May 17, 2016

CES Asia 2016 - Wearables, Drones and Virtual Reality

FIT, GRMN, INVN, LNVGY, TWTR
By Dimitri Kaczmarek
At CES’s second annual Asia event in Shanghai, attendees explored new wearables, drones and virtual reality devices, but major smartphone vendors were noticeably absent from the show. 

Wearable Technologies: Wearable device vendors were out in force at CES trying to leverage China’s fitness craze showing off their newest smartwatches and wristbands designed primarily for sports activities. Surprisingly, Fitbit Inc. was hardly noticeable at the event. The company did not have its own booth and only showed a few products at one of its distributor booths.

On the other hand, Garmin Ltd. doubled the size of its booth footprint this year compared with last year. Company executives at the booth told attendees they expect China to be one of Garmin’s key growth markets in the coming years and that their products were selling mostly online through Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s Tmall and JD.com Inc., but select department stores in China’s tier-1 cities were also important channels. Garmin launched its Forerunner 735XT in China and also introduced several different fashion smartwatches at the show. 

Drones and Technology: A slew of drone companies were also present at the show, and several drone testing areas dotted the surrounding exhibit halls. One of the companies that seemed to attract the most attention from attendees was U.S.-based UNorth Inc.'s MOTA, which was showing off its JetJat Nano. Weighing in at slightly over 11 grams, it could be the smallest drone in the world.

Drone manufacturers at the show were attracted to new technologies and components. InvenSense Inc.’s executives explained to show attendees how their new temperature and stabilizing module can help reduce overheating in drones, a common problem in the pro-consumer market. Intel Corp. also introduced several new drone technologies that attracted attention including a machine-to-eye system that allows the drone controller to see what the drone sees and an ultra sound locating system for drones. 

Virtual Reality (VR): VR was one of the hottest areas of interest for attendees this year at CES Asia. But the China market may not be ready just yet for the full VR experience, mostly because there is still a lack of good VR goggles and content. Although many companies showcased prototypes of their VR goggles, many won’t hit the market until summer or year-end. One of the most popular VR companies at CES, Shenzhen Dlodlo Technologies Co., Ltd. let attendees test their V1 glasses. Expected to launch in August, the goggles connect to a smartphone via Bluetooth. This is so users don’t need to insert a heavy smartphone into the goggles in order to watch their content. This makes the goggles very light and comfortable to wear.

Attendees at the conference also had an opportunity to watch and interact with VR content from different VR online and game providers. But many seemed either unimpressed or frustrated by the poor quality and lack of VR gaming and movie content currently available. 

Connected Devices: Although CES may have doubled in exhibitor size compared with last year, most smartphone vendors were noticeably absent from the show, most likely because Chinese smartphone unit sales in 2015 slowed considerably yy, according to Chinese media.

Despite being listed on the official CES Asia website, Xiaomi Inc., Lenovo Group Ltd. (992 HK), Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (005930 KS) and LG Electronics Inc. (066570 KS) did not display their smartphones at the event. However, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. was present with a large booth showcasing the full line of their handset with a specific focus on promoting their recently launched P9 and P9 Plus devices. LeEco (Leshi Internet Information & Technology Corp. [300104 CH]) was showing off its new tablets and handsets, like the LeEco tablet 2, being offered for 1,099 yuan ($169), the Pro 2 for 1,499 yuan ($230) and the Max 2 for 2,099 yuan ($322) on LeMall.com. Attendees at the LeEco booth viewing the devices seemed to think the prices were very reasonable for a high-end smartphone.

Social Advertising: While Twitter Inc.’s social networking platform is restricted from operating in China, the company was handing out cookies and cupcakes while executives talked up the company’s mobile social networking media platform that has a global reach and could potentially help Chinese companies expand overseas to create a buzz among a global audience for new product launches, especially in Asian markets.

Executives also handed out advertising leaflets profiling how Twitter was able to help Huawei Technologies advertise a global handset launch and expand the company’s brand awareness overseas.