- With 3,800 exhibitors, CES 2016 included a fair share of startups aiming to make their mark in the consumer technology space.
- Whether or not any move beyond startup status, they still highlight a number of important themes: home broadband and IoT service management, monetization opportunities for service providers, niche wearables and the role of analytics.
While the themes and technologies dominating CES change from year to year, one thing seems to remain the same. Every year, if you’ve attended CES, someone’s likely to ask you the same two questions. First comes: “What’s the coolest thing you saw?” This is followed by: “Did you find any startups doing something interesting?”
Unfortunately, if you spend most of the day in meeting rooms (like many of us do), these aren’t easy questions to answer; there’s just not much time to get down to the show floor and get a feel for what’s “cool.” With a few visits to the show floor and a schedule packed with meetings, however, I came away with plenty of potential answers – if not because all (or any) of the vendors will be successful, but because each tells a good story about the market.
- Cirrent – Digital Home Device Connectivity. To get to a future where smart homes include dozens of connected devices, device setup and security will need to be simplified. Cirrent aims to do that by working with device makers as well as carriers – promising a platform that delivers a better experience to the end user. Perhaps more importantly, where service providers may be dubious on the IoT or smart home monetization opportunity, Cirrent’s service provider (SP) partnerships point to a potential strategy.
- Cujo – Digital Home Service Management and Security. Giving your company the name of a rabid dog might not seem smart, but Cujo’s residential web security device – protecting against hacks, malicious sites, unauthorized access – is part of a broader trend around in-home network simplification and security. Think luma’s WiFi setup and intrusion protection, Bitdefender’s malware focus or the IoT-specific worldwide of Dojo. Carrying forward the SP monetization question, the existence of these companies speaks to a consumer pain point, one that should be addressable by SPs – especially within the context of residential vCPE rollouts.
- PitPat – Pet-focused Fitness Tracking. The concept of activity trackers for pets is not a new one; I’ve owned a FitBark for a while. This year, however, the space seemed much fuller; as fitness tracking and GPS sensors mature and consumers get comfortable with the concept, it’s only natural to see companies target what might have once seemed like laughable niches. PitPat got my attention, claiming a one-year battery life on its tracker. Canhegat was telling a similar story, with an eight-month life on its device. And, of course, there were location trackers like Tractive. In the way FitBark has talked up analytics (the collection and monetization of pet fitness data) as core to its business strategy, it was telling to see similar stories from PitPat and Canhegat. Think tailoring nutrition to fitness levels or helping pet food suppliers engage with their customers. If nothing else, this was a reminder of the inextricable link between IoT and analytics. Battery life concerns and the cost-prohibitive nature of cellular-connectivity (needed for location tracking), meanwhile, point to yet another argument for progress with NB-IoT rollouts.
- Lumo – Athlete-focused Fitness Tracking. Pet owners weren’t the only demographic to benefit from a maturing fitness tracker segment. The initial use case for fitness trackers was to encourage people to focus more on their fitness. With that segment quickly saturating, what’s next? A focus on people who are already fit but looking to improve their performance in a specific sport. On the running front, you had Lumo Run selling shorts which would help capture your cadence, bounce, ground contact time, pelvic rotation, stride length and more. iFit was making similar promises by hooking up with shoemaker Altra, while Sensoria tackled this space with a sock-based sensor. If you prefer golf, there was the Mettis Trainer from Bend Tech. Targeting niches was an inevitable evolution of the fitness tracker space. Whether any of these are standalone businesses, however, remains to be seen.
- in-tail – Outright Craziness. The “E” in CES may stand for “Electronics,” but that doesn’t stop folks with non-electronic products from showing up. in-tail (short for “Intelligent Tail”) was at CES with a prosthetic tail providing “balanced, realistic movement without any electronic parts.” An electronic version is in the works (with algorithms to emulate cats, dogs, dinosaurs and more). If you’re looking for a takeaway here, other than Santa Cruz, CA being big on wackiness, you might be out of luck. It does help to explain, however, why it’s not always easy to sort the wheat from the chaff at CES.