As the excitement of CES 2017 subsides and the tens of thousands of exhibitors and visitors make their way home, here are our top ten takeaways from a week of innovation, inspiration, and education. This list is in no particular order and by no means exhaustive.
Smart is the New Sexy
This is becoming true in every market. But, in particular, the automotive sector is where we saw plenty of activity this week. Concept cars unveiled by some of the world’s largest car manufacturers focused on the use of intelligence and the ‘smart’ user experience, rather than beautiful contours and straight-line acceleration. The car market is evolving rapidly, as is its presence at CES, and the trend towards autonomous driving as well as a flexible vehicle experience has changed them from being solely mechanical manufacturers to being innovative technology companies.
‘Data is Rocket Fuel’
With phrases like this or ‘data is the new oil’ and ‘data will become the largest differentiator of brands’ being thrown around, it is clear that we are well and truly in the age of data and those that can generate and use data will be the winners in the future. Kevin Plank, Founder and CEO of Under Armour, summed it up neatly with the term ‘digitize, organize, utilize.’ Data needs to be part of every company’ strategy, but collecting it is not enough; it needs to be organized and then utilized to make products, services, and experiences better.
Personalization at Scale
We’ve been using the term mass customization for some time but perhaps this will be replaced by the term personalization at scale. When Joe Pine, author of ‘The Experience Economy,” joined on stage Arnold Donald, President and CEO of Carnival Cruises, he talked about the importance of personalization of the customer experience and commended Carnival for their strategy in developing OCEAN (One Cruise Experience Access Network) and the OCEAN Medallion that allows each customer to access the ecosystem. This is not segmentation by group or demographic. It is is segmentation by the individual. Along with personalization at scale is the need to put the customer experience at the center of everything.
Ambient AI and Virtual Assistants
This week it felt like everyone was saying that AI is the answer, but what is the question? AI has come a long way and is clearly going to change the way we view any connected environment. Voice recognition and the use of virtual assistants are changing the way we view smart home technology, in car technology, and much more. The simplicity of using a virtual assistant that appears to be everywhere and is able to respond in a natural way to human speech is a game changer and will accelerate the adoption of these technologies as we become increasingly more comfortable and trusting of the voices of our virtual assistants.
Designing for the Millennial Market
Many of the brands present at CES are looking at how millennials view their products or services. Some of the solutions that were unveiled this week are trying to answer the questions that this demographic is asking. Their relationship with technology, and indeed with products in general, is impacting upon the strategies of even the largest companies. Designing products or services for those that are accustomed to disruption and happily consider the shared economy to be part of their lives has led to some radical changes in the way the design process is undertaken. Flexible use cases are now more important as is fresh thinking about how products may be used and how they may be owned.
Transformation in Transportation
One senior car executive talked this week about a conversation he had when he was told that CES was looking more like a motor show. He responded saying, “yes, and motor shows are looking much more like technology shows!” This is a sector that has arrived at CES with a bang. In the last two or three years, we have seen the major car manufacturers join the exhibitor and speaker lists in droves. Today, there are very few that are not present. Some even choose CES to unveil new products over other more traditional industry events. Autonomous driving is just one trend fueling a transformation in the transportation industry, the connected vehicle is another, as is the idea of shared vehicle ownership. Add to this all the developments of electric vehicles and it is easy to see why this is one of the largest areas at CES.
VR + AR = MR
During their press conference, Intel took about 260 members of the press to a basketball game in order to show them the power of VR in the area of entertainment. The ability to interact with the environment, to look in different directions, and to blend the virtual world with the real world is compelling and has many applications beyond entertainment. AR is already finding uses in industry as well as the consumer market and with greater computing power and the addition of AI, it will find even more. MR, or mixed reality, is being used increasingly to describe an application where multiple technologies come together to provide a solution.
Engineers are Rock Stars
The role of the engineer in developing these solutions is becoming more and more important. Many of those on stage at press conferences this week were engineers sharing their story of how a product or solution was developed. It was certainly refreshing to see so many engineers being recognized for the rock stars that they are and perhaps in parallel encouraging more young people to consider engineering as a career. As we consider how the work place is changing, there is no doubt that the world will need more hardware, software, and data engineering. When you see the products that are on show at CES, you can’t help but admire the skills and ingenuity of the people who designed them. If you want to see what engineers and designers can achieve, just go to Eureka Park (CES’s area for startups) and meet some that have become founders and CEOs.
Blended Markets, Blended Technologies
Every event tries to categorize the products and companies into zones or segments and at CES this is becoming harder to do. As you walk around the wearables area, you see many products that have health benefits and likewise in the medical electronics sector. Some utilize 3D printing, another CES area, to personalize their products to the needs of the individual and others connect to the smart home. Smart home is using AI and mixing it with robotics to create customer value. And the automotive sector is full of AR and other technologies. It really does feel like one large technology market where every product and every technology is able to leverage the benefit of every other.
And Don’t Forget to Sell Shirts and Shoes
And lastly, to paraphrase Kevin Plank of Under Armour, don’t forget to sell shirts and shoes. Remember what you’re good at and what got your business to where it is. Brands are clearly as important in technology as they are anywhere else. People trust brands and are more likely to buy a smart washing machine or fridge from a white goods brand than from a tech company that has no experience in manufacturing washing machines or fridges.
It’s hard not to leave CES inspired and enthused by all the innovations you see and even more impressed by those that innovate, those that design, and those that engineer the products to bring them to market. The tech industry seems to accelerate a little more each year and change gets faster and faster. 2017 will be a break-out year for many technologies and it is truly exciting to imagine what might be developed in the next twelve months.