It’s pretty hard to sum up what’s going to happen at the Consumer Electronics Show. The 2016 International CES event will draw more than 150,000 people to Las Vegas this week. Those crowds will see a few thousand exhibitors covering more than 2 million square feet of exhibition space. The result will be billions of tweets, with a lot of noise.
John Curran will hopefully help sort through that deluge of information and hype. Curran, the managing director of Accenture’s communications, media, and technology group, has come up with his own predictions about what will be hot at CES — so you don’t have to do it yourself. Curran sees at least five big trends developing at the show. We talked to him ahead of time about his predictions.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview. For comparison, here’s Accenture’s predictions from a year ago.
John Curran: This year, we’re looking at seven key storylines for CES. The first is going to be potentially an overarching storyline – say goodbye to “cool” and hello to “practical.” This year, even more so than in the recent past, is going to be less about the new gadget and more about the practical services and capabilities that make a pragmatic difference in people’s lives.
The second storyline is a slowdown in major markets and an innovation interlude. Last year at CES we predicted we would see a year where the four big categories – phones, tablets, laptops, and TVs – would see a decrease in consumer purchase intent and demand. We see that trend continuing and potentially accelerating as we go into this CES.
The third storyline, which is really an extension of the second, is around Internet of Things. We have an industry searching for growth, and in that industry IOT has become a double-edged sword. The new devices and internet-connected capabilities offer the potential for growth. We’re seeing some reasons for delayed uptake in the consumer market for these things, though.
The fourth is that the new wrinkle in wearables will be about services. This is a lot of pickup on the first story. The notion is it’s less about a brand-new breakthrough in fashion or form factor and more about what these devices can do in your day-to-day life.
The fifth prediction is around automotive. As everyone knows, CES has become a huge car show. This year we’re thinking less glitz, more security. The sixth prediction is virtual reality becoming a reality. And then the last one is a dramatic rise in drones.
VentureBeat: Do you guys have any numerical predictions on some of these markets?
Curran: We have numerical research in terms of how much of a presence they’ll have at the show.
VB: One thing I’m wondering is, when does virtual reality take off? What year can we expect more real revenues over the full year?
Curran: I don’t have a forecast on revenues. What I can say is, the storyline this year is interesting. You have all the major players in the space either introducing new products this year or having just introduced new products in the VR space. There’s an interesting question as these products come out, though, as far as where we’ll find the compelling content that drives consumer adoption. Those two pieces always go hand in hand. Much of the initial conversation on VR will focus on entertainment and gaming.
Another storyline you’ll likely see emerging at CES is the discussion and debate between VR and augmented reality. 2016 will be the first year we really see AR being introduced at CES. VR has been demo’d there before. That discussion of which format is more compelling and likely to produce more revenue — there’ll be an 80 percent increase this year in VR exhibitors. You’ll see a bigger presence. The storyline becomes this notion of creating detailed, immersive experiences in VR versus being able to lay data and graphics over the real-world environment. Which will have more uptake in both consumer and business applications?
You’ll have companies demo’ing both. This is the first year for AR. We have a showcase of 13 exhibitors focused on that technology. In the VR showcase we have more than 40 exhibitors. The Consumer Electronics Association projected VR revenues for this past year, 2015, at $540 million, and projected sales of 1.2 million units, a 500 percent increase, for 2016.
VB: Do you feel like a lot of announcements got made as far as things that were very pie-in-the-sky a year or two ago? Are some of those products coming down to earth?
Curran: In the last couple of years, most of the announcements were around products that were not commercially available in wide release. At this CES you’re going to see, for the first time ever, a significant number of products that are just being released or in the pipeline for release in the first few months of 2016. You’ll be at the forefront of a wave of commercially available products around VR and AR.
VB: What would you say some of the news will be for automotive?
Curran: The interesting thing, first and foremost, is just how much CES has become an automotive show. This year you’ll have nine major automakers, more than 100 auto tech companies. We’re up 25 percent year-on-year in terms of number exhibitors.
Over the last couple of years, what I’ve taken away from automotive at CES is that it was about creating the connected vehicle, about the car as an Internet access point. A lot of the technology was around infotainment systems, taking advantage of smartphones and tablets inside the car, making the car a more connected environment.
You’ll still see people touting those kinds of technologies, but you’ll also see a lot more of the conversation moving to areas of safety and practical services that make driving an easier and safer thing to do. I expect to see stories around new collision-avoidance technology, anti-carjacking technology, cars that communicate with each other and learn by sharing data to make your commute more efficient. More sophisticated driver-assistance systems will be a big story; the whole notion of the driverless car will be front and center this year.