CES 2020 Trends Recap

A deep dive into the five key trends we observed from the show floors and beyond

Richard Yao
IPG Media Lab


Last week, we kicked off a new decade of innovations with another CES in Las Vegas, where over 4,500 exhibitors showed off their latest products and services to 175,000 attendees from all over the world. From the spacious brand activations in the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) to the overcrowded Eureka Park, where hopeful startups rent out tiny booths to promote their inventions, the Lab team walked them all to bring you the biggest trends from the largest tech show on earth.

While some have lamented that CES 2020 offered nothing particularly new to see — and they may be right to a certain degree, — a deeper look reveals some new trends emerging from the show floors this year that should intrigue brands and marketers alike.

Streaming Wars Expand Beyond TV

Delta is extending the viewing window of its in-flight content

While CES used to be all about consumer electronics, in recent years it has seen an increased presence of media companies. This year, as the streaming wars escalate and spill over into the tech domain, its impact reverberated throughout CES.

The shift towards streaming has resulted in more content than any human can possibly consume. In this Still-Peaking TV world, cross-category integrations can help content stand out. For example, the team behind Avatar collaborated with Mercedes-Benz to develop a futuristic concept vehicle that embodies the unique aesthetics and eco-conscious message of the movie. The resulting earned media likely directed some Disney+ subscribers to rewatch the movie for the first time in a decade. Considering there are three Avatar sequels in development, Disney is no doubt using this cross-category collaboration as a way to re-engage their fan base.

The streaming wars are also expanding into non-traditional media channels. We found out that Amazon’s Fire TV OS is being integrated into the backseat screen of BMW and Fiat-Chrysler vehicles. Chinese electric vehicle brand Byton also announced partnerships with ViacomCBS, Accuweather, and Garmin to bring content to cars to populate massive 48-inch screens with content and services.

Outside connected cars, content is also taking to the skies. Delta announced during its keynote they will be upgrading its in-flight entertainment system, and will allow travelers to stream Delta-sourced content — which often includes movies before they’re available for streaming — from the moment they check into a flight. By extending the content window, Delta can leverage entertainment as a loss leader to drive consideration and capture value elsewhere in its ecosystem, which is a smart strategy that stands out against the ongoing trend of airlines scaling back on in-flight entertainment.

Quibi, the upcoming short-form video subscription service, took the keynote stage on Wednesday to share some details of their game plan and made a strong case for its mobile-native content strategy and video platform. For brands looking to advertise on Quibi, who has claimed to have sold out its first year of ad inventory, it would be smart to wait and see if Quibi can overcome the adoption hurdle of convincing users to pay $5 a month for short-form video content, which has so far been widely available for free on platforms like YouTube and TikTok.

The impact of mobile video was also reflected in the Samsung booth, which featured a dazzling array of new TVs as usual. One unique product is the Sero TV concept, which can rotate between horizontal and portrait mode to accommodate all types of video content, including vertical videos. While we are unlikely to be buying rotating TVs any time soon, it is indicative of the rise of vertical video on mobile and the increasing need for brands to have vertical brand assets.

Elsewhere during CES, Verizon announced it will start moving away from bundling the home internet and cable TV via annual contracts and allow consumers to choose their services a la carte on a monthly subscription basis instead. This move reflects the ongoing cord-cutting trend as more and more U.S. households transition to streaming services as their primary source of entertainment content. By getting rid of bundles and annual contracts, Verizon is smartly responding to the increasing consumer demand for choice and flexibility and betting on a more user-friendly experience to compete against other telecom companies.

For brands, the spoils of the streaming wars mean more non-traditional media channels to reach your audiences and cut through the over-saturated content space to ensure that your brand messages stand out. The increasing mobile video consumption is also starting to spill over to other non-mobile channels, making it imperative that companies should get their vertical brand assets, be it still images, videos, or even 3D objects for product previews in AR, in order to engage with today’s omnichannel consumers.

Ambient Computing Enters Smart Home

Haier’s Shift is a tech-powered, personalized design that transforms a single living space in real-time

At this CES, while voice-enabled devices had a strong showing as in previous years, it has become abundantly clear that some companies have started to explore the next frontier for smart home technology beyond voice. Connected devices are getting smarter, and soon they will be able to handle certain things without users having to give explicit commands. Many connected home and IoT companies at CES experimented with ambient computing, which applies computer vision and predictive analytics powered by AI to anticipate the needs of users and act accordingly.

