CES was born as a trade show for the consumer electronics industry. In 2016 more than half the show space was devoted to technologies that hardly existed five years ago.
Attendance at CES this year was over 170,000 people and many of those, like ourselves, were from adjacent sectors such as retail, finance, health, leisure and marketing services. They each wanted to understand what technology was ahead and what it means for their businesses.
Technologies such as the smart-home, the internet of things, fitness tech and 3D printing have been hot for a few years but are now maturing into competitive categories with significant disruption potential.
Ubiquitous home Wi-Fi and smartphone penetration, as well as the declining cost of sensors, has driven the connected smart-home market over the past few years. Lighting, security and energy management have proven to be the key use cases as many of us share common needs in our homes. This year the theme was interoperability as consumers demand that the various devices around their home talk to each other and deliver seamless services. A number of rival platforms and protocols were showcased at CES from Alljoyn to Gojee, Fibaro and Thread to name a few.
This market will need to consolidate over the next few years to avoid consumer confusion. Likewise, brands will need to navigate this complex landscape so that their propositions work with the most widely used, cost-effective and secure technologies.
The personal fitness and health technology area contrasts with the connected home as the use cases here are often highly specialised. Each sport now has a sensor to improve performance such as the Marlin swim sensor or EquiSense for equestrian enthusiast. As well as trackers, an array of specialised drones for enthusiasts, from hikers to skiers, were also on show. Our favourite was Lily, which automatically follows the user even when thrown off a nearby bridge.
Health is also managed and optimised by devices as diverse as gamified toothbrushes, smart pill dispensers, baby dream machines and a suit to simulate the experience of ageing.
Each of these will provide not just a service but also valuable personal data. Brands should seek to understand where that data can be of use to them in providing a better, more efficient more personalised experience for the consumer.
Technology and the fashion sector were brought more closely together. Samsung showcased the ‘Smart Suit’ and the Welt connected belt. Many devices were given a style upgrade as their looks became as important as their function. One such example was a fashion pendant that also act as a translation device. Smartwatches were found all over the show and other forms of jewellery are getting tech upgrades, such as WiseWear, that sends alerts from a bangle.
3D printing took a larger share of the show floor this year with huge advances in both the consumer and professional ends of the market. Prices are lowering at the consumer end and the capability to print in up to 50 different materials drove the high end.
One of the highlights of the OMD Oasis was a panel with the next generation of entrepreneurs, each under 21 with multiple start-ups behind them. They provided an inspirational look at how they utilised the technology around them from simple web search to 3D printing to create products as diverse as low-cost prosthetics, safer handguns and exhaust reduction technology. Their common thread was that their youth and inexperience proved to be a benefit as they looked at an existing problem with a fresh perspective.
One of the most high-profile technologies and probably the major theme of this year’s CES was Virtual Reality. The first consumer version of Oculus Rift went on sale and sold out within 15 minutes. VR is rapidly developing into a realistic market sector with high-end and value products and a range of peripherals.
At the OMD Ignition Factory start-up event we met The Void perhaps the most advanced and immersive VR experience yet in which consumer wears VR gear whilst exploring a physical maze-like environment.
2016 will be a critical year when brands can judge how much consumer potential there really is for this technology, will it be a profound shift on the scale of moving pictures one hundred years ago or a headache-inducing flash in the pan?
Laundroid is a laundry folding robot from Japan that takes clothes fresh from the drier and folds them neatly. It doesn’t launch until 2017 and will be a high-end product, we can be sure that costs will come down fast if the use case proves robust.
All sorts of robotics challenges were addressed at CES from how they move around to how we can talk to them. We saw a robot home bartender, multiple robot shop assistants and even a robot barbecue cleaner. We should expect to see many more robots appearing in our day-to-day lives over the next few years.
If it is a device you use today, CES has a connected version for it. Whether or not that connectivity is of any value is for the market to decide. This is the key point why marketing must take a more active role as these technologies need to be blended and designed around every day human challenges and opportunities.
At the OMD Oasis, AOL CEO Tim Armstrong stated that we need to focus on the ‘human operating system’. We need to think of people not just as the client of connected technologies but also a critical component. It is the consumer’s trust that needs to be earned to allow data to be shared. The best incentive to share that data is through more personalised and powerful messaging and product experiences.