CES 2021

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CES 2021 – the Consumer Electronics Show usually sets the tone at the start of the year for consumer-oriented technology. It usually fills up Las Vegas’ hotels and conference facilities.

CES 2021 went online only. Like attending online conferencing the experience was lacking. Networking and informal conversations aren’t something that technology has managed to solve.

Consumer electronics manufacturers didn’t let the virtual nature of CES 2021 put them off though. LG and Samsung went gangbusters rolling out new products. One can understand their enthusiasm based on CTA research for US TV sales in 2020:

Televisions: Households channeled discretionary dollars into upgrading TVs in a record-setting year for shipments in 2020. CTA expects steady demand for displays in 2021 as TVs remain the centerpiece for entertainment in homes. Television shipments will drop 8% to 43 million units in 2021, the second-highest volume on record, while revenues will decline just 1% to $22 billion. Growth areas for TVs in 2021 include sets over 70-inches (3.3 million units, up 6%) and 8K Ultra High-Definition TVs (1.7 million units, up 300%).

U.S. Tech Industry Revenue to Jump 4.3% in 2021 After Record Year in 2020, Says CTA

According Parks Associates, smart TVs were the most popular devices for streaming content. This has been on the rise since 2018. This offers a business opportunity for TV manufacturers and also a potential point of differentiation.

2101 - CES 2021
Based on research by Park Associates

TV vendors were looking at differentiating their products from the increasing amount of competition.

Looking at the change in TV design; where there is less distinction from the display technology, cabinet or frame design, even OS (with Android) has become commoditised – new sources of differentiation become important.

LG has been soldiering on with with version 6 of webOS, originally derived from Palm’s attempt to meld HTML 5 web service based apps on top of Linux during the mid to late noughties. (It was also interesting that Samsung didn’t do a similar thing with their Tizen OS; which is derived work done by Intel and Nokia on Linux for mobile and consumer electronics applications.)

Google Duo tried to get a jump on Zoom by having support in smart TVs. TVs were found to be supporting multiple voice assistants which implies that there has been a stalemate amongst the major players. Whether or not that will result in voice service customer us promiscuity in the home is an interesting question.

On the hardware front, Japanese manufacturers Sony & Panasonic were promoting the use of onboard machine learning to optimise image processing in real time.

SWAS – screen with a subscription

LG expanded its support of content streaming services to include streaming games platforms. Looking at the Parks Associates data, one can understand why they think that the games console market is ripe for disruption.

Samsung looked to get into the digital art market, with subscription based imagery available on its Lifestyle TV line, which look like a picture frame when off. This is only three decades after Bill Gates Xanadu 2.0 home was filled with digital art. He patented the e-picture hanging in 2003.

Samsung has gone into coopetition with Peloton with new functionality within the Samsung Health function on its TVs. But also integrating with the fitness training service. The camera and machine learning provides guidance and advice on form for exercisers. This mirrors where Apple has gone with its fitness offerings that are included in the Apple One subscription.

Sony doubled down on its content business with the Bravia CORE streaming service for its top of the range TVs. A few things with this announcement:

  • CORE uses up to 118Mbits/sec for ‘IMAX enhanced’ content
  • It is initially only a 2-year project, which implies that it might be a reaction to COVID limited box office numbers rather than an ongoing Netflix killer

It is also interesting that Sony is still hamstrung by its different lines of business and hasn’t launched a streaming games service in its TVs for fear of cannibalising PlayStation sales.

Other revenue streams on screen

LG Shop Time 2.0 built on the Shop Time app launched late last year. ShopTime allows you to buy what you see on screen with 1-click in partnership with the Home Shopping Network. Korea has a large TV shopping culture, with mobile commerce and TV experience integration, so this move seems to be a logical progression.

TV shopping integration with m-commerce - QR code
Picture I took on a trip to Ulsan in 2012, TV home shopping integrated with mobile commerce by scanning QRcode to buy item currently being sold on the show.

However the launch of Shop Time 2.0 is a decade on from the pioneering work by Japanese media house Girlwalker; that mixed live and streamed entertainment with 1-click shopping. Their Tokyo Girls Collection and Shibuya Girls Collection events set the standard in this kind of retail experience.

Samsung TV Plus focused on new targeted advertising capabilities with its own DSP and DMP solution. Ad tracking provides a record of everything that you watch on TV for better ad targeting.

SWAS and the other revenue streams change the game for TV manufacturers at CES 2021. Previously, a TV was once in a decade purchase. Now manufacturers have the opportunity in the upfront purchase and in multiple recurring revenue streams. The increased amount of technology in the devices, implies an expectation of faster upgrade cycles. However device security and data privacy still don’t seem to be issues on the radar of TV manufacturers.

AIoT – artificial intelligence of things

In the same way that fuzzy logic made its way into consumer electronics from rice cookers and cameras to lifts, connected machine learning is now taking a similar path with variable results. Machine learning seemed to feature in CTA Innovation Award Honorees across categories at CES 2021.

The COVID-19 factor

CES 2021 itself went virtual because of the pandemic. And two trends became apparent. Machines replaced service staff with devices like an autonomous shopping trolley that would follow the consumer around a supermarket. The second was disinfection, with UV light used as a the go-to germ-killing technique. LG had a number of robots for aiding in hotel room service functions such as delivering items including food packages. There was also a bot for sterilising empty rooms with UV. Accessories company Targus won an award for its UV-C desktop disinfection lamp.

More information

U.S. Tech Industry Revenue to Jump 4.3% in 2021 After Record Year in 2020, Says CTA

CES 2021: TV Brands Seek Differentiation Amid Competition – Park Associates

Technology autopsies – renaissance chambara – on the long suffering webOS

Gates patents e-picture hanging | ZDNet

Sony’s new Bravia CORE streaming service goes big on IMAX Enhanced movies – What HiFi

Use Your LG TV to Make Purchases Directly From Popular Video Retailers QVC, HSN and Others – Yahoo! Finance

Tokyo Girls collection: shopping with a Japanese mobile twist – renaissance chambara

A few thoughts on innovation – renaissance chambara – primer on fuzzy logic

CES Innovation Awards