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An Insider’s Look at CES 2017

Shust_Headshot Dan Shust, Chief Technology Officer Jan. 13, 2017

Observations from R/A CTO Dan Shust and CCO Dennis Bajec from CES

We’ve been attending CES religiously for over a decade. When you have been at it for a while, you realize that CES comes in two (and only two) flavors. There’s the “Big Bang” CES that wows you with amazing new innovations you have never seen before, and then there’s the “Incremental” CES that builds on the announcements and launches of the previous year. We always hope for a Big Bang, but more often than not, we get an Incremental. This year was another Incremental CES.

With that said, here are our takeaways from the 2017 show and the potential impact for brands and marketers.

As many others have reported, Amazon was the star of CES without even having a booth. The proliferation of Amazon Alexa-powered devices and products was impossible to ignore:  Whirlpool appliances, Ford and VW automobiles, Air purifiers, shower heads, etc. Alexa has broken free from the Echo and is poised to become the Intelligent Agent “glue” that can finally connect a very wide range of Internet of Things devices, sensors, appliances and even your car. Another master stroke from Bezos and team. Will it stick or will other players be able to squeeze their way in? Time will tell, but Amazon has a great head start.

(Puts on marketer hat): How fascinating that Alexa, the AI “being” you interact with to control all your stuff is also directly connected to the largest store in the world. Scary fascinating actually. ;)

We were very impressed with the maturation of the smart home category this year. Consolidation and collaboration are giving rise to standards and platforms that are making it easier for the homeowner to choose, install and benefit from home automation hardware and software products. Amazon Alexa, as mentioned above, is part of this success, but there are also very interesting propriety intelligent smart home platforms (like Sky from Vivant) that are getting a lot of attention. Will the winners be dedicated systems from single providers or alliances or will software like Alexa allow anyone to create a mesh of sensors and controllers of their choosing?

(Puts on marketer hat): Oh the data! If we can get all of this hooked up and the data flowing, we can deliver smart auto-replenishment subscription services, or make super intelligent product and service recommendations. Brands can finally truly be helpful.

Yes, there are still fitness trackers at the show. Lots of them. The physical design of the products is getting better and more acceptable, and the tech is incrementally more advanced and accurate. But the big announcement this year from Under Armour (which has 180 million users of its fitness and nutrition apps) was that sleep is important—so they launched jammies. Seriously. OK, they also launched some other stuff, but we couldn’t get past the jammies. Zzzzz…

(Puts on marketer hat): Somebody is going to crack the nut on how brands can be relevant in quantified self-space. There is such an opportunity to connect activity and a healthy lifestyle to discovery and reward. Will it take an insurance company?

Both Oculus and HTC skipped the big, expensive booths this year (Samsung Gear VR still had theirs), instead opting for behind-the-scenes demos of new product advancements. I’m sure we will see them back in a big way for 2018, when they have new hardware launches imminent. It is still early days for VR, in many ways a technology in search of the killer app (content) beyond the obvious niche of gaming.

(Puts on marketer hat): What is exciting and immersive enough to warrant the investment in hardware, software (which will get cheaper of course) and space? What will make me want to put the headset on? We see amazing potential for ecommerce, immersive advertising, even product trial in the VR space.

Augmented Reality (or mixed reality) was a bit more active. We saw numerous Microsoft Hololens competitors at the show. Some of them were very impressive, with better image quality at half or less of the price of the Hololens. There are obvious immediate use cases for this kind of technology in industrial applications and healthcare. But what form factor and user experience will get the general consumer interested again? Remember Google Glass?

(Puts on marketer hat): The next consumer-level Google Glass-like object is going to happen…just not yet. Voice interface and displays are getting better—even inter-ocular projection will be an option for this type of device. When the tech is ready, mixed reality will be a new canvas for marketers, and digital will be forever merged with physical. (Cue angelic background music.)

Oh, and everyone finally realized that trying on a VR headset after 10,000 other people tried on the same VR headset is less than sanitary. Whole businesses have sprung up around “disposable VR shields,” but we digress.

Electric vehicles, autonomy, cloud-based infotainment systems, mesh networks, new materials. BMW took all of this and mixed it together in a wild concept “vehicle” that was meant to hit us over the head, knock us down and yell, “A CAR ISN’T A CAR ANYMORE!” The vehicle was spacious (no combustion engine or transmission), had a unique seating arrangement (autonomous and safe), and featured design touches like bookshelves and growing moss (it’s an extension of your home).

Their point: When all of this technology is in place (in the next 10 years), the things you will do in your car are totally different than what you do in it today.

(Puts on marketer hat): The opportunities here are mind-blowing. Connecting brands with travel/commuting, content, experiences…we want the rolling living room now!

R/A client, Mattel, announced the Aristotle, basically an Echo-like Alexa-powered speaker with a second assistant named Aristotle built in. It can automatically play lullabies when it senses your child waking up and can even keep track of wet diapers. One CNET senior editor said it might be “the most exciting thing toymaker Mattel has ever produced.

Proctor and Gamble was at CES to announce its Febreze Home product, a smart air freshener that can sense temperature and room occupancy and even communicate with your Nest Thermostat to deliver just the right amount of odor fighting product at just the right time.

L’Oréal introduced the world’s first smart hairbrush, which uses algorithms to score the quality of the user’s hair and to monitor the effects of different hair care routines.

And finally, American Greetings was at the show with a big outdoor booth promising to reveal “A Device Like No Other.” What they “revealed” was that sometimes, nothing beats a handwritten greeting card. They had plenty on hand that they would mail for free for you. A nice reminder and a great way for a traditional brand to make an impact at CES.

(Puts on marketer hat): It was great to see some big (non-consumer electronics) brands show up to announce new products at the show. We think this signals a further blurring of those lines, and we can’t wait to see more of it in the future!

As we look back on all that was mentioned above (and everything else that didn’t make this post), it strikes us that we definitely need these lesser CES years between the Big Bang years. Technology moves far more quickly than relevant application. We need to experiment with what we have and then demand better to help drive the innovations on behalf of our consumers.

So…take a breath. Look around.

OK, now get back to work. Next year might be a Big Bang.

Dennis Bajec, Resource/Ammirati Chief Creative Officer also contributed to this story.

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