Tech Investing 2016
The first weeks of January are an important time for tech trend watching. It’s the time when the International Consumer Electronics Show steamrolls into Las Vegas and tens of thousands of tech entrepreneurs flood the convention centers and casino ballrooms to stoke business for the year ahead.
This year promises to be the biggest CES yet, with 2.4 million square feet of exhibitions and an estimated 150,000 to 170,000 attendees.
Anyone with any clout in the tech industry has been to at least one CES, and it seems like just as many blowhard bloggers love to talk trash about the event and write about how they’re sooo glad they’re not going this year.
But here’s the thing...
They don’t matter.
CES is the biggest tech event in the world, and it hosts so much industry action that it honestly doesn’t matter if any exciting products are unveiled. The very fact that a hundred thousand potential colleagues and customers are sharing the same space means interaction. It might mean literal interaction between companies and the public, and it might mean an interaction of ideas when visiting tech minds get drunk together at some lousy event with an open bar.
I know because that’s been my experience at CES.
Sure, I put my hands on plenty of brand new tech before anyone else. Sure, I’ve seen some of the weirdest tech products shipped in from the most arcane Chinese manufacturing concerns. But this stuff played second fiddle to the people I met and the off-record experiences I had.
I’ve met plenty of rich and powerful people in Vegas, and I’ve learned a ton about developing trends at CES... sometimes three or four years before they actually happened.
So when we look at what’s happening at CES this week, keep in mind that the biggest trends do not come out of thin air. They take a long time to come to the surface. So many reporters rush to the show floor looking for the “next big thing” to be just sitting there waiting to be picked like a ripe mango, and when they never find it after years of attendance, they get jaded.
The Consumer Electronics Association itself seems to have noted this common behavior and has somewhat shifted its focus away from trendy gadgets and into the bigger trends: driverless vehicles, the Internet of Things, virtual reality, and so forth.
None of these things is particularly easy to display in a convention booth... but they are nonetheless the important trends.
And guess what? They’re neither new nor surprising.
However, they are the center of the tech conversation, and many of the players in these spaces are new to CES. Dark-horse electric car company Faraday Future is expected to unveil its first concept car *tonight*.
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I’ve written about this company a couple of times already. It appeared out of nowhere, and its business is kind of a mystery. That’s a major one.
I might fly out to Vegas tonight if the showing is positive. If not, I’ve got friends to send me intel... I didn’t book a ticket this year, but it’s not because I have any particularly curmudgeonly opinions about the show — I just moved to a place in the U.S. that puts me significantly closer to Vegas than I’d been in the past.
But I digress. This is about the tech trends.
Drones are still a thing, but not as big of a thing as a lot of people had predicted. Due to the hairy legalities of air traffic, privacy, and *spelling it out so the kids don’t hear* T-E-R-R-O-R-I-S-M, drones are still lukewarm. Their biggest niche is still photography.
In that space, San Francisco company Lily Robotics is going to be showing off its innovative personal camera drones that track and follow their subject. These drones garnered some early popularity a few months back, and there are no fewer than five companies showing off nearly identical products at CES this year.
The connected home has been a staple of CES lore for about 10 years now, and as the Internet of Things continues its glacial pace forward, we can expect a somewhat larger presence on the show floor this year.
Shanghai-based Sengled Optoelectronics Co., for example, is showing off its connected light bulbs that do some atypical things. The Pulse light bulb, for example, includes a Bluetooth speaker so your lighting system can also act as a surround sound system. It’s novel and kitschy but quite innovative.
The company's Boost bulbs act as Wi-Fi hotspot extenders, and its Snap bulb has a security camera built into it. All nifty stuff and worth thinking about, partially because they’re mashing up old commodity tech (light bulbs) with new commodity tech (wireless gadgets).
It’s a bigger show this year, and the announcements are going to deluge tech news over the next few days. I’ve already mentioned the sectors to watch, but it’s also worth noting that this year, for the first time, all of the commissioners from both the FCC and the FTC will be doing a panel discussion at the show.
These two agencies are going to talk about privacy issues, accessibility issues, regulatory reforms, and, yes, the Internet of Things. That’s how big the topic is for 2016: The CEA has managed to wheel out two whole regulatory cabinets to talk about it.
For the last seven years, Tim Conneally has covered the world of mobile and wireless technology, enterprise software, network hardware, and next generation consumer technology. Tim has previously written for long-running software news outlet Betanews and for financial media powerhouse Forbes.
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