CES 2019-2020 Overview: Everything You Need to Know about the Historic Show
COVID-19 and China
Exhibitors getting ready for CES 2020. Image credit: CES®

The 2020 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was held last week in Las Vegas. In this report you can find the key insights from the historic show – and how it differed from 2019.

Although CES is mainly an industry convention, for analysts and media, it’s also a chance to make a hands-on assessment of a variety of different products that might be launched over the coming years. The show provides a great chance to see or hear about new technologies – such as quantum dot TVs – before they appear in stores.

It also provides a useful platform for startups to get their products in front of as many people as possible. However, not all the products end up being released. Electronics companies may exhibit new technologies (e.g. foldable-screen laptops) that might not be released immediately after the show.

CES also provides a chance for the technology industry to drive the hype and conversation, pushing big new technologies like 5G, the Internet of Things, smart-home technology, self-driving cars, smart cities, autonomous drones and 8K TVs. Major companies such as Samsung, Sony, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook use the show as a place to introduce their latest and greatest products.

But there is much more that the show provides; a great deal of CES is about business-to-business. If you are a representative of an electronics store, CES will expose you to all sorts of products you might want to stock. You can also find a suitable supplier that can cheaply manufacture what you need; for instance, smartphone cases.

The show is enormous, sprawling out across the city of Las Vegas. There are two massive show floors covering the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) and the Sands Expo center, making up more than 2.75 million square feet of exhibition space in total. On top of that, many companies have private suites at the hotels where they exhibit their products by invitation only.

This year more than 170,000 people from 160 countries attended CES and more than 4,400 exhibiting companies, including manufacturers, developers and suppliers of consumer technology hardware, content, technology delivery systems and more showed off their latest products. In addition, a conference program with more than 250 conference sessions was held, according to the Consumer Technology Associasion, which also runs CES.

Compared to last year's numbers, there was actually a decline in participation in the show. The main reason behind this decline is the political tension between the US and China. In addition, difficulties obtaining the US visas are contributing to the drop-off in attendance from Chinese companies.

In previous years CES shows were dominated by the number of Chinese companies. However, a little over 1,000 of the more than 4,400 companies exhibiting at CES 2020 were from China, making it less than one fourth of total participation. Two years ago, one third of participating companies were from China; in 2019 it was more than one in four.

Another reason for the declining participation of Chinese companies might also be the B2B side of the story. As mentioned before, CES is also a great opportunity for businessmen to meet with manufacturers who can produce what they need cheaply. Thus, many Chinese manufacturers producing intermediate goods, such as hard disk drives and semiconductors, were also attending the show previously.

However, in recent years, with the US tariffs on Chinese exports and rising income in China, there has been a shift in cheap manufacturing from China to less developed countries – mainly Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam and Indonesia. It is relatively expensive to manufacture in China compared to the neighboring countries.

Therefore, this manufacturing shift towards outside of China is also reflected in the declining trend in Chinese companies’ participation in the show over the years.

In addition, there was also a change in the number of attendees by product category. While in 2019 CES, companies which produce computer hardware & software and wireless devices outnumbered the other companies, in 2020 CES it was the companies which produce AI technologies and smart home devices outnumbered others, followed by wireless devices and vehicle technology producers.

The increased number of firms in EV technology also mirrors global concerns regarding sustainability. There were more new energy vehicles displayed at CES 2020 compared to the last years.

Although artificial intelligence was the forefront of CES 2020, China's big AI startups were absent, including Megvii (旷视), SenseTime (商汤科技) and Yitu (依图), which all landed on a US government trade-restricting "entity list" in October 2019.

Moreover, of China's domestic smartphone makers, only OnePlus and Huawei appeared on the CES exhibitor directory. Brands such as Xiaomi, Oppo, and Vivo were all absent.

Voice recognition company iFlyTek (科大讯飞) and surveillance company Hikvision attended CES 2019 last January but they did not show up this year.

Chinese tech players like Alibaba, Tencent, and ByteDance were absent from the first major global tech event of the decade. US senators have labeled ByteDance a national security risk and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US is currently reviewing its 2017 purchase of the app that is now TikTok.

Not all Chinese firms staying away

Despite all these absences, there were still plenty of Chinese companies at CES 2020 and some of them presented their latest technologies. For instance, Byton, TCL, Lenovo, Huawei, DJI, Haier (海尔), Hisense (海信集团), Konka (康佳集团)and ZTE were among the Chinese companies which participated in this year’s show.

Lenovo launched the world's first 5G PC at the show and a special limited-edition laptop that incorporates designs inspired by the company’s partnership with Ducati.

The new PC, named Yoga 5G, is an ultra-portable two-in-one laptop and the first-ever PC powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx 5G Compute Platform, delivering high-speed 5G network connectivity up to 10 times faster than 4G, according to Lenovo. It can also download large files nearly instantly or stream a high-resolution video with true Full HD clarity – even in highly populated areas, like airports with 5G.

The company also exhibited other 5G innovative products at the CES, including the world's first foldable PC, the ThinkPad X1 Fold, and its 5G foldable smart phone, 'Razr.'

China's electric car manufacturer Byton displayed its first production model, the M-Byte. The electric SUV features a digital cockpit that transforms the driving experience, including a 48-inch (about 1.2 m) shared experience display, a driver tablet at the center of the steering wheel, a touch pad between the driver and the front passenger, independent rear-seat entertainment screens and multiple interaction modes.

Skyworth, a Chinese TV manufacturer, unveiled its first 8K TV and a wallpaper-thin OLED TV. With a resolution four times higher than 4K, the 8K TV allows viewers to see realistic images, while the wallpaper-thin OLED TV is inspired by the thin and light qualities of paper. Tony Wang, CEO and president of Skyworth said, "Skyworth expects to become a brand that leads the consumer electronics market of the future, offering 8K TVs and flagship-level OLED TVs, together with other products, to meet the demands of the growing middle class."

TCL Communication announced several "link-hub" and "move-track" products, extending the connectivity of all smart devices on the go, including accessories for pets. These connected devices serve to improve TCL's integrated ecosystem, consisting of televisions, audio products, smart home appliances and mobile devices.

It is also worth mentioning that TCL 8K QLED TV X915 and TCL NXTVISION's innovative visual display technology won the '8K QLED TV Gold Award 2019-2020' and 'Innovative Visual Display Technology Award of the Year' respectively issued by IDG, the world's leading technology media, data and marketing services company.

Additionally, TCL has also won five brand awards for 2019-2020, including the global TV brand TOP10, the leading consumer electronics brand TOP10, and the leading global smartphone brand TOP15.

Chinese companies are joining their American, South Korean and Japanese counterparts in using CES to build enthusiasm for up-and-coming electronics products, while also connecting with potential new international partners and suppliers. That’s especially true for electronics firms like TCL, which have increasingly sought to sell their TVs in North America, and Lenovo, which is already a big player in the US. laptop market but is pushing to sell other connected devices.

However, political tensions like the trade war overshadowed the event, a fact that was reflected in numbers for this year’s CES.

Venture capitalist Kai-Fu Lee, who led Google’s subsidiary in China before the company withdrew over censorship and other concerns, said, "In an ideal world, the tech industries in the two countries would be seen as complementary. The US strength is deep technologists, universities, academics, people with superior experience," he continued, "China’s superiority is a larger market, more data, and very tenacious and hardworking entrepreneurs."

All in all, although their participation is decreasing, Chinese companies are still optimistic about a more collaborative approach at CES in the future.

Editor: Luke Sheehan

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