Highwire CES 2019: Industry Trends, Gadgets and Gizmos

CES 2019

Robo-sharks. 8K televisions. A machine that makes fresh-baked bread. We came, we saw, we conquered all of CES 2019 — and a few weeks later, we’re still dreaming of some of the latest and greatest in tech innovations! The Highwire team reports back to you with the trends that stood out to us the most (with a few cool gadgets here and there):

Madison Moore, Digital Strategist
Smart home design has moved from fantasy to reality for consumers. Everything from smart wine refrigerators (to help you perfectly pair your roasted chicken dinner with a Chardonnay) to smart toilets (yes, that’s a thing), to alarm systems and connected kitchen devices were front and center at CES 2019. What’s impressive is how many of these smart home devices are working in tandem together, controlled by smartphones and Alexa/Google. The emphasis here is not on robots and smart devices taking over your home. Rather, they can help you cut down on the little things so you can spend more time with friends and family. The downside? A lot of this technology is not yet available in the United States, although reports say that most of the tech is easy to modify for U.S. markets. It’s safe to say we might have fully connected homes and apartments in the not-so-distant future (and I’ll be the first person in line to purchase that smart wine fridge…).

There was also a strong focus on mobility at CES 2019. Of course, there were some sexy, futuristic smart cars to ogle over (think: the rosy-gold futuristic BMW Vision iNEXT), but the real discussions around smart cities and smart communities were what Highwire was after. At the forefront of the discussion around autonomous and self-driving vehicles was safety, privacy, and policy. How will Congress take action to create policies, especially as things become more connected and we begin rolling out this technology to the general public and not just test subjects? Companies like Samsung, Waymo, and Verizon believe that America is in a leading position on connected and autonomous vehicles, but there needs to be bipartisan consensus and some sort of congressional infrastructure legislation in place to bring them to the masses: safely.

Sarah Koniniec, Account Manager
I thought one of the more interesting topics was the very sudden disillusionment (or rather – reality check) with 5G. In the weeks leading up to CES, we saw a significant groundswell around 5G thanks to the Verizon keynote, as well as a myriad of to-be-announced products claiming to be 5G ready.

If you ask the major U.S. telecom companies, they’ll tell you 5G has arrived. That’s not really the case though, and we saw this play out on a very public stage. *grabs popcorn* We saw both Verizon and AT&T claiming to be first to 5G, while KT argues that a robot in South Korea is its first 5G customer. We saw AT&T updating phones with a fake 5G icon, and almost immediately we saw John Legere (T-Mobile’s CEO) clapback on Twitter. And all of this arguing about what 5G is (or isn’t) doesn’t bode well for consumers who are looking for faster connectivity, lower latency, and a seamless experience from device to device.

I’ve long been saying that 5G will be America’s next big infrastructure project, and I think in the next two years we’ll start to see this play out in a major way. The private sector will need to rely heavily on the public sector if we’re going to bring improved connectivity to the masses. But working closely with politicians and government agencies will be a challenge for many large tech companies that are not feeling the love from Washington right now. Things like working with the FCC to open up additional spectrum, or working with city planners to map out smart cities enabled by 5G, are crucial for setting up the infrastructure that will encourage widespread 5G adoption.

When you combine the power of 5G technology with a bunch of other technologies that are also evolving at the same time, many of which we saw at CES — from autonomous vehicles to augmented and virtual reality, to smart home and IoT trinkets — you’ve got capabilities that can absolutely transform the way consumers live and work. But for now, we’re not ready.

Sophia Gribbs, Business Development Coordinator
A major topic of conversation at CES this year was data privacy. Apple, a brand that usually doesn’t have a presence at the conference, made an impossible-to-miss jab at its competitors. A massive billboard overlooking Google and Amazon booths at CES read, “What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone.” In October, Apple CEO Tim Cook warned our data “is being weaponized us with military efficiency” at the Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners held annually in Europe.

