There was a time when the Consumer Electronics Show was mostly a showcase of televisions, home theater systems, video game consoles, and assorted gadgets for household use. In recent years, however, the focus of CES has broadened to include major technology trends that go far beyond gadgets, and the 2018 CES has shown that this trade expo is headed in the right direction.
For seasoned visitors and tech journalists who flocked to CES 2018 in Las Vegas this past week, the first sign that things were different this year took place last Sunday, when Chinese tech firm Byton introduced a concept smart car that quickly became a showstopper; this is a company that has recruited former executives from Apple, Tesla, BMW, and Google, and their initial product is an electric car that features the latest in infotainment, connectivity and driver assist technology. Byton expects to sell its smart automobiles in China next year, and it will start exploring foreign markets in 2020.
After being dazzled by the aforementioned Byton smart car, visitors were invited to climb aboard the future urban air taxi to be offered by Uber; this is an electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft that requires limited operational space to ferry passengers across city skies. Although the Uber-Bell partnership only offered virtual reality rides during CES 2018, the CEO of Intel actually showed a video of himself in a competing air taxi in Germany.
CES 2018 attendees also noticed that the largest exhibit in the Las Vegas convention center was set up by Africa Tech Now—a tech village where startups from the Continent presented their products and solutions at the same time they conducted workshops and networking sessions. Africa Tech Now is all about the business side of technology, and there were not many gadgets here compared to the rest of CES; however, business activity was at the highest in this section.
One of the highlights at the Africa Tech Now village was presented by Gainde 2000, a financial technology firm from Senegal that introduced Orbus, a solution to certify mobile payments via speech recognition. Another CES 2018 presenter from Senegal was Suite, a startup providing virtual reality demos to promote real estate and tourism.
Trade and finance ministries from Senegal, Mali, Tunisia, and France sent representatives to support Africa Tech Now and to participate in networking sessions. One noticeable trend at the village was that French-speaking African tech firms were more prominent, and this can be explained by the tech vision and the spirit of business collaboration as well as outreach that French President Emanuel Macron has formulated for his administration. This is something that was not lost on the delegations from other nations such as Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.
Representatives from major CES exhibitors such as Samsung and Intel were seen visiting the Africa Tech Now village, and it is easy to understand why: the Continent is currently home to 168 million desktop internet users and more than 700 million mobile subscribers. For tech entrepreneurs, Africa is one of the most promising markets.