CES Insights: Four major trends that will define the consumer electronics industry in 2014

Las Vegas, United States

Industry leaders and retailers will see a vast array of technologically advanced products at the 2014 International CES in Las Vegas this week, with device customisation, new screen sizes and advanced sensors all set to be key trends driving product launches at the show.

Before the curtain lifted on the CES, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) shared its picks for the biggest trends, with chief economist and senior director of research Shawn DuBravac speaking to leading industry members about what to expect from consumer electronics this year.

Built around four key trends — mass customisation, screen expansion, increased sensor use and content curation — DuBravac offered his insights on what will define CES this week and the broader consumer electronics industry this year.

CEA chief economist and senior research director Shawn DuBravac.

CEA chief economist and senior research director Shawn DuBravac.

1. Customisation

Speaking about modern society’s move from industrial revolutions in the early 20th Century, DuBravac said the CE industry is now “entering a third industrial revolution driven by mass customisation,” as opposed to mass production.

While many consumers will have seen elements of this in online sites that have popped up — allowing them to customise everything from t-shirts to shoes to gift cards — it has also been seen in new product launches.

The trend has been apparent in products such as the customisable Google Moto X smartphone, which allows US buyers to choose a preferred design when they order the device, all the way up to 3D printing, a nascent but growing area of the technology world that DuBravac said was defined by its capability for “mass customisation”.

2. Screen Expansion

Speaking at the CES in 2009, DuBravac noted a void in the technology spectrum of screen sizes in the 5- to 15-inch range. Following the launch of the iPad in 2010, this void has been filled by a broad array of tablets, as well as larger-screen smartphones that have appeared at the lower end of the screen size window.

Now, this spectrum is expanding. At the lower end, wearable devices are bringing small screens to the body, while at the high end, large screen and Ultra High Definition TVs are pushing size boundaries.

In terms of numbers, DuBravac said the CEA expected to see 270 million tablets sold in the US this year, while Ultra HD sale figures could potentially reach 2 million to 2.5 million units globally this year. In the wearable space, he predicted that visitors to CES may see as many as 75 to 100 devices launched.

While screens are changing in size, they’re also changing in shape, with flexible and transparent displays also hitting the market. (As an example, LG previewed a new curved smartphone to CES visitors on Sunday, known as the LG G Flex). However, DuBravac said there was a key difference between “technologies that are technologically feasible and those that are commercially viable” and that the more cutting edge products may take time to reach the mainstream.

3. Sensors

From advanced speed sensors being installed in cars to dual cameras now coming as standard in high-end smartphones, users are capturing more data and suppliers are becoming savvier about how that data is being used.

In 2006 and 2007, DuBravac said consumers began to see the first products launched with in-built sensors, and now the technology has moved to lower price points meaning that “in the last 3 years, we’ve seen [sensors] move from a scarcity to a surplus”.

This surplus means that devices are being fitted with more sensors so they can constantly “monitor and adjust” based on their surroundings. This is a trend already seen in the mainstream: from sensors in wearable technology to track exercise or sleep, to smarter technology emerging in cars (along the lines of automatic parallel parking and lane-assistance), and smart appliances around the home that sense usage patterns and adapt dynamically.

4. Content and Curation

According to DuBravac, the future of content curation will be all about taking information or content and then building an advanced service around how users consume this content. The prime example here is American internet video streaming platform Netflix, which tracks the watching patterns of its subscribers and uses a complex algorithm to recommend more shows to watch.

DuBravac highlighted the potential here: what if Netflix could track your stress patterns, how cold it was outside, whether you were lying down or sitting up, or the way you were viewing your content; would its recommendations for your ideal film or TV show change?

With Ultra HD and OLED displays once again expected to be big highlights of the 2014 CES, the focus on content (and bringing it to consumers in new and intuitive ways) will be more important than ever.

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