CES — just like the city that hosts it — is brilliant, flashy and outrageous.
It’s all about the big tech companies unveiling their best new gadgets and sparing no expense in the process. But what you hear less about are the behind-the-scenes B2B talks in countless suites in the surrounding hotels, which give insight into what the big tech companies are building with their global partners for next year and beyond.
Our team was lucky enough to witness both worlds at CES 2020 last week, so we sat down to ask what they saw and which tech innovators they think can expect to do well in East Asia this year.
Tommy, as our China expert, tell us how the recent geopolitical spats have affected the Chinese tech conglomerates’ presence at this year’s show, and what you think the future will bring.
Thomas “Tommy” Shiekman: Despite all the doom and gloom from the US-China trade war, which is finally winding down, there was still a notable Chinese presence at CES, albeit slightly smaller than in past years. Chinese brands continue to strive to lead the world in innovation. But many Chinese suppliers compete mainly on price, so there are plenty of opportunities for western startups with revolutionary or ‘best in class’ technologies to succeed in the market.
The Chinese are willing to take risks and spend money if it means they can release a feature before Apple, Samsung or Toyota. After all, the driving aspiration of many Chinese brands is to dominate globally.
So, China is still very much open for business. What kind of innovations and partners are Chinese firms looking for?
Tommy: There are so many, but to give a few examples from what I saw at CES last week:
- Pioneers in L4/L5 (fully autonomous) vehicles should do well. I met several western companies at the show — including DLH Bowles and Actasys — that have sensor cleaning technologies for AVs. This shows firms are thinking beyond LiDAR, radar and cameras about what it will take for autonomous vehicles to survive extreme scenarios. With China pushing ahead hard on AVs, it should prove a lucrative market for such companies.
- Technologies for processing automotive data ‘at the edge’, which requires high power and extremely low latency, also stand out. Companies exhibiting at CES, like our clients Teraki and Blaize, showed that the technologies are now maturing to make this a possibility.
- Existing technologies applied to new use cases are also noteworthy. For example, HaptX showed us how it’s using haptic gloves for immersive VR experiences and telerobotics — where the user feels what the robot touches.
These technologies, if marketed correctly, should be on the radar of many Chinese tech conglomerates. In fact, I think that’s true not just of China but right across East Asia.
You’re a specialist in the automotive sector and we saw a great many interesting new developments in this space at CES. Did you spot anything that stood out?
Tommy: It was interesting to see the next generation of mobility with the Uber/Hyundai air taxi which uses eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing) technology. There’s also lots of talk around infotainment — bigger screens, more interactive passenger experiences and so on — and a range of technologies for monetizing the basic driving experience.
As a lifelong admirer of the Japanese auto industry, it was cool to see Sony announce a car — but perhaps this is going to be a tech showcase rather than a production vehicle.
One of the main trends we’re seeing — because it’s tough for autonomous vehicle tech companies to wait for L4/L5 mass production — is firms applying their tech to other uses in the meantime, such as smart cities and smart factories, or to cars on the road today via Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems (ADAS).
With these developments, western companies should recognise that the fastest pilots for such innovations are often in Asia as 5G and other enabling technologies are being rolled out early there.
Oren, you specialise in software and cloud solutions. Can you pinpoint a few trends in these fields taking center stage at CES this year?
Oren Bernstein: There’s a great deal of interest in integrating AI and IoT into ‘smart’ consumer products, as well as into B2B processes such as product marketing, merchandising, warehouse management, distribution and logistics, customer experience and aftermarket care.
I saw many sensor-based technologies at CES, gathering a diverse range of types of data — sounds, scents, weather data, images and more — with AI embedded in devices ‘at the edge’ enabling this trend. Since these devices continue to be manufactured by top Asian OEMs and tier 1/2 component suppliers, it’s clear why startups in this space continue to focus their business development activities on the region.
That said, computation on the edge doesn’t replace the need for the global scale understanding that can be gained from software in the cloud. Cloud applications continue to be necessary for analysis of data from large and disparate networks of sensors, cameras, vehicles and the like. Cloud-based offerings for smart cities, smart agriculture and smart transport were all of great interest to large Asian companies at the show.
Michal, some say Korea was the dark horse at this year’s CES, with exciting products and innovations from the big tech players as well as a strong representation from smaller companies?
Michal Waszkiewicz: I was impressed. I got to catch up with some of my friends and former colleagues from LG at their stand, which was striking in both its size and scope. Some of their innovations — like 8K OLED TVs — are incremental developments, with almost all of the IP developed in-house. But LG’s smart home and IoT offerings are amongst the best out there, largely thanks to strategic partnerships with startups from around the world over the last four to five years.
The LG guys told me they continue to need more engineering brainpower and are looking to broaden collaboration with global innovators still further. That’s why their show delegations these days consist of fewer marketing and salespeople and more tech scouts and R&D guys roaming the halls. This is a big hint to western startups – including the AI firms Oren mentioned earlier. If the scouts don’t find you, go and find them!
Likewise, there are a lot of up-and-coming Korean startups gaining global traction, and the Korean government always does a good job promoting them at events like CES. You may notice the connection here – the big tech companies need more engineers not only because innovation is escalating, but because the ones they have are increasingly leaving to pursue entrepreneurship!
Oren: Michal’s right. There were also many young innovators and startup service providers from Japan at the show, alongside the big-name Japanese companies, older people and established products that I’m more used to seeing.
Michal, any final remarks or words of advice to the tech firms you met at CES which are looking to grow in Asia?
Michal: In electronics, echoing Oren’s words, I think the next big thing will be to really bring AI and machine learning closer to ‘the edge’ by embedding devices with dedicated chips, sensors and software. Tons of Asian conglomerates are working on this, and if you have the tech to help them cut down development time and bring products to market faster, they’ll be keen to meet you.
Secondly, batteries are failing to keep up with next-gen devices’ power needs. So, if you’re a battery tech company with sound science and a working prototype, corporations like Samsung will be all over you – as long as you’re able to get to the right people. In fact, we helped our client in this field, Sila Nanotechnologies, arrange several productive meetings at CES.
Tommy, same question to you.
Tommy: If you’re an American or European innovator like many we met at CES, recognise that the quickest commercial win might well be on the other side of the globe.
Despite the language, cultural and time zone barriers, there’s high potential to find a global first-mover or investor in Asia, as the region’s big corporates are sharply focused on getting access to innovative technologies.
Oren: I’d add that the number of young innovators in Asia continues to grow, so watch out for that! You may have to engage customers and partners in the region earlier than you’d expect, if for no other reason than to keep ahead of the pack!
So, it looks like there are many interesting developments in electronics, self-driving cars and cutting-edge software, and substantial demand from East Asia to commercialise these technologies.
If Tommy, Oren, Michal or other members of our team can help you make the right connections, prove your technology and establish partnerships in China, Japan or South Korea, let us know.
Contact Michal Waszkiewicz at firstname.lastname@example.org.