For example, Panasonic demonstrated its new smart home concept that uses micro-location technology within a home or office, which is able to sense which room people are in. They also plan to add biometric sensors to detect users’ body temperature and heart rates so that their smart home system can adjust the room temperature and lighting to make the ambiance more comfortable. Similarly, Haier, a Chinese home appliance company that acquired GE Appliances, showed off a new kitchen concept called Shift, which adapts the height and other layout features based on who is in the room using facial recognition and presence detection. Samsung also unveiled its smart home robot Ballie — a BB-8-inspired, sphero-shaped robot that will automatically follow you around the home and uses computer vision to adjust your smart home setting for you.

Beyond the smart home, the rise of “hearable” devices — voice-based wearables — was also well represented at CES 2020. There was no shortage of AirPods knockoffs on the show floors, as Jabra, Panasonic, and many, many other established brands and startups all rushed out their own take on connected wireless headphones or earbuds. Interestingly, some startups in the Eureka Park took it one step further and turned the “Transparency Mode,” which selectively amplifies certain sounds in the environment, into an accessibility feature for the hearing imparied, thus underlining the versatility of hearable devices.

As AirPods continue to gain popularity, expect more lower-market competitors to pop up and expand the user base for wireless headphones with voice assistant integrations, setting the stage for audio-based ambient computing on personal devices. This deluge of hearables was expected when we wrote about the release of AirPod Pro last year, and what we saw at CES confirmed that there is a keen interest from the tech companies to establish smart headphones and earbuds as a new touchpoint for voice-enabled services. The increased access to voice assistants on the go would likely lead to more usage outside the home, thus allowing brands to activate an often neglected audio dimension in AR to deliver contextually relevant information.

Altogether, these two aspects of ambient computing — both at home and in our ears — showcase just how much the future of IoT utility depends on the advancement of AI. For brand marketers, this emerging trend is at its early stages, so there is not much to do at the moment. However, it is never too early to start thinking about how your brand can activate branded experience beyond voice interfaces at home and facilitate a seamless user experience to deliver value, while also starting to tinker with audio AR experiences for the increasing number of hearable users to reach them in new contexts.

An unrelated but noteworthy area of development in smart homes is the development of hydroponics and home gardens. Both Samsung and LG debuted concepts for in-door gardening, either on the kitchen counter or as an added compartment to the smart fridge. Haier also unveiled a series of hydroponic and aeroponic products under the Home Grown brand which imagines a future of “counter to table” food. Food and grocery brands should watch this emerging trend of home-grown food sources monitored by smart appliances.

Full Speed on EVs and Micro-Mobility Concepts

Huyndai x Uber = flying taxis by 2023?

Some joked that CES has become half a tech gadget show and half an auto show, and this trend continued to persist — to the surprise of no one. The North Hall of the LVCC was once again taken over by auto brands, as prominent automakers showed the latest auto tech and the coolest concept models. As with previous years, the key trends of electrification and autonomous vehicles continued with full speed, along with a couple of noteworthy newcomers in the adjacent spaces as well.

The electric vehicles (EVs) have undoubtedly arrived, evidenced by the fact that every OEM on the show floor showing at least one EV concept. Nissan unveiled its new Ariya EV and an zero-emission ice cream truck, while Jeep showed off an EV Wrangler concept that is confirmed for launch later this year. Even Sony surprised the crowd with a concept car designed to show off how their technologies can be integrated inside a car. Research from the IEA forecast that EVs will reach 30% of the global consumer vehicle market by 2030, and what we saw at CES certainly showed the auto brands are gearing up for the shift.

Despite the strong growth prospective and general market availability, however, the reality is that mainstream adoption of EV will be a gradual process due to the long upgrade cycle of consumer vehicles, their relatively higher prices, and most importantly, the lack of charging infrastructure that supports easy and ubiquitous refueling. One solution to that is the Electrify America charging network that Volkswagen is developing with a handful of EV makers, but scaling the solution will likely take years. Until then, EV will have to rely on government incentives to push them into mainstream consciousness.

Similar to the increased EV presence, autonomous driving concepts were also abound. From Audi’s Intelligence Experience system, to Honda’s AR-enhanced driving assistance system, to MobileEye’s ADAS solutions developed in partnership with BMW and Fiat Chrysler, there are plenty of autonomous vehicles, or rather, AV concepts, in various levels of development on display. Nissan even demonstrated its Lane Assist capabilities with an autonomous golf ball. While Level 4 and Level 5 autonomous cars are unlikely to reach wide acceptance by 2030, there should be a rapid growth for Level 2 and Level 3 autonomous cars, which have advanced driver assistance systems, like collision detection, lane departure warning, and adaptive cruise control.

