended Media & Press Releases
- Sony – Sony Honda Mobility New Brand AFEELA Announced
Prototype Unveiled at CES® 2023 (link)
- Qualcomm – Qualcomm concept car – Maserati demonstrates next-gen safety and infotainment (link)
- Nvidia – Foxconn Partners With NVIDIA to Build Automated Electric Vehicles (link)
- Intel – Intel Extends Performance Leadership with World’s Fastest Mobile Processor (link)