Watches, fridges and cars go smart at Las Vegas trade show

Launches from Fitbit, Ford and LG among 3,600 stands at Consumer Electronics Show

Fitbit and Volvo launch new wearable technology at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Video: Fitbit/Volvo

As the world’s largest annual consumer technology trade show opens today in Las Vegas, a plethora of pre-show press conferences mixed car firms with tech giants and wearable tech with the latest in mobile.

The Consumer Electronics Show, which runs until Saturday, is expected to feature 3,600 exhibitors showing off their latest products and services to more than 150,000 attendees.

Fitbit launched a new fitness-focused smartwatch as it looks to stave off growing competition to its early lead in wearable technology from beyond Silicon Valley. The Blaze smartwatch will go on sale in March, starting at $199 (€185) – just over half the price of the cheapest Apple Watch at $350.

The latest addition to Fitbit’s product range will include features such a colour touchscreen, continuous heart-rate monitoring and alerts of incoming calls and texts from a paired smartphone. Unlike the iPhone maker, Fitbit is not offering third-party apps.


Fitbit shares

However, Wall Street reacted badly to Fitbit’s first product launch since last year’s initial public offering, sending its shares down by as much as 13 per cent by early afternoon after the Blaze was unveiled.

The launch is an acknowledgment that how wearable technology looks, as well as what it does, is essential if device makers want to reach the mass market. Wearable technology is in focus despite questions about the breadth of smartwatches’ appeal.

The Consumer Technology Association, which hosts CES, said on Monday that unit sales of fitness trackers were expected to rise just 12 per cent this year, with smartwatches up by a fifth. Those are modest growth rates compared with other new technologies such as drones and virtual reality.

At its pre-show press conference yesterday, Ford chief executive Mark Fields took to the stage to reveal how the car firm was rethinking its approach to the industry, including partnerships with home automation companies and opening up its in-car infotainment system. The firm also revealed plans for its drone-to-vehicle technology that could be used to help emergency services.

Another embracing tech is Swedish carmaker Volvo. It is further along the road of autonomous driving than many rivals. Volvo has worked with Microsoft to develop a wearable wristband system that lets you communicate with your car via voice control even when it's parked some distance away. You can instruct the car to prep the interior heating controls, set the sat-nav and be ready for you.

Welcoming fridge

Among the more traditional fare at the show was a new range of TVs and smarter home appliances announced by LG. The company debuted its Signature line of premium appliances that included a smart washing machine, a fridge that automatically opens when someone approaches, and a new OLED TV. – (Additional reporting, Financial Times Service)

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien is an Irish Times business and technology journalist