All-Digital Consumer Electronics Show Spotlights Emerging Technologies

Digital health, AI, AR/VR, cloud, and 5G are the major trends for 2021 and beyond



Jamie Bsales


Like so much else over the past 10 months, one of the world’s largest trade shows—the Consumer Electronics Show (CES)—looked very different this year. The all-digital event, held January 11-14, featured a combination of livestreamed keynote addresses, real-time conference sessions in Microsoft Teams, recorded sessions, and digital product collateral. Instead of 180,000+ visitors roaming packed venues and suffering long taxi lines in Las Vegas, this year’s event transformed into the largest digital tech event ever with almost 2,000 companies and more than 100 hours of conference programming, according to the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) who puts on the annual event.


Conference sessions and keynotes (along with product information, of course) were the cornerstones of the all-digital CES 2021.


Despite the name, CES has grown to encompass all things technology-related—not just TVs and home gadgets (although there was no shortage of those) that will soar or sink into obscurity. Many of the tech trends and initiatives addressed in keynotes or on (virtual) display will directly impact the way businesses operate, how work gets done, and how we live our lives in general. Here are some highlights:

  • Digital Health: One trend poised to accelerate is the move towards consumers monitoring and managing their health on a daily basis with the help of “wearables” (technology devices such as watches and patches). A 5-year forecast extrapolated from CTA’s research predicts that the shipments of connected health monitoring devices will grow from $365 million in 2019 to just shy of $1.25 billion in 2024. Other technology-driven trends in healthcare include AI-assisted diagnostics, AR/VR (or XR for short) in medical settings, and robotic assistants in triage and other areas.
  • Digital Transformation: Yes, digital transformation has been going on for a while, but the pandemic has accelerated the trend and even brought those innovations to unexpected areas. For example, US consumer spend on digital fitness solutions jumped 30%-35% compared to pre-pandemic levels (according to CTA research). Court proceedings moved to digital platforms in order to accommodate social distancing, and K-12 school systems ramped up remote-learning platforms—an innovation that was not even on the radar of most schools before the pandemic.
  • Robotics and Drones: The pandemic also hastened the adoption of robots and drones to assist with work. Warehouses and hospitals deployed newly developed disinfecting robots that can roam hallways and aisles mopping floors, dispensing disinfectant fog, or sanitizing with UV light. Robot and drone “autonomous delivery” solutions are in trials now.
  • 5G Connectivity: While the pandemic may have dampened much of the planned capital expenditures for companies around the globe, the need for fast, real-time connectivity and communications actually spurred investment in 5G projects, with spending in leading 5G-forward countries (US, China, Japan, South Korea, Germany, France, UK) in 2020 topping the forecast by 11%. The accelerated rollout will, in turn, hasten the cutting-edge solutions and services 5G promises, such as robot-assisted surgical procedures conducted by a remote surgeon and immersive sports and entertainment events where viewers can select their own camera angles and data feeds.
  • Smart Cities: Closely related to the 5G revolution will be the emergence of “smart cities.” Smart sensors around roadways and in public-transport hubs will alert citizens in real-time—and with live video—about conditions on their route, while smart kiosks will provide up-to-the-minute information and assistance for visitors.


All things considered, this year’s digital CES succeeded in its mission of delivering information about cutting-edge products and technologies poised to shape our world. And while we do miss the energy and serendipity that walking a show floor imparts, we are sure that future shows will be a combination of in-person events and technology-driven digital events for those who can’t attend.


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