Cirrent Notes from CES

Published by Rob Conant January 29, 2018

CES is now deep in the rear-view mirror, we’re caught up on sleep, well engaged in our new partnerships, and the learnings from CES are starting to sink in.  At Cirrent our experience at CES is different than most attendees -- the Cirrent team at CES was in the booth with our partner Cypress, speaking at the Parks Connections event, hosting a tech day and a happy hour, and most of all deep in conversation with customers and partners at our suite at the Palazzo.  After 5 days, 55 customer and partner meetings and more than 1000 miles walked (!), we have a few takeaways to share:

1. The Consumer Electronics Show is becoming the Everything Show

A decade ago consumer electronics was a large, but specific and narrowly defined category.  You could find all sorts of products, but you couldn’t really find furniture, beauty products, or swimsuits. 

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Companies across a broad spectrum are recognizing the value of adding connectivity to their products and when they do, these become consumer electronics products. CES will continue to expand because the consumer electronics category is expanding to cover everything. In the same way that Amazon has become the everything store, CES is becoming the everything show. The problem will be that Las Vegas can’t scale the same way Amazon did.

2. Voice is the big emerging platform

The talk of CES last year was Alexa -- it seemed like every connected product was announcing an integration with Alexa. Google must have gotten the memo that voice is the next important platform, because they deployed a shock & awe campaign to put Google Home at the top of mind for CES attendees. None of us at Cirrent wanted to take the time to wait in line to try out the Google Home slot machine, but we all noticed how much money Google was investing to catch up in the fight for the next platform.

And I say “platform” knowing full well the implications of that word. While there is debate about whether voice is a platform or not, voice is clearly establishing itself as a viable user interface for connected products. There is an irony here: on one hand consumer electronics is expanding to engulf everything, and on the other hand we are seeing the technical complexity of these products fade into the background (see: Enchanted Objects). Everything is becoming “consumer electronics” and consumer electronics are disappearing at the same time. In the same way that Tim Cook (and before him Steve Jobs) shows how Apple is leading the “Post PC world”, Jeff Bezos and the Amazon team are ushering in the “Post Smartphone world”.

3. Product companies “get it”

We talked with more than 40 product companies, and more than ever before we heard talk of the importance of user experience, of frictionless user interfaces, and an expectation that connected products will be broadly adopted by mainstream customers. Companies recognize that products need to be easy to use and that the way things work today is still too complicated. The amount of focus on user experience was encouraging.

The companies are also thinking deeply about how connectivity and innovation can transform user experiences.  The door lock companies -- which have until now been driven by mechanical engineering, design, logistical complexity of managing hundreds of thousands of SKUs and interfacing with local building codes -- are building singular global connectivity platforms to enable new forms of access control like Amazon Key. Whitegoods manufacturers have watched the kitchen evolve from an isolated area where food is prepared to the gathering place of the home, and now they are thinking about how cooking -- including the social connections around cooking and food -- will evolve over the next decade.  It is a fascinating time for these companies -- connectivity is shaking up hundred-year-old companies and creating opportunities for their deep understanding of their consumers to really shine.

4. Network Operators are upping their game

Comcast continues to impress us with their drumbeat of innovation. Last year, in addition to partnering with Cirrent, Comcast introduced its xFi platform, bringing users elegant ways to manage their home Wi-Fi networks. This year Comcast, after the acquisition of Stringify earlier this year, announced an extended capability for xfinity subscribers to manage products in the home.  Comcast is doing a fantastic job of providing real innovation to bring capabilities to a broad range of the population; remember -- they serve not just the tech-savvy, but mainstream consumers!

Other network operators are also eager to innovate. We met with more than a dozen large internet service providers (each more than 15 million subscribers), and nearly all of them see the increasing importance of their broadband offering, the importance of the Wi-Fi router in the home, and the benefits of using that Wi-Fi router to deliver unique and differentiated services to their customers. Broadband subscribers should expect to see not only better Wi-Fi, but better integration of Wi-Fi with connected products (largely facilitated by us here at Cirrent with our ZipKey products). You can expect broadband subscribers around the world to be getting smartphone apps to manage both their home networks and the products in the home.  

Conclusions

For us here at Cirrent, CES is the culmination of a lot of work and it’s a place where we set our priorities for the year. Seeing what’s happening and having Cirrent and ZipKey be an instrumental part of each of these big trends is exciting. Judging by our experience at CES, 2018 will be a great year!

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