CES 2023 Trend Recap
Must-know innovation trends in auto, smart home, digital health, and more, as seen on the CES show floors
CES had a lot to prove this year. After going fully virtual in 2021 and opting for a hybrid model last year, the world’s biggest consumer tech event was gearing up for a full-scale comeback this year — the official slogan for this CES was “Be in it” and the event expanded its footprint into the brand new West Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center.
The concerted push for in-person attendance worked, but only to a degree. The CTA (the organization responsible for CES) reported an in-person attendance of 115,000 this year, higher than what the CTA hoped for, and doubling the number of in-person attendees last year. Still, this fell way short of the 175,000 pre-pandemic attendees in 2019, and is indicative of a “wait-and-see” hesitance among exhibitors and attendees. The lack of truly groundbreaking innovations or breakthrough products on the show floors this year also made it a rather awkward year of in-between.
That said, this CES is far from being simply iterative. If anything, it showed us a sense of urgency and resilience among the tech companies and innovation-forward brands, following the bad news of poor stock performances and layoff announcements in recent months. Every sector within the tech and innovation space has recalibrated and refocused on more immediate, practical, and solvable matters, without losing sight of their long-term goals and industry trajectory.
Even the entertainment brands snuck some branded experiences onto the show floors this year, such as the Knock at the Cabin immersive experience that Canon created to promote the upcoming M. Night Shyamalan movie.
Here’s a sector-by-sector recap of the most important trends that the Lab team observed at CES this year.
Brands Rush to Build Out the EV Ecosystem
By Richard Yao
Walking through the auto sections of the CES show floors this year, one couldn’t help but marvel at the way in which electric vehicles (EVs) had completely taken over the mobility innovation space. Whether it was in-car dashboard innovation or EV charging solutions, the primary focus of the CES auto exhibitors had shifted from chasing the pipe dreams of autonomous vehicles to a far more practical and immediate goal — building an ecosystem to support the rapid transition to EVs. Affordable EVs made by emerging global automakers like Vinfast from Vietnam and Togg from Turkey were prominently featured, competing for attention with the shiny new EV models from legacy carmakers like BMW and Volkswagen.
Charging infrastructure is a big part of what will facilitate truly mainstream adoption of EVs, and unsurprisingly, it was a big focus for the auto exhibitors this year. Working with EV charging station provider ChargePoint, Mercedes plans to invest more than 1 billion euros to establish a global network of over 400 fast charging stations, starting in California and Nevada, which will be open to non-Mercedes EVs as well. Amazon also continued its push into the auto space with a partnership with charging station provider EVgo that allows drivers to easily locate and pay for charging using Alexa in compatible EVs, using the PlugShare API that contains a detailed map of EVgo chargers.
In addition to the developments in charging infrastructure, there was a renewed focus on conquering the dashboard operating system among the automakers, especially in the face of increased in-vehicle connectivity and cars emerging as the next new battleground for media time. This is a primary reason why an entertainment brand like Sony teamed up with Honda to unveil their joint EV brand, Afeela, which will leverage Sony’s experience with AI, entertainment, virtual reality, and augmented reality to present a unique EV experience. It will be interesting to see to what extent Sony will natively integrate PlayStation with the infotainment system of Afeela cars, both in terms of its user interface and access to PlayStation exclusive content.
In line with this rush to take control of the infotainment system against the encroachment of tech giants, Samsung announced its own smart car platform called Harman Ready Care; it will be used to sync music as well as communicate with its SmartThings home system. Earlier on Wednesday, LG revealed its own service pitched at car manufacturers, called Cockpit Computer. While both systems will compete with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, it seems unlikely that they will be able to challenge those two in-vehicle interfaces, due to their lack of integration with devices outside of the car.
Elsewhere on the auto show floor, there was an ostentatious showcase of autonomous trucks and industrial vehicles led by the likes of John Deere and Caterpillar. John Deere, for example, brought its show-stopping autonomous tractor to LVCC West; it leverages GPS guidance, stereo cameras, sensors, and AI technology to perform essential tasks on the farm without an operator, pointing to an automated future for agriculture. It is interesting to contrast this with the stalled progress on self-driving cars for passengers, and could be indicative of how autonomous driving technology may be rolled out in the enterprise market first in the near future.
