Following on from a challenging 2021 what are the wider trends and market expectations for consumer electronics going forward?

There’s no doubting that 2021 proved challenging and the ongoing war in Ukraine means that for many the uncertainties of the past few years are likely to remain with us with ongoing semiconductor shortages and supply chain issues affecting the global consumer electronics industry well into 2023 and beyond.

Semiconductor manufacturers have been hit severely with higher demand, in fact IoT microcontrollers for smart homes are likely to expand at a CAGR of 13% until 2032, so lead times for chip supplies are expected to run ‘hot’ for some time causing severe disruption especially to SMEs who are said to be finding it increasingly difficult to secure slots for smaller manufacturing runs.

Despite these ongoing challenges, this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) saw some discernible trends emerge in the consumer space.

According to research carried out by analysts, Futuresource, gaming, fitness, and remote access to connected devices were among the major announcements made at the show. Samsung, Sony, TCL, and LG all revealed cloud gaming platforms on their TV line-ups while TCL demonstrated a new Game Centre on its Smart TV, which uses a smartphone as the controller.

Samsung released a cloud-based gaming hub on its TV, and LG introduced Nvidia’s gaming service GeForce and fitness app Peloton on its OLED TVs.

Increasingly, when it comes to connectivity, consumers are looking to control smart home devices remotely and TV vendors are now adding control of Smart Home products via apps and services accessed via the television.

According to Futuresource, the Smart TV is now being positioned as a central control point for the home as vendors look to provide a more unified experience.

Voice interfaces are also expected to penetrate more deeply into Smart TVs with near-field voice deployments being joined by the roll-out of far-field microphones.

The idea, according to Futuresource, is that Smart TVs will become another Smart Display in the home offering “always listening” features and low-power modes so that TVs can participate more widely in the world of virtual assistants.

LG, for example, working with DSP Concepts has implemented the TalkTo audio front end in some of its Smart TVs.

Smart homes

The growing affordability of technology combined with the soaring

popularity of home improvement trends mean that smart home technology is growing rapidly and the idea of standalone smart home devices is becoming increasingly outdated.

Over the next 12 months demand for a single digital infrastructure that incorporates lights, entertainment, heating, security and appliances that’s connected to smart speakers and devices is expected to grow.

Already, smart home technology is beginning to reach mainstream levels with 50% of UK residents aged 16+ now owning a smart speaker, up from 20% in 2019, whilst over 40 per cent of UK adults use smart technology to work the television. The likes of Amazon, Apple and Google are all pushing smart speakers as a gateway to their other linked smart services.

The smart home market is huge, and the number of smart devices is predicted to almost double by 2025, rising to 13.5 billion devices.

Smart home integrations are also starting to extend beyond portable devices and speakers and into everyday furniture with tables, for example, that can wirelessly charge smartphones or sofas that can provide an immersive 4D motion experience when game playing or watching a film.

Smart technology is filtering down into every aspect of home life, including permissions-based door locks which integrate fingerprint scammers and smartphone authentication.

An example of technology that’s enabling these applications is Zytronic’s ElectroglaZ, that allows for transparent power delivery through a pane of glass, opening up new possibilities for furniture applications.

According to Ian Crosby, Sales & Marketing Director at Zytronic, "ElectroglaZ is completely transparent and can be used to 'magically' power a near-limitless variety of low power, electronic and electrotechnical devices embedded within a glass panel.

“Potential smart-furniture applications include everything from ‘floating’ lighting systems to glass room dividers featuring embedded hub screens, speakers or fans.”

Wearables and personal electronics

Another key trend is likely to involve battery life and latency.

According to Futuresource, one area of growing competition between brands is battery life in headsets. More battery per charge and fast chargers are becoming key criteria for differentiation and those improvements are dependent on the efficiency of other components, such as power efficient chipsets and the Bluetooth LE communications standard.

At CES HyperX, with its Cloud Alpha Wireless Gaming headset set the benchmark and is now delivering 300 hours of battery life on a single charge.

Voice technology will also become more pervasive and is now moving towards edge-based computing, reducing the reliance on cloud processing and circumventing both latency and privacy issues.

Futuresource’s research has identified a growing opportunity for “domain specific” assistants in headphones and wearables, which can complete “command and control” tasks more efficiently on the device itself.

Knowles, for example, has partnered with Fluent AI to provide offline and app-free AI powered voice control for TWS earbuds and other hearable products so users now don’t have to rely on touch features.

“Implementing robust, natural sounding embedded voice control in TWS devices has been a challenge due to the memory and compute limitations of current Bluetooth SoCs, and the low power consumption requirements in TWS devices,” said Knowles strategic marketing director Raj Senguttuvan. “Fluent.ai’s small-footprint AI software solution running on Knowles IA8201 can be integrated into TWS earbuds for accurate voice command recognition without the need for an accompanying smartphone app or cloud connectivity and provides a platform to develop high-quality and flexible voice control in TWS devices for a more natural user experience.”

Futuresource also identified a re-newed interest in XR devices as a stepping-stone towards the ‘metaverse’.

XR is continuing to gain traction with brands and at CES Sony announced the PSVR 2, considered a serious competitor in the VR space, while HTC introduced a wrist controller for its Vive Focus 3 headset that’s capable of tracking wrist worn movements in situations where arm movements are important.

Most analysts believe that the use of XR will be more

enterprise-focused in the longer term and will be used for social interactions, meetings, and even augmenting the physical shopping experience.

At CE, Qualcomm announced an expansion of its relationship with Microsoft to improve AR by developing a custom augmented reality Snapdragon chip that’s capable of powering lightweight AR glasses for Microsoft’s growing ecosystem.

“This collaboration reflects the next step in both companies’ shared commitment to XR and the metaverse,” explained Hugo Swart, vice president and general manager of XR, Qualcomm Technologies. “Qualcomm’s core XR strategy has always been delivering the most cutting-edge technology, purpose-built XR chipsets and enabling the ecosystem with our software platforms and hardware reference designs.”

Rubén Caballero, corporate vice president Mixed Reality Microsoft added, “With services like Microsoft Mesh, we are committed to delivering the most comprehensive set of capabilities to power metaverses that blend the physical and digital worlds, ultimately delivering a shared sense of presence across devices.”

Metaverse

Talking about the ‘metaverse’ this concept is expected to overtake AI as the ‘next big thing’.

A completely digital environment where users can come together and inhabit a virtual space as avatars, large organisations are becoming increasingly interested as there is revenue attached to the

metaverse, either though digital merchandising of virtual items, or indirectly via advertising.

While these are challenges to overcome in building the metaverse from who owns these environments to how they are regulated and which laws are followed – both real and virtual, interest is growing.

Within the business sector the metaverse could be used for remote office workers to collaborate in a single environment, with examples of this including Meta’s Horizon Workrooms and Microsoft Mesh.

Within the education sector, as another example, the metaverse could be used for immersive field trips.

The metaverse represents a transition from physical hardware to completely software-based rendering for audio-visual experiences, and improvements in graphics and soundscape will be essential in driving deeper immersion levels in these types of platforms.

However, Futuresource make the point that the metaverse is closer than people think - all the building blocks, such as 5G and Wi-Fi 6, fibre, broadband, the cloud, haptic engines, volumetric video, spatial audio, high resolution graphics, AI and machine learning are in place, so credible solutions could appear soon.

It's certainly an exciting time for technology in the home and the category continues to evolve faster than ever and new developments bring greater convenience, comfort, and efficiency to our lives.