By adaptive - January 9th, 2017

Smartphones and tablets were relegated to the backwaters in Las Vegas, as fancy cars and voice assistants took center stage. Andrew Tolve reports.

In the news


Nearly 200,000 people descended on Las Vegas for the hottest mobile trends, gadgets and gizmos at the annual Consumer Electronics Show. Amazon Alexa came out on top. The voice assistant was so pervasive at CES2017 that it felt like she had been a prerequisite for the 3800 exhibitors, to see who could integrate her most seamlessly into their technology. She popped up on Whirlpool washers, dryers, fridges and ovens. She was there on Huawei’s Mate 9 smartphone and Ford’s Sync 3 AppLink, allowing drivers to control everything from their cars to their smart homes all from a tap of a button on a steering wheel. She was there on Klipsch’s Dot speaker as well, enabling listeners to pick tracks and control volume with their voices alone. The list goes on.


Alexa’s ubiquity at the show reveals that we’re fast approaching a tipping point for the primary way we interact with our mobile devices, from our fingers to our voices. 2017 will be the year your thumbs start to get a little worried about their impending irrelevance. All the other voice assistants out there, from Apple Siri to Samsung Viv to Microsoft Cortana, will start to get a little worried too. They aren’t irrelevant yet, far from it, but Amazon’s decision to openly share its voice assistant with any developer who wants to integrate it has vaulted Amazon into the front-runner position in the voice assistant market, which is estimated to hit $3.6 billion by 2020. 


Other show highlights


Connected cars have featured more prominently at CES each of the past three years. This year they felt like Alexa’s co-hosts of the show. Among the carmakers who presented concept cars that integrated impressive digital tech were Honda, BMW, Toyota and Volkswagen. In-dash infotainment screens were sprinkled throughout the exhibition floor; so too were self-driving cars from the likes of Delphi, Hyundai and Nvidia. 


The most flashy debut came from Faraday Future, which unveiled its first production-ready electric vehicle, the Faraday Future FF 91. The car is so stacked with touch screens in its interior that it feels like a NASA mission control center. In place of keys are facial recognition cameras. In place of door handles are motorized doors with sensors that know when you want to get in or out. In place of rear and side view mirrors are HD cameras. In place of a driver is, well, no driver. The car is promising autonomous features that surpass Tesla’s AutoPilot when it hits the market in 2018.


Google teamed up with Panasonic and Qualcomm to debut a standalone Android infotainment platform for cars. This is a step up from Android Auto, which simply mirrors a smartphone’s display on a car screen. The new solution is a complete system that carmakers can customize however they please. They can also use it as a way to future-proof their cockpits, since the platform will run on the latest Android operating system, for now Android  7.0 Nougat.


Ford revealed that it’s experimenting with wireless charging for its electric vehicles, and Dell debuted a two-in-one computer called the Latitude 7285 that wirelessly charges on a charging pad mounted on the desk. Then there was Energous and its long-range wireless charging solution called WattUp. Energous announced a host of partnerships with consumer tech and medical device companies at the show, suggesting that within a year or two traditional chargers may feel as obsolete as those dusty CDs you’re holding onto for no good reason.


Speaking of wireless, TPCast unveiled a tiny gizmo that hooks onto the HTC Vive virtual reality device and turns it into a wireless headset. That means no more being hooked to a chord like a dog to a leash while you interact with your virtual content. Users will be able to wear the Vive and draw content from their PCs just like smartphone-based VR devices do. Retail is set for $215.


ODG exhibited a pair of smartglasses called the R-8 and R-9. Weighing in at just under 4.5 ounces, these devices are the lightweight counterpoint to all those big VR headsets out there, yet they still allow users to check out movies, sports, gaming, navigation and news articles and books all through a pair of augmented reality and virtual reality lenses. The only difference between the R-8 and R-9 is field of view (40 degrees for the R-8, 50 degrees for the R-9).


The Internet of Things pushed into an even greater array of devices, from the comfy to the corky. The Sleep Number 360 smart bed uses biometric sensors to adjust the mattress for optimal comfort throughout the night. If someone’s snoring, it tweaks their position to make them stop. If their feet are cold, it warms them up. If it’s the optimal moment in their sleep cycle to wake up, it triggers an alarm. Finally, it sends full breakdowns of a night’s sleep to a smartphone for reflection.


Kérastase debuted the world’s first ever (and perhaps last) smart hairbrush. It’s called the Hair Coach, and it was developed in collaboration with L’Oréal’s Research and Innovation Technology Incubator. The brush features advanced sensors and signal analysis algorithms to score the quality of hair and monitor the effects of different hair care routines. An accompanying mobile app provides additional insights and customized product recommendations to help people better care for their hair. Retail is set for the modest $200.


Finally, to end on a much more functional note, French startup Dring debuted the world's first smart cane. The device allows caretakers to digitally locate a user no matter where he or she goes and to track whether they’ve fallen or are in distress. Similarly, French startup Gaspard demoed a smart pad that sits in a wheelchair (think of it like a brilliant whoopee cushion) and gives users detailed information about their position and posture. It also helps to gamify rehabilitation, providing goals and milestones to track on a smartphone.


The Mobile Digest is a biweekly lowdown on the world of mobile, combining Open Mobile Media analysis with information from industry press releases.


Andrew Tolve is a regular contributor to Open Mobile Media.

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