Digital Health Everywhere With “Awareables”
Digital health tech typically has a sizable presence at CES, and this year was no different. In a departure from the past two years, Covid tech did not have a significant presence on the show floor (nor did masks, for that matter, never mind the latest highly-transmissible variant). Instead, we were offered an endless array of gadgets offering to track nearly every health metric you can think of — all synced to an insights-driven mobile app, of course — and evidence that the consumerization of healthcare is continuing apace.
If this sounds jaded, that’s because this year was largely a continuation of trends we’ve covered previously — namely, healthcare everywhere and the quantified self. One important aspect of the former has typically been telehealth; despite the decline in telehealth usage overall, there was still an emphasis on remote monitoring devices and the expanded access to care they can enable. VitalOn and MedWand both returned to CES to showcase their products that help people with disabilities or chronic conditions manage their healthcare remotely; VitalOn combines telecare, telehealth, and wellness capabilities into a single platform with always-on monitoring via several connected devices, while MedWand enables remote, clinically accurate vitals capture with a single all-in-one device.
Beyond these more clinical devices, health and wellness continued to be embedded into all aspects of the consumer journey, beyond the moments when a person might be thinking specifically about their health. LG, for example, forged a partnership with sleep tech startup Asleep that will allow LG’s smart home appliances to detect when a user is sleeping and adjust appliance settings accordingly. What’s important here is not just that our TVs or refrigerators could soon detect our sleep — though that technology is great for driving energy efficiency and for those of us who can only fall asleep to the soothing sounds of Rick Steves’ Europe — but rather the partnership between the two companies, and specifically Asleep’s Sleeptrack API, which measures sleep and can relay that data to products and services from other companies.
NuviLab, an AI healthcare startup, offered a similar proposition focusing on nutrition; its core product is an AI food scanner that allows a user to scan their food and receive nutrition information about what’s on their plate, a version of which the company is planning to offer as an API. These two examples reflect the opportunity for brands that are adjacent to health and wellness to integrate that into their offering, and capitalize on the trend of healthcare everywhere.
With consumers using connected health devices to track and generally gaining more control over their health, CES offered some interesting new form factors. Wearables have been a mainstay on the show floor for nearly a decade, and a smartwatch seems to lurk around practically every corner of the Venetian Expo, but one in particular caught our eye this year: NoWatch, a health-tracking watch (well, sort of) that uses a current to monitor metrics like blood pressure, stress, thinking level, and mood, as well as notify the user about their stress and emotion levels. The key difference between this and other smartwatches is that it neither tells time nor functions as a tiny smartphone: instead, the watch face is replaced by different materials. NoWatch refers to this device as an ”awareable” and its mission is to push back against overstimulation, anxiety, and stress that can come from a deluge of notifications.
Beyond wearables, the most interesting — or perhaps most headline-generating — health-tracking device on the show floor this year came from Withings. Withings typically comes to CES with sleek smartwatches and health trackers like its Body Scan smart scale from last year, but this year it upped the ante with U-Scan, an at-home, hands-free urine lab device that lives in your toilet. The U-Scan consists of a reader and a replaceable cartridge, with the cartridges measuring health metrics like pH levels, hydration, ketones, and vitamin C, as well as luteinizing hormone. At launch, its focus is on cycle and nutrition tracking, but the company plans to offer cartridges for additional functions in the future.
Despite the relative consistency of health tech at CES this year, we’re encouraged by changes in the broader healthcare landscape that suggest more radical innovations to come. The FDA’s recent ruling to create a new class of OTC hearing aids, for example, will likely serve as an impetus for adjacent tech companies to develop new products to serve that category, or to pursue new claims for their existing devices that tout their ability to act as a hearing aid (a recent study found that Apple’s AirPods Pro could serve as hearing aids for people with moderate to mild hearing loss, for instance). There are already a number of key players in this space — Eargo, for example, showcased its third generation of OTC hearing aids at CES this year. That said, changes like this will transform hearing aids, (and other accessibility devices) from a traditional medical device to more like a tech gadget for increased consumer access.
