LAS VEGAS -- The tech industry has been through a rough patch of plunging stocks and massive layoffs in recent months.
But you wouldn't have known that walking the floor at last week's CES conference here. After a fully virtual show in 2021 and a largely hybrid one last year, CES 2023 presented a concerted push for returning to in-person attendance, and the Las Vegas Convention Center was again abuzz with exhibitors and attendees from around the world.
On Monday, the CTA boasted an in-person attendance of 115,000 this year, doubling the number of in-person attendees last year.
Still, this fell very short of the 175,000 pre-pandemic attendance in 2019, indicating some lingering hesitance and a long road ahead to a full return.
Needless to say, the tech industry has a lot to prove at this CES.
And if anything, this year’s event conveyed a sense of urgency and persistence among the tech companies and innovation-forward brands.
Every sector within the tech and innovation space has seemingly recalibrated and refocused on more immediate, practical, and solvable issues, all without losing sight of the long-term goals and industry trajectory.
Here are some must-know highlights we observed on the CES show floors.
Building Out the EV Ecosystem
As is the case with every recent CES, there was a wide range of electric vehicles (EVs) on display.
Affordable EVs made by emerging global automakers like VinFast from Vietnam and Togg from Turkey were prominently featured in the West Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center, as they competed for attention with the shiny new EV models from legacy carmakers like BMW and Volkswagen.
Charging infrastructure is a big part of what will facilitate the increasingly mainstream adoption of EVs, and not surprisingly, it was a big focus for the auto exhibitors this year.
Working with EV charging station provider ChargePoint, Mercedes plans to invest more than 1 billion euros to establish a global network of over 400 fast-charging stations, which will be open to non-Mercedes EVs as well.
In addition to the charging infrastructure, there is a renewed focus on conquering the dashboard operating system among the auto brands, especially in the context of the car emerging as the next new battleground for media time.
This may explain why an entertainment brand like Sony teamed with Honda to launch a joint EV brand, Afeela, which will leverage Sony's experience with AI, entertainment, and mixed reality to present a unique dashboard experience, which could be an interesting differentiation point in an increasingly competitive EV market.
Getting Real With The Metaverse
Despite a solid showing of Virtual Reality (VR) and gaming companies at CES, one related hot concept, the metaverse, came up short this year. Without category leaders like Roblox or Epic Games present, we were left with hardware companies grasping at the elusive concept without true use cases.
While there were at least a dozen companies and startups -- most of which concentrated in the startup-heavy Eureka Park at the Venetian Expo -- that incorporated the metaverse into their sales pitch, few were able to present an interesting use case for the metaverse outside of its existing gaming and entertainment-oriented positioning.
Beyond some half-baked attempts at leveraging virtual venues for industry-specific networking, such as the Surgiverse (for surgeons), it appeared that the tech industry is finally moving on from the initial metaverse frenzy and reassessing their metaverse strategy.
Of course, the development of the metaverse will help facilitate the adoption of mixed-reality (XR) headsets down the road. For example, HTC heavily leaned into the metaverse talking points while showcasing its latest VR headsets.
Overall, the XR exhibitors at CES are seemingly happy to be associated with the concept, yet are falling short of offering any non-gaming use cases of the metaverse in relation to their headsets.
Sneaking in the Entertainment IP
Although CES is not exactly known for leaving much space for entertainment brands (outside of gaming), they still found a way onto the show floor, mostly through the various immersive or personalized experiences being demoed live.
For example, camera brand Canon has created an immersive VR experience based on the upcoming M. Night Shyamalan movie "Knock at the Cabin," bringing some scary fun to this CES that puts attendees at the center of the story.
Similarly, Pixar's Buzz Lightyear got a full Pinocchio treatment, as a Chinese robotics company Robosense demonstrated an interactive robot based on the beloved Toy Story character.
Meanwhile, 3D printing startup Formlabs promised hyper-personalization with the Hasbro Selfie Series to CES. Interested attendees can have their faces 3D-scanned in order to create and purchase a custom Star Wars action figure in their likeness.
Automating the Perfect Vibes at Home
The recent rollout of Matter, the compatibility standard backed by all major tech companies and connected device makers, has had an undeniably major impact on the smart-home section at CES. The near-ubiquitous adoption of Matter signals a near future where smart-home devices can connect with each other, regardless of their brands or operating systems, and communicate appropriate commands.
Dovetailing with the wellness culture and the latest “soft life” trend, home appliance brands are leveraging this newfound compatibility to automatically curate the perfect ambient vibes for your home. For example, brands like Nanoleaf and Govee both showcased their latest Matter-compatible ambient lighting products that can sync up the color of their lights with the content showing on the other displays in the room.
Looking forward, we could see more brands tap into this type of smart-home tech to create multi-sensory experiences for home and beyond.
Already, we are seeing companies like Kohler and Scentpro experimenting with scent-related products for the home. As more and more devices come online, one could easily see similar experiences being expanded into cars and offices, or businesses like spas and gyms to ensure the good vibes extend beyond the bubble of our homes.
Taking Digital Health to the Bathroom
Last but not least, digital health continued its expansion on the CES show floors.
While wearables and sleep tech remained dominant in this section, the noteworthy innovation that popped up this year belongs to the health trackers in the bathroom. Awkward as that might sound, it presents a natural progression in the trend of digital diagnostic devices being retooled for at-home use.
For example, Withings -- a brand known for its connected weight scales -- unveiled U-scan, an at-home, hands-free urine lab device that lives in the toilet. It consists of a reader and a replaceable cartridge measuring health metrics including pH levels, hydration, ketones, and vitamin C, as well as luteinizing hormone (which can estimate a person's ovulation window).
Similarly, startup Vivoo is dedicated to developing at-home urine tests for personalized nutrition and lifestyle guidance.
In the smart home of the future, nothing goes to waste.