Last week Las Vegas hosted one of the biggest technology events of the year, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). What can a consumer electronics show tell us about workplace technology? Though it has an obvious predominant consumer focus, the trends and technologies we see in the consumer space inform and impact workplace technology trends, both in the more immediate term and, particularly, in the longer term. One of the biggest impacts on the workplace – and IT departments – over the past decade has been the rapid pace of change in the consumer technology space and, along with it, employee demand for workplace technology to mirror the consumer experience. Keeping abreast of consumer trends and imagining how they may impact the workplace, whether as a directly useful technology or otherwise, is imperative. Plus, alongside the cool stuff there’s always something weird and wacky to be fascinated by at CES.

CTA Technology Trends

 

First up, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA – the folks behind CES) presented CES 2019 Tech Trends, helpfully summed up into 7 Trends to Watch by HubSpot:

  1. Even Smarter Homes
    Interoperability and intelligence
  2. Smart Speakers in More Places, With More Skills
    The increasing ubiquity of voice
  3. Smartwatches and More Intelligent Wearable Technology
    Including digital therapeutics and remote patient monitoring
  4. Self-Driving Cars and the Technology Inside of Them
    Another smart device
  5. Drones at Home and at Work
    Product delivery by drone increases
  6. Smarter, Bigger, Clearer Televisions
    8K television is coming
  7. Streaming Services Galore
    The huge shift in how people consume content continues

The potential workplace impacts are hinted at here: from a physical workspace perspective, greater use of sensors and other connected devices, for building and facilities management – these are already in use in many office buildings today, but the increase in interoperability and intelligence in the consumer space should be expected to translate, at least somewhat, into the corporate space as well. Perhaps we’ll see more smart fridges that can order more milk when it’s needed.

What might the rise of smart speakers – and the increasing ubiquity of voice – mean for us in the workplace? In an open plan office, everyone speaking to Google, Alexa or Siri to help them get work done? Better pack your headphones! What wearable technologies might become standard issue at more organisations? Will they be for employees, or will we see this mostly in the health and aged care spaces?

Certainly the streaming services trend (or, more accurately, continued growth trend) is interesting but not surprising. How it impacts the workplace may be more tangential than directly related to streaming entertainment: for example, we saw Aurea announce last year announce their move to Aurea Unlimited (previously known as Aurea Prime), a business model inspired by the Netflix model of consumption – paid access to a library from which you can then consume as much or as little as you like.

Overal CES Trends

Interesting Engineering has a great wrap-up piece from CES, CES 2019 Wrap-Up: Trends And Talks That Made The News. In it, their top trends from across the event have some similarities to those the CTA presented, with a few that diverge.

  • The Biggest Trend: Connectivity
  • Edge Computing is Becoming More Sophisticated
  • Curved Screens are the Next Big Thing
  • Mobility is Becoming More Autonomous Thanks to Smart Cities
  • We’re Still Waiting for The Breakout Consumer Robot
  • Quantum Computing is Almost Here, but Moore’s Law is Dead

These trends are ones to watch, particularly increasing developments in the areas of edge and quantum computing. They have the potential to have enormous impact in all aspects of our lives, though particularly with quantum computing we should beware the hype cycle as they climb towards their ‘peak of inflated expectations’.

Virtual Reality

A number of VR gadgets were on display at CES, with the types of features that might just (finally) push VR mainstream. Things like the 3DRudder for PlayStation VR which allows players to tilt and spin, the completely wireless Oculus Quest that untethers you, the NordicTrack VR Exercise Bike, and Cybershoes which slip over your regular shoes and transfer your movements into the game. There was also the Pico G2 4K, aimed at businesses, with its 4K internal screen resolution and lightweight design.

However, the standout device was the HTC Vive Pro Eye with its eye-tracking technology, allowing users to navigate by gaze. Though the Pico G2 4K is also aimed at business, the Vive has some obvious and immediate benefits in the workplace, particularly for users who need to keep their hands free as much as possible. They also presented it as a workplace tool from a different angle:

The Vive Pro Eye will even make workplace collaboration easier. Using the programs Vive Studio and Ovation, team members can utilize the eye tracking to ensure they’re viewing the same information as their colleagues – it’s like Google Docs for the future!

Will we all be wearing Vive Pro Eyes to collaborate in the next couple of years? Maybe not – but the possibilities are very interesting!

Robots

If you’ve been reading our Friday Faves series over the past couple of years, you’d have come across quite a lot of articles about robots. It should come as little surprise, then, that robots are a mainstay at CES these days – The Verge even wrote a quick pre-show piece on The five types of robots you meet at CES. While digital Trends looked at the cutest of the robots, CNET dated one, and there was some controversy over an incident between a Tesla and a robot – an incident that’s still unclear as to whether it was staged, or real – these are the robots of CES 2019:

  • Samsung Bot Care – offers “a healthier and more convenient life”
  • Samsung Bot Retail – designed to help customers in stores and shopping centres
  • Samsung Bot Air – an adaptive air purifier
  • UBTech Cruzr – primarily targeted at retail
  • UBTech Walker -“a free standing, free walking robot that can navigate around a home, retrieve items, open doors, and provide entertainment through its onboard speakers”
  • Temi – “a more streamlined version of a personal assistant bot”
  • Misty II – not a consumer robot, but rather aimed at developers, Misty II is being developed as a platform with the aim of democratising robotic development

Pet Tech

Have an office dog? Here at REG we have our dog employees Whoopi & Sansa to think about, so we’re always interested in advances in pet technology! Digital Trends put together their list of the best pet tech at CES 2019:

  • Pet Cube 2
    A smaller, more refined version of the Pet Cube, a camera for checking up on your pets while you’re not home
  • The Little Cat
    A “big hamster wheel for felines” with a built-in laser for attention and an app to set wheel positions from your phone
  • Wagz
    A doggy door that only opens when the sensor in your dog’s collar is nearby, so other animals (or small humans) can’t use the door to access your home
  • Basepaws Cat DNA Kit
    Want to know your cat’s breed? Now you can find out. It’ll also give you “important information about their ideal weight, potential health issues, and more”
  • LavvieBot Purrsong
    Basically a bot to clear your cat’s poop from its litter so you don’t have to. It moves it into a drawer which you can then remove and dump. There’s also an app that will tell you when the litter is getting low, and can even tell you about your cat’s toilet habits – if you’re inclined to check.
  • Inubox
    It’s not just cats who get self-clearing toilet spaces, this one is made for dogs.

Both the LavvieBot and the Inubox are enormous – and expensive – so while I’m all for the theory of less mess to clean up, I’m not sure how useful they are to most just yet.

There was plenty more at CES as well, including controversy over “booth babes” and the stripping of an award that had been granted to a sex toy. You can find CNET’s full coverage here, or check out Steven Sinofsky’s show wrap (note: it’s an estimated 46 minute read).


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