CES 2017 highlights power shift from desktop to smartphone

Peter Guest

As usual visitors to the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2017) in Las Vegas were wowed by numerous weird and wonderful gadgets or innovations. Excitement was not confined to new wave devices, with the South Korean duumvirate of LG and Samsung creating waves with their latest top end TVs, based respectively on the related OLED and QLED display technologies. That apart, the stage was stolen by personal robots, voice driven assistants and the smart home, while the connected car was overtaken by its sequel, the autonomous vehicle. These developments all in turn relied on advances in AI (Artificial Intelligence), particularly robotics and intelligent voice processing, but it took visitors a little longer to note that all this in turn hinged on mobility. Indeed the smart phone itself was the unsung hero of CES 2017 lurking behind the various innovations. There was also a stronger focus on agile working, exploiting mobility to allow employees to be productive while away from the office, improving work/life balance.

It is the smartphone’s ubiquity, accounting for roughly half of the world’s total 4.3 mobile phone users according to eMarketer, which ensures it will be the hub of personal communications and emerging IoT (Internet of Things) services. Mobile technology in general underpinned almost every innovation on view at CES 2017 with the technology of the smart phone incorporated in the devices themselves. The word smart popped up everywhere as a prefix for devices in all categories and was associated with the communications, sensing and location based features that had already been developed and proven in smartphones.

So while all the headlines were grabbed by novel devices, the underlying story was one of a shift in the long standing balance of power within the consumer electronics industry away from traditional fixed systems such as desk top PCs towards devices with embedded mobile connectivity. This in turn favors those chipset manufactures or designers such as Broadcom, Qualcomm and ARM which dominate that area, as opposed to Intel and AMD (Advanced Micro Devices), which have been more heavily steeped in traditional desk top and enterprise systems, although more recently of course expanding into the mobile arena as well. Indeed the organizers of CES, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), presented a very revealing slide from its recently published research at  CES 2017, showing that smartphones now account for 47% of the global digital technology market, which also includes IT, photography, general consumer electronics and other areas of telecoms. By contrast the whole telecom sector including smart phones only took 33% of the total digital technology market back in 2012, with smartphones likely less than half of that then.

As the CTA pointed out, this means that inevitably, out of scale economies, the smart phone is now calling the shots when it comes to research and development, driving the technology for processors, memory, batteries and the various sensors embodied in the devices. Further evidence of this trend at CES 2017 came from Qualcomm with its new premium Snapdragon 835 processor, which was the first major SoC (System on Chip) to be designed from the outset for emerging devices like smart glasses, as well as mobile phones. The idea here is that future mobile processors will support a range of devices with an emphasis on small footprint and energy efficiency, utilizing like Snapdragon 835 the latest small form 10 nm semiconductor fabrication process.

Meanwhile for MNOs, device makers and others in the mobile ecosystem this is clearly good news. But it begs the question of how to harness the inexorable advance of mobility and the smartphone in particular for high revenues services.

AI has emerged clearly as a key high growth technology area that everyone in the mobile ecosystem must embrace. This has been widely recognized by analysts, with market intelligence firm Tractica forecasting the global market for AI will grow from over 50 fold from $643.7 million in 2016 to $36.8 billion by 2025.

It was significant that an acceleration in voice recognition technology is behind such bullish forecasts, enabling AI applications to interface with consumers effectively. On this front, there was only one winner at CES 2017, Amazon’s Alexa, much to the chagrin of Google, Apple, Microsoft and other major Internet players. This reflects how Amazon has been faster than others to combine its voice assistant technology with other aspects of AI within its platform and bake them hard into relevant consumer electronics devices such as its Echo multimedia speaker family, billed of course as a smart music system.

It was notable at CES 2017 how Alexa based control is already being integrated into relevant consumer electronics systems, including home appliances developed by both General Electric and Whirlpool Corporation for either local or remote setting. The Alexa virtual assistant is also incorporated into Hyundai’s Blue Link connected car app, enabling the vehicle to be started and heating or aircon turned on remotely.

One other emerging trend worth noting from CES 2017 was that providers of different IoT devices or services are starting to collaborate over interoperability, heralding a future integrated IoT universe where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. For example, an Internet-connected smart smoke alarm from French maker of IoT devices Netatmo is now being combined with Velux Active Windows. This allows Velux windows to be opened automatically when a Netatmo sensor detects that air quality has deteriorated.

Such emerging applications require reliable data service, increasingly on an international basis. As the smart home expands and becomes more joined up, users will want continual access to IoT services wherever they are. Mobile data services will become ever more heterogenous, combining local and remote communications and rely more on intelligent analytics both to ensure QoS is maintained and keep track of changing track profiles as well as user behaviors. We will hear more about these implications of the trends emerging from CES at Mobile World Congress 2017, where Globetouch will be demonstrating how our cloud based ecosystem can underpin all these emerging services centered on mobility or the smartphone.

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