Smart Home & Kitchen Automation Embrace “Matter”
CES brought a renewed sense of energy and excitement to smart home ecosystems — from the launch of new interfaces to increased automation — and technology will continue to transform the home, especially the kitchen.
The hot topic for smart home this year was the universal connectivity protocol, Matter. While the Matter initiative was made public in 2019, it did not officially launch as the new interoperability standard for smart home devices until November 2022. The momentum of this recent launch fueled many conversations and innovations at CES, as it ensures greater industry collaboration, enhanced security, and most importantly, seamless interoperability among smart devices in the home.
The widespread adoption of Matter now allows smart devices (regardless of their developers or operating system) to connect with each other and communicate appropriate commands. This has created a new need for more sophisticated controls for smart home users. For example, consumers now have a range of options for how they issue commands, depending on the device — from voice assistants, to mobile apps, to control switches, and more. Until at-home technology becomes fully ambient, there needs to be a hub to simplify user control. This need ushered in many innovations and with it, the calling for smart home users to “embrace the interface.”
One specific innovation from the show floor for a Matter-powered home was the Mui Board Second Gen from Mui Labs. Mui Labs markets this as “calm technology” because rather than a typical screen, the natural interface is a literal piece of wood — it can be hung as art in the home — and it could potentially replace or complement other command entry points. Mui Labs is just one example of a potential future smart home that offers seamless actions and automation without the intrusion of additional screens.
Of course, given CES is known for flashy technology, there were many screens to highlight that will also transform smart home operations. First up, Samsung’s Bespoke 4-Door Flex refrigerator with Family Hub features a 32-inch touchscreen display combining communication, entertainment, and SmartThings services in one screen. This display is a hub to control Samsung’s SmartThings platform, including compatible smart devices. Beyond the benefits of seamless device control, the refrigerator acts as a personalized display for Google Photos, 190 Samsung TV channels, and even social media feeds.
Another kitchen innovation highlight at CES this year was the Samsung Bespoke AI Oven with the AI Pro Cooking settings that optimizes cooking. This oven recognizes 80 different dishes and ingredients and will recommend the appropriate cooking settings. Leveraging its internal camera, it has food recognition, burn detection, and even the ability to livestream the view inside the oven. This camera opens a world of creativity and content-sharing for both seasoned chefs or rising influencers. With many more people opting to cook at home post-pandemic, these types of emerging smart home technologies will continue to inspire everyday foodies with new behaviors and possibilities.
Overall, whether it’s for easier command or better cooking, embracing new interfaces in the home is the first step to unlocking seamless, and smarter, ways of living.
Creating the Perfect Vibes at Home
By Richard Yao
Another unmistakable trend emerging from the home tech space was the rise of digital sensorial experiences, particularly in terms of scents and ambient lighting. Dovetailing with wellness culture and the latest “soft life” trend, home appliance brands are leveraging connected devices from shower heads to wall decor to make sure your home remains “good vibes only.”
For example, Kohler unveiled a new Sprig shower head system that can turn your shower into an aromatherapy session by infusing the water stream with a combination of scents via various shower pods, like eucalyptus, chamomile, and lavender, as well as skincare ingredients like hyaluronic acid.
Meanwhile, Korean startup Scentpro took a function-driven approach with its latest SANDiS smart automatic diffuser, which offers various scents through four primary enhancing modes: focus, relax, exercise and sleep.
Ambiently synced lighting was also eye-catching on the smart home show floors. Brands like Nanoleaf and Govee both showcased their latest Matter-compatible products that can sync up the lighting with the other displays in the room. For example, Nanoleaf’s new 4D TV Smarter Kit comes with a camera pointed at your TV that allows the accompanying smart lightstrip to automatically change the color to match what is shown on the TV, thus expanding your home viewing into a truly immersive experience.
