This year my CES badge came with a green ribbon denoting a dubious honor — 20+ years at CES! In truth, that number is creeping closer to 30 years, since I first tagged along with new business legend Don Peppers back in 1989 (and I’ve attended just about every year since).
While in the past I typically was helping a client exhibitor, this was my first time there mainly as a Social Media Explorer correspondent, a role that was both liberating and exhausting (you try covering that entire show in two days!).
Having had a few days to recover, it’s now clear to me that many of the things I observed at CES are part of some larger trends that will have significant implications for society in general — and marketers specifically. Here are seven of those trends:
1. Alexa, Take a Bow
If there is such a thing as a “winner of CES,” Alexa, the voice-activated virtual assistant from Amazon, may have been it. Seemingly ubiquitous, Alexa could be found at booths as varied as Belkin (integrated with Wemo smarthome products), to Whirlpool (smart washing machines), and Ford (in-car audio controls). It’s easy to imagine Alexa becoming the standard audio interface for homes and businesses — and getting way too big for any manufacturer or service provider to ignore.
2. Autonomous Cars: Full Speed Ahead
While I saw first-hand the gorgeous autonomous prototypes from Faraday Future, Mercedes and Toyota, several other carmakers, including Ford and GM, were also there showcasing their self-driving vehicles.
When it comes to self-driving cars, it’s no longer a case of “If.” The tech to do this safely is here today, even if the insurance companies don’t quite agree. For marketers, this means the inside of these vehicles will become a new battleground for attention, and given available geo- data, the quality of targeting could be unprecedented. Expect car displays to rival mobile devices as the future media hub.
3. Drones at Work
As toys, drones have a relatively short lifespan: they typically crash within the first few weeks of operation, making them an unsatisfying novelty. But as tools of business, drones are on the rise.
Mercedes presented a concept van equipped with drones that will be able to gather and deliver packages while the vehicle continues to drive. Intel showcased high-powered drones that could identify problems with power lines and inspect giant wind turbines. With smart navigation systems and 4K cameras, these working drones should create a number of new business opportunities.
4. Eco Everything
I shudder to think about the carbon footprint of CES as exhibitors devour kilowatts of electricity displaying their dazzling devices. Nonetheless, there were a number of brands proffering eco-friendlier solutions. From cars (self-driving vehicles are more fuel efficient!) to smart home monitoring systems that help to conserve energy (Panasonic, among others), to an in-home composter that turns table scraps into nifty fertilizer (Whirlpool – see Facebook Live video), every product, it seems, will be eco-friendly in the future.
There was even a solar-powered tent for tailgating that delivered a 25% recharge to a portable generator called, appropriately, the Tailgater!
5. Health Monitoring
With so many products taking away the need to move a finger, we’re edging closer to the “too-fat-to-move” world envisioned in 2008 by the movie Wall-e. But don’t worry, there’s an app for that!
With each problem comes an opportunity, and at CES, several brands were ready to save the day by identifying your health issues and suggesting remedies. One such brand, InBody, offered a comprehensive body composition analysis that makes a weight scale look prehistoric. And Dadam Micro’s “mobeat” can monitor human vital signs without even touching you!
6. Robots Rising
It was impossible to round a booth wall without literally tripping over a dancing robot from companies like Ubtech, Tanscorp and Abilix. Lego was there with kits to help inspire engineers of the future, while start-up Keyi Tech hoped to engage grown-ups with its CellRobot, a modular kit of ball-shaped robots.
On the functional side, LG showed off lawn-mowing robots as well ones that could provide guidance at airports. With Alexa heeding commands and thus eliminating the need for any sort of personal movement, clearly we are going to need a lot more exercise products in the near future!
7. Sleep Systems
It’s well known that we Americans have sleep issues; from allotting insufficient hours, to tossing instead of dozing, to emitting marriage-threatening snores. The health and societal implications are huge, ranging from poor performance at school/work to the need for separate bedrooms.
Many CES exhibitors offered sleep measurement solutions via wearables (Fitbit, Misfit) but Beddit presented a unique approach: a tracker that simply goes under your sheet. Taking this idea one step further, the Sleep Number 360 Smart Bed actually shifts your position if it detects snoring—a solution that is sure to turn some heads!
Final note: I chose not to list smart homes and IoT as distinct trends (despite their huge presence at CES) since these seemed to cross over into the list above. And, in fact, that may be the biggest trend of all — the merging of devices, software and services. If Whirlpool tells us we don’t need a separate washer/dryer anymore and offers an all-in-one device instead, then imagine all of the other possible new combos… OR you can just wait for my 2018 CES report!