Hardware Trends 2018: A Renewed Year for Consumer Hardware

Written by Sandy Diao

2018 is a hot year for hardware. It’s not just Apple trying to get products into every household, but now Internet giants like Amazon, Google, and Baidu, among others, have put personal computing devices into our hands, allowing us to spend more time engaging with their ecosystems. In my experience at Indiegogo, I’ve helped more than 200 hardware startups strategize their go-to-market and raise more than $30 million dollars through crowdfunding campaigns. I’ve also seen companies building at the cusp of this industry change.

There are a lot of pioneering industries in the market, with the tokenization of business utilities being one of the hottest by measure of financial value created. Yet, I believe that blockchain is not necessarily the solution that helps consumers navigate the different services and platforms out there. Payments currency, for example, theoretically benefits from blockchain implementation, but consumer adoption and day-to-day acts of transacting in the real world is another story.

When we thought about IoT three years ago, it seemed we were better off without the “Internet”, because it involved a large amount of effort to build your own “community” or “app” in an effort to provide a robust user experience. Tile, a tracking device company that needed to garnered millions of users in a user’s network to crowd-source finding lost items, is a good example. For consumers, it meant installing separate apps and clicking 3-steps into tucked away menus to control different light bulbs in the house. This was the seemingly hard-to-scale and difficult to adopt IoT vision of the past.


Today’s computing devices are taking the form of consumer hardware, opening new opportunities for companies to build out these passive computing systems. Previously, we were only able to tap into the utilities of the Internet while we were actively browsing a computer. Now, we are seeping into a world of passive computing, through smart speakers, voice A.I assistants, and smartphones in the palm of our hands. Connected to the Internet through devices everywhere around us allows us to tap into an infinite amount of resources that expand what is possible without the need to interact with a computer in the traditional sense. This can be as simple as video doorbells that allows you to check for packages while you’re away on vacation or smart speakers that you can command to buy toilet paper while you’re cooking in the kitchen.

In the past few years, we were sharing with consumers a vision of what is possible through passive computing, such as using a Fitbit wearable wristband to measure real-time performance data and receive notifications. Hence, declarative statements such as “IoT is dead” or “Wearables are dead” misrepresents what they can promise to consumers. In fact, it is estimated that over 115 million units* of wearable were distributed worldwide in 2017, making it one of the most lucrative categories out there.

Apple Watch

Since the CES Las Vegas show this past year, we’ve been told that “Consumer hardware is dead.” However, I believe that there is no better time, since the inception of the personal computer, for companies to take advantage of the ecosystems that are shaping up relative to our daily habits. Everything, from wider-ranging cellular networks, to faster Internet speeds, and accessible developer platforms, has converged recently to open up more consumer-facing opportunities. These include searching for things on the Internet, capturing moments around us with cameras, safely entering and leaving our homes, and even driving our cars.

The web giants who were able to drive behavioral adoption for minuscule tasks in our lives, such as Google calendaring, setting iPhone alarms, curating our exact tastes in music through Spotify playlists, and so forth, have created infinite possibilities for companies to come in and create workflows for us. As a company, building a music streaming app such as Spotify, or building a hi-fidelity speaker, there is an entry point into this ecosystem to drive adoption like never before. It’s no wonder that companies with million-plus users are figuring out how to extend their applications to other areas in their customer’s lives, beyond their time spent actively browsing the web. This year, we’ll see Samsung, Microsoft, Facebook, Snapchat, and more, decide how to extend our time spent engaging with their services, offering spurts of value in different areas in our lives.

You’ve likely already read and understood the mainstream predictions for hardware this year, namely surrounding industries such as augmented reality, virtual reality, robotics, artificial intelligence, and more. In addition to those, I’d like to share my own predictions:

Bigger (yet smaller-sized), better, flexible, and wireless power

Until now, lithium-ion batteries have powered everything around us, from our MacBook Pros to our Anker portable power banks, and I don’t see this changing quite yet. Alternative power sources are in development, but we’re not yet close to a consumer-level power substitute that is as efficient, safe, and powerful. However, we’re on the horizon of monumental gains in the size-to-capacity ratio, battery management systems, and power output speeds. The form factor is prime for experimentation and change, as consumers are tired of breaking, changing, and getting entangled by charging cables. Wearable electronics will be overhauled with the possibility using flexible and extra thin batteries, which was not available in the past.

