And so it begins again! According to my badge, it’s at least my 5th year at CES. Perhaps it’s been more, I’m honestly not sure. I’ll trust what they say though.
CES – The Consumer Electronics Show – Is the biggest and baddest ass gadget show on earth. Held roughly the first week of January each year in Las Vegas, it attracts hundreds of thousands of people, and thousands of companies are exhibiting. It stretches across not one, but two full convention centers here in Las Vegas. Of course, historically the show has been known for TV’s and related. But in the last few years fitness has found its place in the show.
In fact, these days fitness/health/sport device companies take up an entire exhibition hall of their own. It’s sprawling and continues to grow. Of course, we’ll see a wide variety of devices from companies this year, both majors and previously unheard of companies. But more on that in a second.
Any company that wants to succeed in the tech space is at CES. Period.
If a company is making a consumer electronics product, and they aren’t at CES in either a public or private manner – I’ll go out on a limb and say they’ll fail. Not because they need to present or exhibit at CES, but because it helps them understand the market and their competitors. I’ve talked to two startup companies over the last few weeks (who are just starting to ship products in a major market area) that aren’t going, even privately. Boggles my mind. This is where everyone is: Media, retailers, investors, distributors, analysts…everyone.
Which isn’t to say you need to have a booth. Far from it. Many companies (even major ones like Microsoft and Apple) have private suites hidden off the show floor. Those can be just as successful since they target high-value people to have discussions in a more private setting. Additionally, other companies will walk the show floor sans-booth, effectively presenting as needed on the fly. Also totally logical. But staying home altogether? A recipe for failure.
Note that I’m not saying companies like Quarq or PowerTap need to be here, they don’t intersect with the greater consumer electronics scene so much that it would matter (it’s a waste of time for them). But companies making wearables, general fitness/health sensors, consumer drones, action cams, etc… all should be here. If not, it’s a telling sign that they misunderstand the market.
The Rough Schedule:
The week ahead is looking pretty nuts as always. Here’s the rough rundown of how the show is structured:
Tuesday: Media-only events, various private events not on the show floor, demo’s outside of town, wrapping up with the CES Unveiled event at the end of the day (media-only). Generally speaking, companies at CES Unveiled will announce things that day. Versus companies at Pepcom (below) will announce things on Wednesday.
Wednesday: Tons more media-only events, the start of various announcements. Huge media-only event Wednesday evening with Pepcom (aka Digital Experience). Companies showing products at that event will have announced sometime that day. I don’t see a public listing of companies this year on a site anywhere to link to, though the PDF on that site for CES gives you the gist of companies from past years.
Thursday-Sunday: Show floor opens to public, craziness ensures. Many tens of thousands of steps per day walked.
This year is all awkward having the show on Thursday through Sunday. So companies are struggling a bit to find their stride on announcements. You’ll see some minor announcements come out Tuesday, with it growing on Wednesday, and everything announced by Thursday morning. There won’t typically be new announcements beyond Thursday morning, but of course I (like all media outlets), will still be catching up with companies over all the days.
In general, you’ll see major sports tech announcements show up here on the blog the second (literally) the embargo lifts. While more minor ones will be spread out over the full set of show-floor days.
(For those curious why my badge says Houston, it’s just where my US forwarding box is located.)
What to Expect:
When I look at the week ahead, here’s where I expect most of the announcements that I’ll care about to be focused on:
Wearables: Obviously, wearables will continue to be big. Optical HR sensors in watches are now considered baseline, and GPS appears to be on track to be standard issue for almost anything above $150. We’ll probably still see some outliers here on the GPS front of course. Additionally, we’re going to see a stronger divide between reasonably priced GPS devices, and this newer class of crazy-expensive GPS multisport devices (i.e. $500-$800 GPS watches). We’ll see a few companies tout new Android Wear 2.0 devices, but I get the feeling many companies aren’t sold on the idea yet – and are hedging bets at the moment. This year will be sink or swim for Android Wear as a platform.
I expect overall though we’ll see a strong set of new devices from a wide variety of manufacturers. However, I don’t think we’ll see anything earth shattering in terms of new features. I see this year as more of an evolutionary upgrade year, rather than a revolutionary one.
