NYC / Chief Strategy Officer
Granted I say this with the massive bias of just emerging from the world’s largest display of technology, but something quite profound is occurring in all enterprises. It’s been coming for years, and manifesting faster now. Essentially, if you have a business you’re in the technology business. At CES 2016 companies like Under Armour, BMW, NBC Universal, and United Healthcare proudly displayed how technology is at the core of their business. Technology is no longer a department within the world’s most admired businesses — it is the business.
Over the past few years we’ve seen marginal improvements in battery performance among our devices, and a massive amount of the CES show floor remains dedicated to delivering superior battery charging, emergency backup, and eventual replacement. Stock tip: the first innovator to make a big leap in the battery space would be a good bet to place on the market. If CES 2016 was any indication, solving this dilemma will be heroic for nearly every consumer product category.
Hundreds of 3D printers again, thousands of Bluetooth speakers again, drones in new shapes and sizes, again. It can all feel a bit redundant, but in 2016 a few categories took some major steps toward the future. One example is the virtual reality space — where HTC revealed their Vive virtual reality headset with an ingenious feature that detects objects in the real world and can overlay them into the virtual world. No more walking into IRL walls by accident. As an industry we’ve come to expect iPhone-level announcements each year, but in most 12-month cycles you have to appreciate the small victories.
Each year Apple stays at an arm’s length of CES, but increasingly over the past decade CES has represented Apple’s technology dominance with a host of accessories and services based off of its breadth of products, particularly in the mobile space. There were numerous companies at CES 2016 promoting their integration with Apple’s HomeKit platform (e.g. Netatmo). The Apple ecosystem was alive and well in Las Vegas.
The Internet of Things, holds the promise of a smarter, more convenient, and intuitively connected world. It also holds the risk to our personal security and privacy. At CES 2016 there was a small section off the main floor dedicated to technology security solutions — for the home, devices, and data. I predict this section of the show will grow exponentially in the coming years. As connectedness becomes a part of all the products we buy — from sports equipment to baby monitors — everything will become inherently traceable (e.g. VTech breach). Consumers will demand security and better control of these connected experiences.
CES 2016 continued the trend toward exposing the massive scale of Asian manufacturers and brands most western consumers have never encountered. The average U.S. consumer might be able to recall 4–5 major TV manufacturers and maybe 2–3 tablet computer makers. That’s just the tip of the electronics iceberg, and CES displays the rest of it. Walking the showroom floor it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the redundancy of products — each trying to find their niche through price, feature or booth giveaways. The competition is packed and brands like LeTV and Skyworth look quite formidable.
Storied brands are using their equity in new ways in 2016. Kodak, had a modest but brilliant booth showing the return of their consumer products. Smartly Kodak has licensed their brand out to external manufacturers for items like LED lighting and a 360-degree camera –The brand is immediately back into consumer’s hands. They’ve also brought back their iconic Super 8 film camera with a new digital viewfinder. Consumers shoot film, ship it to Kodak, who processes it, scans it in 4K, and uploads it to the customer. In another example of nostalgia revamped, Panasonic revived the Technics brand and revealed the new SL-1200 turntable, which is coveted among DJs and audiophiles.
In addition to the Kodak’s Super 8, there were other numerous examples of decidedly non-tech products getting a digital overhaul (e.g. Sleep Number’s “it” bed), but the one that stuck with me on the plane ride home was from Lego’s Education division. Lego released a comprehensive robotics kit called WeDo that allows students to use an existing favorite toy to further explore their STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills. Their booth showed multiple Lego vehicles and robots being controlled by phones and tablets.
Walking through the vast rows of products at CES it’s common to periodically stop and think, “wait, why did they even make that thing?” You often realize that you are surrounded by hundreds of products that will fail, quickly. Among the sea of novelties, ideas that seemed to have the most sticking power were those that delivered greater consumer convenience. For the most part consumers aren’t seeking out entirely new behaviors — they want routine things made better. One product that I initially balked at, but then, as a dad of small children, quickly realized I wanted was the TempTraq thermometer. Not having to wake up a sick kid in the middle of the night as the doctored ordered to take their temperature is truly insightful convenience. On the other hand, some products probably won’t command a consumer market (e.g. the Oombrella).
The brightest lights simply get noticed at CES and for most consumers, especially U.S. consumers, those lights still represent the latest and greatest TVs. Each year manufacturers try to find a unique feature or technology that they can promote and display ahead of the competition. Outside of LG’s fully flexible OLED display in its prototype phase, 2016 presented minor improvements on the previous year. Slightly curved TVs, 8K TVs, smart TVs — we saw them all last year. But what’s different from 2015 is that 2016 will deliver a growing library of 4K content, not from the broadcast networks or cable providers, but from on-demand IPTV.
@grantowens, CSO @CriticalMass
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