In Las Vegas, tech wants to be optimistic despite the ambient gloom

The Consumer electronic show (CES), the annual meeting of consumer electronics in Las Vegas, opens its doors Thursday in a gloomy context, from inflation to layoffs through supply difficulties.

From January 5 to 8, more than 100,000 professionals from a hundred countries are expected in the glitzy hotels of the American city, for a huge communication operation around ultra-connected devices and services. In all, the stands will occupy more than 20 hectares. But attendance remains lower than before the health crisis.

“The 2023 edition represents a new step towards a return to normal, to pre-pandemic levels”, assures Steve Koenig, vice-president in charge of research at the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), which organizes the CES.

Oven with integrated camera

In 2021, the high mass was held only online. And in 2022, “we made the bold decision to come back in person,” recalls Steve Koenig. But the living room was a shadow of itself, with many empty rooms. This year, TV makers, automakers, and cutting-edge AI startups are back in droves.

The South Korean giant Samsung, in particular, has made CES its showcase for the American market. On Tuesday, he highlighted washing machines that themselves assess the level of dirt and determine the amount of detergent needed. The company is also working on the design of an oven with an integrated camera to monitor the cooking live or make a video of the soufflé taking shape, a function designed in particular for influencers on social networks.

“Deflationary Force”

CES has also become one of the most important auto shows, with announcements from BMW, Stellantis and Sony, among others. “The days when CES was mostly about televisions, laptops and connected home gadgets are over,” notes Thomas Husson, analyst at Forrester. “Now that software is embedded in all devices, brands are showcasing innovations in electric vehicles, robotics and applied artificial intelligence.”

The CTA is betting on technologies to rebound the economy, such as, in the past, smartphones or high-speed internet. “This time around, the new waves of digital change that will fend off inflation and kick-start growth will come from businesses,” Steve Koenig told a conference, referring in particular to robots that will make factories more efficient. and automated agricultural machinery.

Technology increases productivity, thereby reducing production costs, and is therefore “a deflationary force for the global economy,” said Gary Shapiro, president of the CTA.

Companies will have to choose their arguments carefully, however, as rising prices and post-pandemic saturation dampen consumer spending. The CTA estimates that revenues from the technology sector in the United States (cars, televisions, mobile applications, etc.) will fall to $485 billion in 2023, from $512 billion in 2021, a record year.

Read also: Apple lost $1 trillion in market capitalization in one year

“The looming recession and inflation will weigh on household budgets,” the organization noted in a statement, “but tech industry revenues will remain about $50 billion above previous figures. ‘before the pandemic’.

“Bonus” Humans

During the health crisis, many technology companies have largely benefited from the confinements and have hired with a vengeance. Last year was a year of corrections, with social plans all over Silicon Valley. On Wednesday, the IT group Salesforce announced that it would be laying off around 10% of its employees, or nearly 8,000 jobs. In the evening, it was the e-commerce giant Amazon which announced the loss of “just over 18,000” jobs, including in Europe.

Read also: Amazon confirms the loss of 18,000 jobs

For Steve Koenig, this reality should not, however, hide the real problem, that of the general lack of qualified labour. “Twenty years ago, technology was a plus for a company. Today, the bonus is the humans,” summarizes Steve Koenig. “Former tech giants’ employees easily find work elsewhere, because other companies need their skills in the cloud or AI,” says Avi Greengart, analyst at Techsponential. For start-ups, “it may be easier to find talent, but it has become much more difficult to raise funds”, because of the rise in interest rates, he nuances however.

The semiconductor supply chain also remains a concern. “Shipping costs are coming down and there are fewer delays in ports around the world,” says Steve Koenig, “but you only have to look at what is happening in China to understand how badly the situation remains. uncertain”.

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