LG also launched a main character refrigerator featuring color-changing LED backlit panels, known as the MoodUp fridge. With over 190,000 color combinations and the ability to sync with Bluetooth speakers and correlate lights and music, it is guaranteed to re-energize the kitchen.
Looking forward, we could see more brands tap into this type of smart IoT and automation technology to create multi-sensory experiences for the home and beyond. As more and more devices come online, in the near future one might see similar experiences being expanded into cars and offices, or businesses like spas and gyms, to ensure the good vibes continue outside the bubble of our homes.
Gaming & VR Companies Get Real with the Metaverse
by Ryan Miller
As with every CES, there is always going to be some vaporware — gizmos and gadgets on the show floor that are unlikely to even work, let alone ship. Gaming, VR and the metaverse are perhaps the three territories most prone to this type of faux innovation, but our following picks are guaranteed to make it to market and significantly transform the way we engage in entertainment experiences.
Chipmaker Nvidia kicked off CES with its keynote on Tuesday evening, announcing a slew of updates regarding its 40-series GPUs (Graphics Processing Unit). (Good news — they no longer catch fire!) The highlight of the keynote was an announcement regarding its cloud gaming service GeForce NOW. Thanks to partnerships with Korean Hyundai Motor Group, Swedish EV brand Polestar, and Chinese automaker BYD, Nvidia will soon bring its cloud gaming service to new vehicles from these automakers, so that backseat passengers can look forward to plugging in at any point in their journey.
According to a March 2022 survey, only 18% of U.S. adults reported owning a VR headset. But, low adoption rate has yet to deter tech companies from coming up with new headsets. Prior to CES, Meta announced the Meta Quest Pro to usher in the next era of fidelity and functionality for virtual reality. At CES, HTC responded with the announcement of its Vive XR Elite, which will retail for $400 less than the Quest Pro. Despite the significant advantage in pricing, however, it seems that the new Vive headset is still being marketed primarily for business use cases like its predecessors, and it may take some convincing to get general consumers to drop the bucks on this iteration.
HTC was not the only one to show off new VR tech at CES. Though much of the conversation from Sony’s booth was centered on the aforementioned Afeela EV, the PSVR2 made a similar splash on the main stage. For starters, the PSVR2 retails for $500, a tremendous departure from the price of its rivals. Where Sony truly shines though is in game development; as one of the leading developers/publishers, Sony stands to build the strongest catalog of titles, and its long-standing relationship with other studios will certainly land them access to exclusives ahead of others in the market.
Armchair warriors have a few hardware announcements to note from CES 2023 as well. Razer is getting in on portable gaming action with the announcement of its Edge device. Unlike the Nintendo Switch or the SteamDeck, the Edge is powered by Google’s Android software, meaning that in order to play visually complex “console quality” games, players will need to rely on game streaming services like the $15 per month Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, $10 per month PlayStation Plus, or $10 per month Nvidia GeForce Now, all of which allow people to play video games in a similar way they stream movies on Netflix.
In spite of a solid showing of VR and gaming companies at CES, one related hot concept, the metaverse, came up short this year. Without category leaders like Roblox or Epic Games present, we were left with hardware companies grasping at the elusive concept without true use cases.
While there were at least a dozen companies and startups that incorporated virtual world-building into their sales pitch (most of which were concentrated in the startup-heavy Eureka Park section), few were actually able to present an interesting use case for the metaverse outside of its existing gaming and entertainment-oriented positioning. Beyond some half-baked attempts at leveraging virtual venues for industry-specific networking, such as the Surgiverse (for surgeons), it appeared that the tech industry is finally moving on from the initial metaverse frenzy and reassessing their metaverse strategy.
Want to Learn More?
If you’d like to learn more about the trends that emerged from this CES and their marketing implications, or simply to chat broadly about how to adapt to changing user behaviors and future-proof your brand strategies in 2023 and beyond, the Lab is here to help. You can start a conversation by reaching out to Josh Mallalieu (firstname.lastname@example.org).