Drawing our attention to the future of mobility services, many auto brands also brought out new, futuristic micro-mobility concepts to drum up excitement. Innovations in micro-mobility form flourished with various scooters, bikes, and other experimental mobility solutions that will cover any type of trip someone needs to make in the future. Toyota returned with an ambitious Woven City concept it is developing in Japan that will feature a family of e-palette AVs including delivery robots mini-palette, a new passenger AV concept called LQ, and walking area battery-powered EVs for pedestrian use.

And because this is CES, eye-catching drones and flying car concepts continue to take up an increasing amount of space, despite low market viability at the moment. Hyundai debuted their personal air vehicle and accompanying flying car program, designed to free up space in crowded urban areas. They also announced a partnership with Uber, with plans to bring flying taxis to select cities by 2023 — an ambitious goal that will heavily depend on regulatory approval and infrastructure development. Similarly, Bell Helicopters is back after last year’s show-stopping exhibition to show off new models, building simulators, and electric charging infrastructure for passenger drones.

Mobility concepts based on car-sharing and ride-sharing were also a popular topic amongst automakers such as Honda, Ford, and the aforementioned Toyota’s Woven City concept. Delta brought up its Lyft partnership to reinforce its commitment to build a seamless, multimodal travel experience.

Additionally, Delta also unveiled an exciting “parallel reality” display it is developing with a startup partner called Misapplied Sciences, which created a display technology that can allow one display to show individually different content, such as boarding information for different flights, to up to one hundred viewers simultaneously. Delta didn’t go into the technical specifics of how this display manages to achieve that, but did confidently announce it will start testing this type of special displays at Detroit’s Metropolitan Airport this summer. If this scales successfully, it could have interesting implications for the future of digital billboards and dynamic targeting in digital OOH advertising.

Also adjacent to the auto innovation space, Amazon showed up to highlight their strategic efforts in the auto space, which included Alexa, auto sales, and transportation experiences. Their partnership with car dealerships allow AWS to provide manufacturers access to first-party data on the car buying journey, in exchange for data generated for Amazon on car-type which would provide cross-selling and advertising opportunities. Amazon has also partnered with ExxonMobil to allow Alexa-enabled cars to pay via Amazon Pay at the pump.

Specialized Digital Health Products In Ascendance

Glutrac uses AI algorithms to measure blood sugar levels without pricking your finger

This year, the digital health and wellness sector continued to have a strong showing at the upper level of the Sands Expo. The overarching trend of consumerization of healthcare persisted as digital health products continue to explore niche use cases and offer novel solutions to common problems. For example, Glutrac debuted a smartwatch that uses AI algorithms to measure blood sugar levels without pricking your finger. Withings latest smartwatch can check if you suffer from sleep apnea, in addition to other standard biometric monitoring.

The miniaturization of medical examination devices also continues to facilitate remote medical care. For instance, MedWand showed a medical device that enables remote examinations across multiple diagnostics, including ECG, blood oxygen, and heartbeat monitors. Most virtual visits conducted in the growing telemedicine sector are conducted via video and feature few exam capabilities, but MedWand aims to expand access to medical care for all.

Walking through the digital health sector this year, it was also evident that the companies in this space have collectively decided to zoom in on the two most vulnerable demographics — babies and seniors, perhaps for the sake of an easy sell for new parents and concerned children of aging parents. There were smart diapers made for babies and elders, while AARP, a rather unexpected presence at CES, set up a sizable booth to showcase tech-infused tools designed for senior care. For example, the HomeFit AR app can scan a room and reference AARP’s HomeFit guide to discover what improvements can be made to turn the house into a “lifelong home” devoid of high safety and mobility risks.

In addition, we also spotted many household product brands coming into the consumer IoT space. P&G set up an eye-catching booth to show off their research and development efforts across personal care and home care. The Oral-B iO is equipped with smart sensors that provide brushing feedback, such as the right level of pressure, and an AI-based guide that leads customers through a 2-minute brushing session with 3D tracking. And the Opte is a handheld skincare device that uses LED lights, and integrated digital camera, color algorithm and micro printer to scan, detect, and correct hyper-pigmentation while dispensing a custom blend of serum one-billionth of a liter at a time.

