Editor's comment: CES 2021 & what it holds for the electronics industry...

Author : Mark Gradwell | Editor | EPDT

03 February 2021

Mark Gradwell, Editor, EPDT
Mark Gradwell, Editor, EPDT

As I write this column for EPDT's February issue in the first weeks of the new year, as usual, I’m following all the innovation being shown off at CES & thinking about what the coming year holds for our industry. While this year’s CES was, of course, a very different affair, it still offers a valuable insight into what consumers can expect from the electronics industry in the year ahead...

A version of this editorial leader was originally featured in the February 2021 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. Sign up to receive your own copy each month.

All-digital for the first time ever (like many industry trade shows in 2020), with delegates and exhibitors unable to make their usual pilgrimage to Las Vegas, the show made history as the largest-ever digital tech event. And the new tech products and trends on show were also inevitably influenced by the pandemic that has dominated every aspect of our lives over the last year…

Every person has surely felt the ripple effects of the unprecedented events of 2020. Businesses, organisations and individuals have had to adapt rapidly – with lockdowns shutting down (or, at the very least, severely impinging upon) education, workplaces, travel, retail, hospitality, events, sports and entertainment – and digital technology (powered, of course, by electronics) has underpinned much of the response. Indeed, the past year has shown us that even a pandemic can’t derail technological development – and arguably, coronavirus has only accelerated digital transformation.

Everyday tech proficiency and digital aptitude have accelerated hugely across all demographics – as many more people have had to get to grips with working or studying remotely (hello Zoom & Teams!), helping keep kids on track with online education, trying to stay connected to family and friends, simply navigating online shopping (be that for groceries, takeaways, baking supplies or masks & hand sanitisers), and finding new digital channels, mediums and alternatives to entertain themselves. And businesses have had to embrace new technologies and channels too, to ensure they can still reach and service their customers.

The all-digital CES 2021 featured groundbreaking innovation that will doubtless improve our world, from health to safety, sustainability and accessibility. Tech firms have innovated during the pandemic, with CES exhibitors showing off smart masks, ultraviolent disinfecting robots, wearables that detect COVID-19 symptoms, autonomous delivery bots and smart air filtration systems. And perhaps even more than in recent years, companies across all industries are also looking to integrate tech into their products, platforms and customer touchpoints as seamlessly as possible. Whether it’s in education, entertainment or enterprise – this approach will be key to unlocking value and driving true connection.

CES 2021 is all-digital
CES 2021 is all-digital

What will happen post-pandemic is something many are considering – which of our pandemic habits will stick and what a ‘new normal’ might look like. Mastercard’s CEO, Michael Miebach believes that about two-thirds of the consumer shift toward digital will persist, mostly reflecting routine interactions and transactions – but consumers will also likely seek out traditional pre-pandemic brand experiences. For all the limitations of operating virtually, a digital CES has vastly multiplied accessibility and affordability. But in a post-pandemic world of expanded options, the “whole” experience of hybrid formats has the potential to be even greater than the sum of the digital and physical parts.

With most people spending much more time in their homes this last year, the focus on smart homes and devices has only intensified. And this ‘connected everything’ drives ever more data, meaning more analytics, more machine learning and more AI – which was once again front and centre at CES. Many companies believe artificial intelligence can be the underlying magic to building the biggest brands of tomorrow – driving value from data to not only transform business, but also dramatically changing society overall, potentially being a powerful force for good. But there’s much work to be done to fix bias that’s built into tech. Mobileye CEO, Amnon Shashua spoke about how difficult it is to code human values into AI. Yet, paradoxically, AI is also plagued with the inability to rid itself of a very human condition: prejudice.

Ultimately, as a consumer tech show, CES remains true testament to the value that technology can offer when we give it a human focus. As we all look forward to emerging from the grip of this pandemic, I can’t wait to see what lies ahead for tech and electronics!

EPDT February 2021's issue also contains features on Embedded technologies and Military, Aerospace & Defence applications. Read more on what's inside EPDT this month...

Mark Gradwell


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