At a CES panel about American privacy regulations in a post-GDPR world, former House representative Darrell Issa discussed data privacy with industry leaders. The FTC does not have a best practices document, and the panel agreed the obligation is on the Commission for further guidance. When discussing whether the United States should adopt GDPR, the consensus was that human rights should be protected and that we should set a baseline for what data rules should be. Issa emphasized the industry has to lead because “Congress will not get it right.” A state-by-state solution for data laws was proposed for a harmonized nation.

Personally, I admired the emphasis on wellness this year in Vegas. Yes, Royole’s foldable phone, HYPERVSN’s 3-D holographics and LG’s rollable OLED TVs are quite alluring. But the technology that directly impacts one’s health and understanding of one’s body has the capacity to greatly improve the quality of life.

Omron’s HeartGuide smartwatch measures blood pressure to allow for continuous monitoring at home. Stanley Black & Decker unveiled Pria, the home care companion that can serve medication and act upon voice commands. Pria features a camera, speaker and microphone so caregivers and family members can administer care in real-time. TouchPoint provides wearables for stress release with haptic vibrations at different intensities. Philips showcased a number of SmartSleep technologies to better understand sleep problems and to identify solutions.

Walking around the massive trade show floor is bound to make anyone hungry! Impossible Foods debuted its Impossible Burger 2.0, a patty that identically mimics the look, texture and taste of beef. The food truck even gave out free burgers so conference attendees could taste for themselves. In the Technology’s Innovators and Disruptors supersession, Impossible Foods CEO Patrick Brown cited his motivation originates from focusing on the most important problem he thought he could solve.

These brands combine science and tech to take a stab at improving consumers’ general well-being. I look forward to watching healthcare technology continue to take center stage in 2019!

Digital Health Q&A with Buzzfeed’s Stephanie Lee

With leaders like Apple continuing to invest heavily in consumer health and wellness technology and a slew of new health-focused upstarts popping up every day, digital health is white-hot. To chat about the trends affecting the industry—and what’s next on the horizon—Highwire sat down with Buzzfeed’s senior technology reporter and resident expert on all things digital health Stephanie Lee for a quick Q&A on what’s coming next.

What do you see as the “next big thing” in digital health?

There are a couple of things on the horizon. I’m really personally interested in genetic testing, genomics and in seeing how it will become more and more a part of mainstream healthcare. The price of testing has dropped a lot and it’s become affordable for normal people. Startups like 23andMe and Ancestry DNA are collecting DNA and sharing results. But there are so many more possibilities for what people can learn and what traditional healthcare providers can do—this is only the beginning. It would be really interesting to see genomics incorporated more into a normal doctor’s visit, like seeing what a doctor can do based on patient DNA. That’s sort of begun but there’s more room for mainstream adoption.

What excites you most about digital health? What drives your interest?

I think it’s always just so interesting to see technologies that have been adopted in other industries—banking, communication with friends, transportation—making their way into health. I’m always interested in seeing how these technologies can transform people’s lives for the better and give people all kinds of data about their own bodies that people didn’t have access to a decade ago.

Today, you can track anything and everything about yourself, and access it on the go. That didn’t exist a decade ago. I’m always looking to see proof that things are working, as opposed to just the hype. Seeing that people are able to interpret the data and put it to good use versus just being overwhelmed. I’m also watching what huge, powerful tech companies like Apple and Google do in health and biotech—whether they’re inventing new medical devices or allowing researchers to do studies through phones—and if those projects are actually working.

What are the trends you’re sick of hearing about?

I wouldn’t say “sick of,” but the wearables world has changed a lot. When I started covering it, it was thought that consumer fitness wearables would be the end-all be-all of digital health. And many of them are useful, but there have been so many acquisitions of the smaller trackers, like Misfit or Runtastic, by larger companies and athletic companies. There aren’t going to be as many trackers on the market as people thought there were. It seems like it has peaked; everyone who’s wanted to try one has tried one. There will be more medical usage, though. More medical applications and trackers regulated by the FDA are coming down the pipeline.

