Zeno Thinks: Why the headlines on CES don’t show the full picture
For the world of technology, early January is always a busy time. As vendors, analysts, media and more flock to Las Vegas for CES, those back at home are inundated with headlines on the latest innovations. And it’s not just traditional technology brands making the trip – car manufacturers, retailers and more now use the event to shout about where they’re using digital platforms to improve their products and services.
Naturally, the focus of CES always sees good representation for the trending technologies of the moment. In recent years we've seen innovations highlight new metaverse products and the internet of (every)thing. As with last year, 2024’s event continued the theme of AI in everything: from connected personalised lipstick and AI-informed shoes, to robots and smart fridges.
But many have pointed out that CES doesn’t always reflect reality, and the technologies showcased in Vegas often don’t make their way into our lives. While the metaverse was much-hyped in 2022, conversations are considerably lower than they were at their peak, and we’re not living in virtual worlds in the way many predicted at the time. For CES, this poses a big question: is the event still a good barometer for what’s to come in the year ahead?
More than ever, this year's event has shown that trying to attach yourself to the hype can be dangerous. Cynical media have rolled their eyes at some exciting launches because they’re seen to be sitting in the AI bubble. And some of the more important news can get overshadowed by more frivolous applications (hello AI lipsticks).
Sifting through the hype, what were the top trends coming out of CES this year?
- The practicalities of AI: beyond the gimmicks, the most meaningful AI news came from the launches that many of us would never see; products that will speed up development and make it easier for AI’s benefits to be realised. The big chipmakers launched semiconductors that help laptops run generative AI platforms on the device (rather than via connecting to the cloud) and allow vehicles to integrate AI into their on-board software. Retailers also got in on the action, adding AI-powered search functions to help shoppers save time when planning for events - just search 'football watch party' and your basket will be filled with crisps, dips and even widescreen TVs. With many of these launches applying to behind-the-scenes technology, it could be some time before we see the real impact of CES on AI applications.
- Sustainability remains a priority: with a big focus on new hardware, the industry is aware of the environmental impact a swathe of product launches could have. Brands were discussing how they're reducing the carbon footprint of supply chains through recycled and sustainable products, as well as how their own technologies could help consumers be more green. AI played a big part here – using insights to make more environmentally-friendly decisions. Increasing electric vehicle adoption was also a big theme at the event, with much discussion on both the sustainability of the vehicles themselves but also more efficiency in products like tyres, removing some of the barriers to increased uptake.
- New screen concepts: while most people continue to rely on traditional screens for their work and personal lives, the volume of launches of new screen technologies at CES indicates that this might not be for much longer. From transparent displays that minimise the impact TVs have while not in use to new foldable concepts for phones and monitors, we'll see more products launched that challenge our typical setups. The key now is to show how these aren’t just eye-catching designs and that they have some benefits in the real world.
- Practical applications for augmented reality (AR): AR has long been a technology that looks interesting but needs concrete use cases to encourage adoption. We could be reaching a tipping point this year. Launches included AR headsets for use while driving, to help with directions and safety updates without needing to look away from the road, as well as lighter versions of previously clunky headsets that make them more practical for everyday use.
The biggest lesson from this year’s CES was that practicality is the key to cutting through. With media increasingly cynical about the volume of launches that hook onto the latest trending technology, brands need to work harder to stand themselves apart from forgettable gimmicks. For the year ahead, CES has shown that the AI conversation shows no signs of quietening. In fact, many of the launches shown this week will take a while to trickle down into our lives, which is when they'll become the basis for even more innovation.