Omni 20 Usb

Personal entertainment brought to a whole new level

Large screen cinema can be brought to micro-LED TV displays, or enlarged in crisp 4K through smart projectors allowing us to access Hulu, Netflix, YouTube and others. In fact, we’re even seeing growing interest in pocket-sized cinema headsets, which allows you to view videos privately, anywhere you are. High-fidelity, surround sound that fills a room, can be packed into a small speaker that operates wirelessly. We’re not limited to streaming movies through our mini-screen computers anymore, and I’m excited to see projections and holograms take a greater role in replaying life-like content.


Bridging the old with the new in automobiles and last mile vehicles

Even with the promise of autonomously driving vehicles that can support hands-free driving in the foreseeable future, people are still glued to their five to 10-year-old cars. In addition, cars aren’t the only way to get to work anymore. Powerful electric skateboards with four-wheel drive can propel us up San Francisco hills, and city-shared commuter bikes can be rented without worry of parking security. Daily commuters in urban cities are seeking new solutions, whether it be hover boards, electric bikes, or smart car devices that can help track, upkeep, and improve our automobiles.


Growing ecosystems need hardware to activate experiences

Large companies like Amazon and Google continue to build their platforms that allow companies across software and hardware to introduce new experiences to customers. For example, Muse is a Bluetooth device that affixes to your car vent, so you can transform your car into a voice activated assistant. Without Alexa, this product would require much more user education and time spent on developing in-house artificial intelligence technologies. These ecosystems present a new, viable exit opportunity for companies based in hardware, as these new utilities will be valued greatly by the ecosystem owners. Whether it’s Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Baidu DuerOS, Samsung Bixby, or Microsoft Cortana, these are just some of ecosystems that can help you access new customers in different settings.

Google Home Mini

Cameras and video capturing devices that can powerfully compute for specific content needs

Through content creation platforms such as YouTube, Snapchat, and Instagram, we’ll be live streaming, video blogging, and spontaneously capturing moments of our lives when we’re not actively filming through our smartphones. While smartphone cameras are becoming more powerful than our stand-alone point-and-shoot cameras, these will still primarily serve mass consumer-use cases. Specific content creation tasks require different types of devices, such as high point-of-view landscape photography by drones, Facebook Live streaming by 360-degree cameras, action sports by rugged, high-frame rate camcorders, and more. Improved sensors and digital processing allow us to enter a new world of videography and photography, helping us to bypass limitations on lighting, action scenes, and environment.


Internationalization of consumer hardware teams

Google needs a team to help build their consumer hardware platform. Snapchat is inexperienced in manufacturing and needs to offer a sub-$100 product to their majority younger users. The world’s electronics manufacturing centers, knowledge, and talent, still lie in cities like Shenzhen and Taipei. There’s no skirting past this lack of expertise here in the United States, so we’re going to see more cross-border teams who can complement each other in areas such as manufacturing, product development, logistics, and design, to name a few.

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The appearance of stagnant investment portfolios for consumer hardware companies in 2017 does not alarm me yet. In the early stages of building an industry, there will always be winners and losers. A decline in the number of consumer hardware companies is not a bad thing. If anything, the past two years have helped the industry weed out the companies who were not ready to deliver a hardware product, a task that comes with its own manufacturing, design, and marketing challenges. I’m excited to see 2018 become a springboard for new solutions, delivered to us through the form of consumer hardware.

About The Author

Sandy Diao

Sandy Diao

Director of Strategic Programs at Indiegogo

Sandy is a full-stack marketer with experience driving consumer adoption for emerging technologies. Previously, she led global expansion for a Sequoia-funded startup and pioneered a native advertising platform on Pinterest.

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