news 6 days ago

Nowhere to Be Found: 5 Notable MIAs at CES 2019

Variety — Janko Roettgers

The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) seems to have almost everything, ranging from the truly innovative to the slightly bizarre. But every year, there are a few things that don’t make it to the show floor. Some of these MIAs can tell you as much about the industry as its carefully choreographed announcements. With that in mind, here are some of the more notable no-shows of this week’s CES:

Roku soundbars

A year ago, Roku used CES to announce a major expansion into the audio space. Not only was the company going to make its own speakers, but it was also going to license its audio solution to other companies to build Roku-optimized audio equipment. First in line was TCL, which showed off a Roku soundbar at the show in 2018.

However, that soundbar never shipped. And when TCL introduced its own line of audio gear at CES 2019, it didn’t rely on Roku’s software at all. Instead, TCL showed off a smart speaker powered by the Google Assistant, and a number of soundbars that simply relied on Bluetooth for audio streaming.

Instead of a Roku soundbar, TCL showed off a Google-powered smart speaker.

Representatives from both Roku and TCL did not want to call the Roku soundbar “canceled,” and both companies continue to work together in the TV space, where TCL’s Roku TVs have become a major success story. What’s more, Roku managed to convince a number of smaller TV manufacturers to show off the company’s own Roku speakers next to their Roku TVs. But the complete absence of new Roku-powered audio equipment at the show was still notable, especially as the number of speakers with Google and Amazon software built-in continues to grow.

China

China’s consumer electronics industry has long been a major part of CES, with attendees from the country ranking second only behind the show’s domestic audience. This year, many of them seemed to skip the show. The number of Chinese companies exhibiting at the show declined by 20% year-over-year, according to the South China Morning post. And while the Consumer Technology Association has yet to release detailed numbers for this year, some attendees suggested that the number of visitors from the region may have been down significantly as well.

So why did China stay away? There are a number of possible reasons, all of which seem to be somewhat related. The trade war between the two countries is one reason, and slowing economic growth in China is another. And when high-profile Chinese tech executives get arrested in the West, complete with suggestions that they may be used as bargaining chips in ongoing trade negotiations, it’s also possible that some may simply have found the trip a bit too risky.

Magic Leap

Magic Leap may have raised $2.3 billion in funding, but the augmented reality (AR) startup didn’t want to spend any of that money on a CES booth. The only way to catch a glimpse at Magic Leap’s headset on the show floor was Sennheiser’s booth, where the headphone maker previewed a collaboration between the two companies on AR-optimized headphones.

Magic Leap’s absence made some sense. The company unveiled its developer device at its own even just a few months ago, and it doesn’t have a consumer version to show or ship yet. However, by skipping the show altogether, Magic Leap also gave others an opportunity to fill the void. This included Nreal’s new Light AR glasses, which were praised by many as a cheaper and better-looking alternative to Magic Leap’s headset.

8K Content

2019 was the year that 8K TVs went from a novelty to a must-have in the line-up of every major TV manufacturer. Even TCL, which is targeting more budget-conscious consumers in the U.S., announced that it would be shipping an 8K Roku TV later this year.

What’s missing from all of this is the content to play on these new TVs. While major studios used past years’ shows to announce new initiates in 4K and HDR, there was silence from Hollywood on 8K. Studios haven’t committed yet to supporting the new resolution, and the major streaming services have thus far stayed mum on the subject as well. That’s not to say that the industry won’t eventually embrace 8K — but chances are that the first 8K TVs coming to retailers this fall will be stuck playing demo videos for some time to come.

Apple

Apple has long ignored CES. The iPhone maker doesn’t have a booth at the show, and prefers to release new products and other significant updates on its own schedule, at its own events. But this year, Apple managed to become a kind of Schroedinger’s cat of CES publicity: The company was both absent and everywhere.

News that Samsung would be the first TV maker to carry an iTunes Movies and TV app on its smart TVs dominated the news cycle on the eve of CES, and Apple’s decision to license Airplay 2 to most other major TV manufacturers got the company a ton of headlines as well. And when the show floor opened in Las Vegas Tuesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook invited Jim Cramer to one of the company’s stores, casually dropping hints at “new services” coming in 2019 — guaranteeing that Apple would be in the news another day, and effectively pulling off the greatest CES MIA of the year.