Curiously, connected dental care was also a noticeable trend that many brands jumped on this year. Besides the aforementioned Oral-B iO, Colgate also set up a booth to demo its new Plaqueless Pro toothbrush, which features new optic sensor technology that can detect plaque in the mouth so that it can be removed while brushing. Both Oral-B and Colgate are also incorporating mobile AR experiences to gamify teeth-brushing and make it more fun and engaging for kids.

Of course, all the talk of connected devices can’t avoid the topic of rising privacy concerns, which we’ll get into in the next section. But in terms of digital health, it is particularly notable that the increasing scrutiny over data privacy has effectively reduced the number of DNA-related healthcare startups on the show floor this year. One remaining example is DNA Nudge, which collects DNA via a one-time cheek swab and stores it locally on a smart wristband that can then detect foods you should or should not eat based on what works with your genetic makeup, thus bypassing the privacy concerns by not uploading and sharing your DNA data.

For brands in the healthcare and wellness space, these emerging trends signal new points of entry to connect with consumers. It is time to explore at-home healthcare and wellness services to add value through convenience, engaging experiences, and utility-driven functions. The consumerization of healthcare under the influence of digital health will continue apace, and it is up to brands to keep up with the changing need of the increasingly health-conscious consumers.

5G and Privacy Discussion Take a Backseat

The chief privacy officers from Apple and Facebook on the same panel, and it was as awkward as you imagined

After years of banging on the 5G drum and hyping up its potential to transform industries, most exhibitors at this year’s CES were noticeably a lot quieter about 5G just as it started to become commercially available. As it turns out, it is a lot harder to talk about 5G now that it is no longer just a theoretical concept, but rather something that consumers will expect brands to deliver viable products with.

At CES, Samsung, Huawei and Lenovo are among the few exhibitors that showcased 5G-ready smartphones and laptops, whose costly prices and limited functional upgrades at the moment will deter most consumers from purchase. Nearly all smart home device makers chose to side-step 5G altogether as they wait for consumer adoption to pick up, and work out the right use cases to justify the increased cost of adding 5G components and the corresponding upgrade. It is important that brand marketers separate the 5G hype from the reality of commercial availability for now.

Interestingly, the lack of 5G products may also have to take into consideration the regional disparity of 5G availability. In some parts of the APAC region, such as in parts of China, Japan, and South Korea, 5G rollout has been ahead of the U.S. and EU markets. For example, in Eureka Park, the Seoul city government showed off their 5G-powered smart city concept, including an intelligent city platform that offers a real-time view of city services. Many U.S. wireless carriers previously set 2020 as an ambitious goal post for the commercial rollout of 5G, but that was before they were prohibited to use 5G equipment made by Huawei, a major supplier of 5G infrastructure components, on the grounds of national security. In a sense, the regional disparity reflects the nationalistic nature of the so-called global “5G race”.

Overall, the lack of 5G presence at CES this year shows the tech industry adjusting its expectations towards 5G and getting down to work out its real-life applications viable products that they can deliver, which could take some time. In the meantime, marketers should look out for the 5G-ready iPhones that Apple is rumored to be releasing this fall to see if that will spark a sizable wave of user adoption.

Similarly, the topic of data privacy also felt largely absent from the show floors. Compared to last year, when the privacy discussion first gained momentum among panelists and attendees, this year’s conversation was a little quieter, yet more nuanced. Ring, maker of home security cameras, came to CES not only to talk about their new products, but also to unveil their new privacy dashboard feature. Even Apple, a company that has famously avoided CES, sent its privacy chief to a roundtable panel to reaffirm their commitment to protecting user privacy. Privacy is no longer a talking point; it has become an operational necessity for all companies.

The fundamental problem here is not if digital advertising is to blame, but rather how our data practices need to evolve in order to ensure it provides value to consumers without exploitation and manipulation. The impending rollout of the CCPA will likely prompt other states to follow suit with similar regulations, if not one at the federal level. At CES, there seemed to be strong motivation across the industry to get a consistent and transparent privacy law in place.

Once again, CES showcased the latest innovations and gave us a preview of what’s on the horizon. It has become evidently clear that technology has not only impacted every aspect of our daily lives as consumers, it is also opening up new access points that a lot of brands are seizing to improve their customer experience and deliver value.

Once again, CES showcased the latest innovations and gave us a preview of what’s on the horizon. Overall, CES showed us that the right solution to the unintended consequences of technology is not to swear it off altogether, but to make it more suitable for us. The same user-first principle applies to brand marketing as well — technologies only become innovations when they are successfully applied to serve customers and deliver better brand experiences.