What the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) Illustrates About Innovation and Competition

Jennifer Huddleston

Last week, I spoke on a panel at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) about the intersection of tech and competition policy. While many headlines will focus on the cool and sometimes unusual products that debut at the world’s largest tech show — including transparent televisions and single‐​passenger helicopters — CES illustrates that tech remains an incredibly dynamic industry, with entrepreneurs and innovators providing new solutions to consumer needs and continuing to compete in a significant market.

Many people will be watching what some of the big names in tech must reveal, but the small businesses and startups also provide a great deal of excitement and an important perspective on the current state of innovation.

Eureka Park showcases over 1,400 startups, granting them opportunities to market their product to both investors and those who may otherwise help them reach more consumers or further development. The panels also provide an opportunity to learn from the experience of these entrepreneurs, innovators, and policymakers about the struggles they may be facing in the industry as well as the opportunities that technology provides.

For example, Alfred Mai, the CEO of ASM games, discussed on my panel that after developing a drinking card game, various traditional retailers turned down the product; however, the tools available for small businesses on Amazon and other online platforms allowed him to launch the product that now has reached a best seller status.

Technology platforms are just one example of the type of tool that has lowered barriers for entrepreneurs and innovators. As Alfred expressed, it was a choice to use Amazon’s platform over any number of other options. One can also think of the ways other services — like app stores or user‐​generated content on social media and review sites — can help small businesses find their customers without the barriers they would have had in an earlier era.

Not only does CES highlight how tech remains dynamic in the continued rise of startups and small businesses, but it also highlights how “tech” is not just internet companies like Google and Amazon, but a wide array of other industries. Some of these are generally understood, like connected cars and autonomous vehicles, but other industries such as agriculture, health, and retail may receive less notice.

In considering policies around issues such as data privacy or artificial intelligence, these “non‐​tech” industries could also be impacted and, as a result, lose valuable potential improvements from such innovation or be discouraged from offering the tech‐​enabled experience consumers want for fear of regulation.

Finally, CES illustrates that innovation is often our best competition strategy and the market is broader than we might think. Artificial intelligence came up on many panels and was very present throughout the show, highlighting how innovation is often our best competition policy. Furthermore, the presence of innovators and companies from around the globe shows how America’s leading tech companies are not just competing with one another but with challengers from around the world.

The light‐​touch approach and its ability to respond to consumers is what has made these companies successful and supported their ability to continue to innovate.

It’s hard to walk away from CES and not feel excited about the future, but it should also be hard to see all these new, creative innovations and think of the industry as stagnant or dominated by only a few companies.

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