What’s the biggest challenge for digital health innovators?

Proving that something works. The big challenge in “normal” consumer technology is that you put out a product, you test it, you figure out what works and doesn’t work. You can make changes and iterate without consequences. Health has a backward timeline. If you’re putting something out that goes beyond a wellness use, something people rely on for medical use or healthcare, you need to prove out of the gate that there’s evidence behind it. Otherwise, the stakes are too high.

You see that tension a lot—tech entrepreneurs who come over to healthcare are surprised by how long it takes to prove something, how long it takes to turn a paper into an actually workable business model. They want to get right to market but it’s not always doable. It’s hard to match health outcomes with revenue streams. Just because something makes money doesn’t mean it works. Companies are trying to reconcile those two.

Do you see any rising hotspots for digital health innovation in the U.S. or globally?

Definitely, Boston and to an extent New York. There’s also San Diego or LA.

Do you think it’s easier or harder to start a digital health company in San Francisco/Silicon Valley than some of those other locations?

Obviously, there’s so much brainpower here—established research universities, an established biotech/pharma hub, and, on the tech side, everything from VCs to software engineers. Resource-wise, it’s an ideal place to be. Getting off the ground, you face the same challenges as any other tech company—it’s expensive, it’s hard to find office space, there’s competition for talent. The challenges here are the same for any tech startup but the resources are plentiful. And there are lots of incubators and accelerators geared toward that. If you’re going to start a startup in the space, you should be here or expect to travel here a lot.

Want to learn more about the digital health landscape? Check out TechCrunch’s Sarah Buhr’s take on the Highwire blog here.

Gearing up for Rock Health Summit: Digital Health Q&A with TechCrunch’s Sarah Buhr

Next week leaders in technology, medicine and policy will come together at Rock Health Summit’s digital health conference to discuss healthcare’s most challenging problems. In anticipation of the event, Highwire sat down with TechCrunch’s Sarah Buhr, whose inbox is flooded daily with digital health pitches from PR pros. Sarah is moderating the panel “Virtual Reality: Just What The Doctor Ordered?” and we asked her what she’s excited about leading into the show and what’s hot and what’s not in digital health.

What are you most looking forward to seeing at Rock Health Summit this year?

One of my passions is biotech. I’m looking forward to hearing about thSarah Burhoughts on genomics and how microorganisms are being used to grow different things. I also want to hear how creative people can get with pharmaceutical drugs and materials. I think another interesting topic is telemedicine, or how we can move medical care inside the home. Right now there are so many solutions where you can speak to your doctor and not go into the hospital, and I want to see how those solutions can evolve.

Are there any digital health industry trends that you expect to be big in five years?

Like I mentioned, biotech is exploding – specifically in the areas of genetic manipulation and gathering data. In the future I think we’ll be able to pull insights out to identify the things that contribute to cancer and testing for diabetes in your genetic makeup. Right now nothing really does that and there are so many problems and cures to find.

What trends are you tired of hearing about?

I’m not interested in B2B enterprise SaaS solutions or HIPPA compliance. Right now everyone is trying to create their own platform rather than fix the bigger problem.

What’s the biggest challenge in digital health?

One of the biggest problems is that people don’t have enough information on medical costs or medicines that might be better for them. Basically there isn’t enough information shared with patients from doctors.

Do you see any rising hotspots for digital health innovation in the U.S?

There is no other place like Silicon Valley. Think about it, there are scientists, programmers, inventors, investors etc., all at “ground zero” for innovation. However outside of Silicon Valley other hotspots that are on the rise include San Diego and Boston which both have a booming biotech scene.

If you’re attending Rock Health Summit make sure to say hello to our Highwire folks on the ground and let us know in the comments what you’re excited to see at this year’s conference.

Written by Morgan Mathis, an account director in Los Angeles and Lauren Kido, a senior account associate in San Francisco