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Trends from CES 2018 that will shape the app economy

by Lewis Leong on Jan 16, 2018

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is one of the biggest tech events of the year as it provides us with a glimpse into our immediate futures. The products and concepts that emerge from the conference show us trends that will dominate throughout the year. For 2018, the trends are clear: voice is the next big platform, AI and machine learning will make products much smarter, and VR and AR have lost their luster.

Voice assistants will be everywhere

The biggest trend of CES 2018 by far has been the explosive proliferation of voice assistants. Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant is ready to leave the home and will be integrated into headphones, dash cams, and even cars. The release of the Alexa development kit and a partnership with chip-maker Qualcomm means we should expect to see Amazon’s assistant grace many more of our devices in the near future.

Keen to take on Amazon, Google and its partners also announced a slew of new devices running Google Assistant. Most notably, devices like the Lenovo Smart Display will give users a visual experience for weather, video calls, calendar events, and much more, all powered by Google Assistant. The search giant is also working with automakers to integrate Google Assistants in cars.

Lenovo Google Assistant Smart Display

Image credit: Lenovo

Lastly, Microsoft’s Cortana assistant made a showing at CES 2018 with its voice-enabled thermostat and speaker, but Microsoft is still far behind Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri. In order for Microsoft to compete against the juggernauts, the company will have to partner with hardware makers to integrate Cortana into products that consumers rely on every day.

This huge push for voice assistant shows that developers and marketers alike have huge opportunities to create unique experiences. As the smartphone market becomes ever-saturated, companies are looking for the next big platform and voice appears to be it. Marketers will have to create new ad experiences tailored for voice platforms and app developers will have to think of how to integrate relevant voice features.

Cars will be smarter than ever

In the past several years of CES, cars have been a huge focal point of the technology industry. Automotive startups like Faraday Future, Byton, and others made splashy announcements for their all-electric cars and even established car brands like Hyundai and Mercedes show off new tech at the conference.

This year, we saw automakers modernizing the driving experience by integrating voice assistants. Kia announced that it would be integrating Google Assistant into its cars in an attempt to make the infotainment experience as hands-free as possible. Unlike 3rd-party head units that run Android Auto with Google Assistant, Kia’s integration will allow drivers to tap into vehicle controls like unlocking doors and adjusting climate controls. And it’s not just Google Assistant that’s being integrated into cars; Toyota announced at the show that it would be integrating Amazon Alexa into its vehicles.

Ford already support Alexa commands.

Automakers have historically been slow to adopt new technologies so for companies like Toyota, Mercedes, Kia, and Hyundai to go all-in with AI-powered voice assistants says a lot about the future of the platform. With users becoming more reliant on voice controls in the home, it’s only logical that voice controls would make it into cars.

But with voice proliferating to cars, there will also be a format battle between Amazon, Apple, and Google. Carmakers are picking and choosing what voice platform they want to back, and as a result, users will have to make the same decision when purchasing a vehicle. For app developers, this poses a conundrum of choosing which platform to support. We previously saw the battle between Carplay and Android Auto, but the industry eventually shifted to support both in a single head unit. Will voice follow a similar path?

VR and AR take a back seat to machine learning and AI

Virtual and augmented reality dominated the past couple of years at CES but 2018 was notable for its lack of VR and AR breakthroughs. VR and AR seem to be firmly in the trough of disillusionment. The biggest VR announcement came from HTC, which introduced an incremental update to its Vive headset, the Vive Pro. The headset features built-in headphones, higher resolution displays, and a second camera which HTC says will enable developers experiment with AR. HTC also announced a wireless adapter for the Vive so users can move around without tripping on cables.

Beyond the updated Vive Pro, Huawei and LG announced new VR headsets that support Google’s Daydream View experience, with LG creating a complete standalone unit (no mobile phone required). Not exactly groundbreaking.

HTC Vive Pro dual cameras

Image credit: HTC

AR also took a backseat at this year’s CES with only a handful of new head-mounted displays being announced. The release of ARKit and ARCore last year built excitement up for the possibilities for AR but four months later, there are only a handful of AR apps that are truly useful. Beauty retailer Sephora integrated AR into its app to allow users to try on different cosmetics virtually, which works extremely well. Likewise, both Amazon and IKEA released apps that allow you to place products in your home virtually to visualize how they’ll look.

While AR and VR have seen limited success in the retail and gaming space, the platforms are struggling to keep users coming back for more. For now, we’re left waiting for the “must-have” apps and experiences that only AR and VR allow.

For developers and marketers alike, the message from CES 2018 is clear: voice is the next big platform so you’d better be ready. With voice assistants being integrated into just about everything from speakers to cars, smartphone use will likely decline over time with users favoring the hands-free experience for certain tasks. Mobile will still be the predominant computing platform, but voice offers new opportunities and experiences for consumers, developers, and marketers. There will undoubtedly be hybrid experiences where users use both voice and mobile, like getting directions via voice sent to their phones or cars, but marketers and developers will have to figure out how to leverage voice to provide the best experience.

Lewis Leong is AppLovin's Content Marketing Manager.