Sleep & Heart Rate Data: If I had a dollar for every heart-rate driven press release I got this past month… HR data is the new orange. Everyone wants to do something with it, yet not everyone can back up their claims or ideas. You’ll see terms like ‘Big data’ and ‘AI’ thrown about here, but none of it means anything. It’s just buzz words right now for most companies. Some of these products are absurdly expensive, to the point I wonder if they even sell more than a few dozen units to real consumers. And yet others may make good hardware, but fail at software. I can’t emphasize enough how important having a cohesive picture is here.
Running Efficiency Metrics: Another area that everyone wants to get into. Probably half a dozen or more devices have been floated over the last few weeks as ways to measure running efficiency. A fraction of these companies will survive. They must understand that their success is at this time *not* focusing on beginner runners, but rather more advanced runners. But to do that they’re going to have to prove their worth. Beginner runners simply don’t care enough to spend serious bucks on this tech. Some of these companies are also positioning themselves to be acquired, but what they also don’t understand is that the majors can do this type of tech by themselves (and already do). I wouldn’t want to be a company in this area.
Action Cams: You won’t see any new GoPro camera announcements here (except maybe commercial stuff), since that all happened this fall. Instead, you’ll see other brands, mostly lesser known ones. I suspect the one to watch may be DJI, to see if they take the jump into their own action camera lineup. Others like Nikon, Sony, and Ricoh all made announcements this fall in this realm, so it’s unlikely we’ll see advancements there. We will however see more companies dive into 360° action cams, but unless it’s a 4K image, it’s just not worth it.
Drone use in sports: We’ve seen this expand a ton over the last year, especially as companies have matured from Kickstarter entities into legit companies (i.e. Airdog). At the same time, we’ve also seen other crowd funded companies flutter around (i.e. Lily), and yet others die altogether (i.e. Zano). I suspect we’ll see plenty of lesser-known Asian brands demo their goods at the show, but it’s unlikely many of these will gain traction in North American/European consumer markets.
Everything else: Of course, outside of these categories there’ll be a few other random items as well that might interest me – such as sleep tracking and anything else that’s fitness related. But what you won’t see here is stuff on TV’s or the like. I’m keeping it sport/fitness/health focused, with a healthy dose of action camera goodness on the side.
A Bit of Assistance!
Of course, as much as I’d love to be able to visit all 3,800 exhibitors myself, I’ll likely only be able to tackle 3,613 before the show floor closes. As such, like past years I’ve enrolled some assistance to scoop up all the CES goodness related to sports/fitness/action cams.
For the past two years I had Randy Cantu helping me out on the show floor. Unfortunately, this year his real-life work schedule didn’t jive with the event. The good news is he’s still behind the scenes editing my posts as always (well, at least when I manage to give him more than 38 seconds of advance notice). He’s helped to take my generally unintelligible rambling thoughts and make sure they made sense for you. Of course, I’m an editor’s nightmare in that I often click publish and then ask to have it edited. Still, he does a bang-up job of getting things all cleaned up, regardless of my timing.
But this year on the show floor I’ve got Tyler Ross with me. I’ve known Tyler for years, where ironically I was one of his interviewers on his interview circuit into the tech company I was working for. We were looking for the best candidate available. Regrettably, that person wasn’t available – so we picked Tyler instead. But actually, he had started reading the blog prior to meeting at the interview, which is kinda funny.
Since then he’s become immersed not just in tech, but also in sport. He’s completed the famous Beach2Battleship triathlon, as well as other running events. And is squeezing in training for a 70.3 later in the year, in between his full-time job in tech, as well as grad school. But mostly, he’s a gadget guy through and through.
For this week he’s putting in the miles on the show floor focusing a fair bit on action cams and related products, as well as various tangential things to sport and fitness that make CES unique and wonderful. That includes photographing and writing up pieces just like me. You can always see who wrote what just at the top of each post. And if I have a ‘Ray’s take’ on things – I’ll note that in the post.
With that – let’s get ready for a busy week! If you’ve got any special requests for companies to check out (or specific questions for companies that aren’t support-related), definitely drop a note below and I’ll be sure one of us can swing by them.