CES 2019

Every year, Las Vegas becomes a mothership of innovation, with the tech super show CES calling its minions home. Together, they offer a snapshot of where technology stands today and what it’s eyeing for tomorrow.

Some of those crosshairs are fixed on apparel, accessories, beauty and retail.

Following up last year’s first retail track, CES 2019 dedicates Wednesday to “High Tech Retailing” — a section of the exhibit hall and a daylong summit with sessions on artificial intelligence, next-generation 5G cellular connectivity, virtual shopping experiences, robotics and more with representatives from Facebook, Intel, Verizon and others sharing insights with retail heavyweights like Target and China’s JD.com.

The latter’s presence is unmistakable — even before the activities officially commence. The Chinese AI and e-commerce titan has spread its logo all over Vegas, courtesy of every journalist’s clear, security backpack.

jd.com ces 2019

JD.com appears on every reporter’s backpack at CES.  Adriana Lee

As the tech sector expands its efforts into services like retail, companies like Procter & Gamble, L’Oréal, Johnson & Johnson, Fossil, The North Face and others are increasingly seeing tech events like CES as priorities, alongside numerous start-ups and indie outfits.

Skin-analyzing tech is a popular category, and not just from multinational companies like L’Oréal and Procter & Gamble. Others are pushing forward like Lululab, a spin-off from Samsung Electronics that offers an AI-driven skin-care assistant called Lumini, while outfits like HiMirror hope to make magic mirrors a permanent part of the at-home regimen.

Another budding area: Aroma tech. As P&G’s AIRIA looks to bring smarts to fragrance, start-ups like Moodo are hitting Urban Outfitters and, soon, Target online with the sweet smell of success … and cookies … and pine trees.

Some of these and more were on display in early presentations or during CES Unveiled, the big pre-show before the exhibit hall doors open.

lululab

Lululab, a spin-off from Samsung Electronics, is at CES to show off its Lumini AI skin-care assistant.  Adriana Lee

Technically, the event kicks off on Tuesday. But those “in the biz” show up early to make announcements, court reporters and network with one another. Or throw barbs.

Take Apple, for instance. The tech company doesn’t participate in CES, but it has a long history of upstaging the show. In 2007, as attendees readied themselves for keynotes from Microsoft, Walt Disney and Cisco, another crowd seated hundreds of miles away were feasting their eyes on Steve Jobs as he introduced the iPhone.

This time, the company presumably engaged in a high-profile trolling campaign by slathering the side of the SpringHill Suites Marriott in snark. The building, near the Las Vegas Convention Center, showcased a massive black sign in white text: “What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone.”

A riff on the Las Vegas slogan, the jab was an attempt to skewer the likes of Google, Samsung, Amazon and others while highlighting Apple’s privacy features. Too bad it’s not completely true — unless Apple has decided to boot external apps from its devices entirely.

On the contrary, it has more partnerships on tap. The Cupertino, Calif.-based tech giant’s downward iPhone revenue has the company focused on services to buoy its business, and extending its ecosystem is part of that mix. While it has no official presence at CES, the company is everywhere — on buildings, in “Made for iPhone” accessories that will surely swarm the hall, through many of the fashion and beauty apps promoting themselves at the show — and now, with new tech partnerships.

Vizio and LG TVs will support AirPlay 2 and HomeKit, and Samsung plans to bring iTunes to its smart televisions. The South Korean tech conglomerate will also offer Alexa and Google Assistant voice features.

The tech giants’ bid for the home matters. Their tech is showing up in more appliances, smart mirrors and other devices. Amazon alone has sold 100 million Echo speakers, and today, there are over 150 products featuring Alexa, more than 28,000 Alexa-compatible smart home gadgets from more than 4,500 different manufacturers, and over 70,000 Alexa skills.

In an early session, Ben Arnold, senior director of innovation and trends and market research at the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), said voice is “quickly becoming the ‘go-to’ interface,” and the table stakes are high.

In 2018, Google heavily touted its Google Assistant, and this year, the effort continues with a large exhibit called “Google Assistant Playground.” The search giant has made significant gains with its assistant in 2018, pushing out new products and partnering with others, while also releasing a growing array of uses on Android phones and other devices.

Gadgets are the point of a show like this, and there’s no shortage of that — from Harley-Davidson’s promise of its first electric motorcycle hitting the streets this year to LG’s intriguingly strange roll-up 4K television. That’s the fun, the glitz and glamour for consumers. But for the tech and retail industries, the themes driving these and future devices, services and opportunities matter more.

According to CTA’s Arnold, key areas to watch this week will include 5G, artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality, and digital health, among other things.

He summed it up in terms of IOT, an acronym that usually stands for Internet of Things. Now, he said, with advances like AI, it’s more about the intelligence of things.

“We spent the last 30 years connecting people,” he said, quoting Qualcomm’s Brian Modoff’s remarks in an interview about 5G technology. “We will spend the next 30 years connecting things.”