CES 2016: The Takeaways

The 2016 edition of the Consumer Electronics Show is winding down, and it was an interesting version this year. While many previous years have been rather predictable — bigger, flatter TVs looming in every photo-op, for example — CES 2016 was a hodgepodge of dashed rumors, throwbacks, missteps, and ended up being dominated by cars, of all things.

CES 2016, Chevy Bolt

Source: General Motors

It’s difficult to neatly categorize everything that happened, but here are a few of the big trends and highlight moments that caught my eye over the past week.

The Automobile

We were pretty sure going in to CES 2016 that cars were going to be a big part of the show, but the partnership between Ford (F) and Alphabet’s Google (GOOGLGOOG) that everyone was expecting never happened. Instead, we had Toyota (TN) signing up to adopt Ford’s SDL software in an effort to keep Android and Apple Inc.’s (AAPL) iOS from dominating cars the way they control the smartphone market. Ford is continuing to pursue self-driving cars, but not with Google’s help.

General Motors (GM) announced it was investing $500 million in Uber competitor Lyft, with GM lending a hand to the self-driving car ambitions of that ride-sharing service. Much-hyped Tesla (TSLA) competitor Faraday Future used CES 2016 to finally give the world a glimpse at its crazy, 1000-HP electric car, but GM stole its thunder by showing off the Chevy Bolt — an all-electric car with a sub-$30k price tag, 200-mile range, and production beginning in 2016.

It kind of makes you wonder what’s left to show off at the North American International Auto Show next week…

Oops

One of the breakouts of CES 2016 was supposed to be virtual reality, led by Facebook’s (FB) Oculus Rift. This was the event where the Oculus Rift VR headset — the gear that almost everyone thinks of when they hear the term VR — would finally be launched publicly, kickstarting the virtual reality era.

FB Oculus

Oculus dragged it out, first announcing the day when pre-sale would begin, but without providing details. Then, on January 6, CES attendees were shocked to learn the Oculus Rift would be priced at $599. The high price was bad enough, but what has people really angry is the fact that Oculus’ founder had been publicly throwing around a $350 price for the VR headset in October.

Expectations had been set, and dashed…

Fitbit (FIT) also had a bit of a stumble in Las Vegas. It used CES 2016 to take the wraps off the Fitbit Blaze, a $200 “lite” version of a smartwatch packed with Fitbit’s health and activity tracking sensors. Slightly more stylish than its other wearables, with expensive wristband upgrades available and a full color display, the Blaze was Fitbit’s first new device announcement since 2014 and aimed at reducing the impact of activity-tracking smartwatches such as the Apple Watch Sport.

CES 2016 Fitbit Blaze

Reaction to the Blaze was mixed. It didn’t receive the degree of praise Fitbit’s last product reveals garnered, amid concerns that, without app support, it’s too limited to adequately compete against full-fledged smartwatches like the Apple Watch. Instead of a nice boost from the Blaze reveal, Fitbit stock dove more than 10%.

Alexa Is Really Getting Around…

Alexa is Amazon’s (AMZN) take on the voice assistant, a la Siri and Google Now. While Amazon wasn’t actually at CES 2016, Alexa kept popping up. Between the smart home and connected car, Amazon’s cloud-based voice control system is getting some unexpected traction.

Amazon Fire TV adds Alexa

Source: Amazon

Ford announced that it is working on integrating Amazon’s Alexa voice control into its vehicles, using a steering-wheel-mounted button. Ford also has plans to allow Amazon’s Alexa-powered Echo speaker — while sitting in a homeowner’s living room — start their Ford vehicles or check vitals such as fuel levels.

A parade of smart home devices with Alexa integration were also shown off at CES, including Philips’ (PHG) Hue smart LED lights, Belkin smart home devices and controllers, “Big Ass” ceiling fans (trust me, they’re popular), Wink’s home automation hub, and Alarm.com (ALRM) home security systems — to mention just a few.

Everyone Is Ripping Off the Gold MacBook and Surface Pro 4

Two computing devices that starred at CES 2016 — without actually being featured at CES — were Apple’s Gold MacBook and Microsoft’s (MSFT) Surface Pro 4.

MacBook review, new MacBook conclusion

Source: Apple

It seems that PC manufacturers have decided a crazy-thin laptop in gold and a big Windows tablet with a magnetic keyboard are the it devices for 2016. Riffs on the Gold MacBook and Surface Pro 4 were everywhere. Samsung (SSNLF), naturally, covered both bases, showing off the 13.3-inch, 1.85 pound Notebook 9 (in gold) and the new Windows 10-powered Galaxy TabPro S tablet with full-sized keyboard cover.

There Were TVs, Too

Yes, there was still plenty of TV eye candy at CES 2016, but it was subdued compared to previous years. 4K has gone mainstream, curved displays are now (relatively) reasonably priced, and thanks largely to pressure from Chinese manufacturers, even big 4K TVs are now affordable.

The emphasis this year was on HDR (high dynamic range), making big screen panels as thin as possible, OLED displays, and the availability (finally) of Ultra HD Blu-Ray players to get more content on those 4K screens.

Retro Is In

Some of the more unexpected hits at CES 2016 had a distinctly retro vibe. For example, the PS-HX500 turntable (released to take advantage of that vinyl nostalgia) was making waves at Sony’s (SNE) booth. Meanwhile, Kodak (KODK) was generating buzz with its new 1960’s vintage-look Super 8 camera. That’s right — Kodak and its first new Super 8 film camera in over 30 years…

Based on what we’ve seen displayed at CES 2016, this is going to be a very interesting year in consumer electronics and automotive technology — and everything in between.

As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

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