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CES 2024: The Hidden Gems for the Enterprise
There is an old parable about a group of blind men and an elephant, where each person touches a different part of the elephant and comes away with a completely different description of the same thing. That’s what comes to mind as I assemble my thoughts about CES 2024. I’ve been attending this conference for nearly thirty years at this point. It was about fifteen years ago when I sadly concluded that a single person can’t “see the conference” in the same way one can see many other conferences on my annual schedule. At Enterprise Connect, InfoComm, NAB and others, attendees can reasonably expect to walk through all of the exhibits, attend some of the keynotes and even some of the sessions; at CES it’s impossible to take in all of the conference areas over the course of the week – it’s just too enormous. One has to carefully select the exhibitors, events, sessions and venues that are most important to him or her, and stick to that plan. What this means is that one hundred people can attend the conference and come back with one hundred different perspectives on what was important there. That is why reading about one person’s perspective may reveal vastly different opinions from those of another. It’s also why, if you didn’t attend CES yourself, it’s important that you read more than one article on the subject.
My personal attending strategy over the last few years has been to ignore the largest exhibitors and press conferences, as they will likely be on line and heavily covered by others, and instead look for the hidden gems. I found quite a few this year that I’ll happily share.
Overall Trends And Themes
The biggest theme at CES 2024 was clearly Artificial Intelligence. AI was everywhere. To quote a fellow analyst on the subject, “75% of the AI talk is just hype and BS, but the 25% that isn’t is pretty stunning.”
All of the buzzword bingo on AI boils down to data – specifically how devices and systems are becoming capable of collecting and analyzing data and then acting upon it. Robots – which have been at CES for at least a dozen years – now can analyze their environment and human behavior and adapt to meet perceived needs thanks to an infusion of AI. These AI-enhanced robots range from vacuums that map your home and observe your habits and work when they are not in your way, to autonomous personal assistants that can wake you up, start your appliances, fix your technology issues (and hopefully observe Asimov's three laws of robotics.) While a number of AI applications were highly touted by some industry observers, others included them on their “worst of show” lists, citing grave security and privacy concerns. Ultimately, from a high level, there was nothing new to learn about AI at this conference that industry observers didn’t already know.
The CTA research team also highlighted two other big trends during their opening presentation – sustainability and inclusivity, both of which are undeniably responsible for millions in investments and many new products and services. The examples of this range from Samsung’s commitment to use recycled ocean plastics in their TV components to Google supporting the “right to repair” laws so that their phones and other devices are not quite so disposable.
One more trend to mention is XR/AR/VR. I’m on-record stating that XR technologies will never be widely adopted by consumers, as had been predicted by others. Time and time again consumers have shown that they will not put on glasses during their normal daily lives - not for 3DTVs, not for playing games, not for having virtual conferences. Whether it was Abbot Labs’ initiative to get more people donating blood, or historical tours showing what used to be at a landmark site, or even construction workers seeing what technology and conduits are just behind the walls, XR looks like it is finally finding worthwhile applications.
It is also important to highlight that health tech sector, with some standout products and companies, is leading this exploding category. We’ve all seen the video of a banana being stitched-back-up remotely. Any remote surgery will likely involve XR technology allowing the surgeon to look around naturally as if the patient – or perhaps banana – is right there in the room with him or her.
My Pick Hits And Hidden Gems
What I’m presenting below is a small list of things you likely haven’t heard about that may affect our lives and industry, along with links to their websites and/or the video demo/update I posted while at CES 2024. (Note: I have no financial interest in any of these companies, and they have not paid for this coverage in any way.)
- Clean Earth Magnets: The permanent magnets used in audio devices and electric vehicles are generally based on Neodymium (Nd-Fe-B) or Samarium Cobalt (SmCo), are sourced exclusively from China, and are referred to as “Rare Earth Magnets.” A new company called Niron Magnetics has developed a process to produce a permanent magnet using Iron and Nitrogen – they call it a Clean Earth Magnet. As they scale their production with a number of business and government partners this will disrupt the current single-source of these materials.
- Invisible Hearing Assistance: Luxotica (a firm that owns the production of the majority of the worlds glasses under other names like Ray-Ban, Oakley and more) has developed a frame for prescription glasses that has an embedded microphone array and tiny speakers. It allows people with mild to moderate hearing loss to wear an assistive device without those around them being aware. Here is my update from CES covering it. That demonstration video shows an individual in a meeting room listening in 360 mode, which would make videoconferences and in-person meetings more accessible to those with hearing loss – with none of the associated stigmas.
- Broadcast Bluetooth: The Bluetooth Sig announced the details of their Auracast system, which allows one-to-many Bluetooth transmissions with nearly zero latency. That means the transmissions can be in parallel with live PA sound. It will help with assistive listening, but also with applications as simple as going into a sports restaurant and being able to pick the TV / game you want to listen to, or walking around a MUCH quieter industry event where exhibitors could share demonstrations with sound without blowing-out the ears of other nearby booths. Here is my update from CES covering it.
- Advanced Center Of Table Videoconferencing: As I’ve mentioned in my 2024 predictions, I believe many industry innovations will come from smaller companies you may not have heard of. There are some terrific new COT videoconferencing products from a company called Kandao. Here is my update from CES with their brief demo.
- True Eye-Contact With Through-The-Screen Camera: A new company called Veeo showed a stunning and innovative process that shoots a camera through the center of an LG transparent screen, then electronically removes the distortion and interference that the camera picks-up from the display. The result is clean, crisp videoconferencing with true eye contact, not eye-contact faked with some AI algorithm. Here is my update from CES with their brief demo.
- Simultaneous Translation: TimeKettle showed their new X1 Interpreter Hub. It has multiple modes including wearers with earbuds, audio out of the base-station’s speaker, displayed titles on the base-station, and the entire unit works as a VOIP telephony device to have simultaneously translated calls.
- Blurring The Lines Between Consumer / Pro Audio: Klipsch showed a series of new speakers – like their new Music City Series and some other party speakers that blur the lines between consumer and pro in ways that have never been done before. Many of these devices can be battery operated, come with microphones for PA use, and can be wirelessly connected to add audio to larger spaces.
- Private Open Audio: Ceiling mounted sound devices have existed for many years that enable one to hear audio when directly under them but not to the sides. That same directed audio technology has now been miniaturized and incorporated into headsets by a division of NTT called NTT Sonority. They’ve created a line of open-ear headphones in multiple styles that allow the wearer to hear their environment, and hear the audio from the headsets at the same time, but are not audible to anyone else – not even if they are standing close to the wearer. Here is my update from CES with their demo.
It is clear that we are still in an era when innovation is alive and well – it just may not come from the biggest companies anymore.