POV: CES 2016

Mindshare Point of View

Once again IT geeks and marketing gurus descended on Las Vegas for the annual Consumer Electronics Show, which has arguably become the second biggest global advertising conference of the year after Cannes. The conference continues to expand beyond the convention center, and as usual there was plenty of action both in the showrooms as well as along the strip. As expected, TV, smartphone, and tablet screens got flatter, clearer, and smarter. Cars continue to get pimped up with new technology, including BMW’s Air Touch motion sensor, which enables you to control your auto via gestures. And homes are more connected and intelligent than ever before; even the long-mooted Smart Fridge may finally become a larger reality with Samsung’s Interview video camera that lets you see what’s in your fridge remotely from your mobile phone. Here are few more trends that really stuck out this year.

The Reality Show. There was a notable increase in companies touting either virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) technologies. Big boys like Sony let gamers sample its upcoming Playstation VR headset, a potential rival to Facebook’s Oculus Rift, which was also on show throughout the conference, including via a super-cool looking simulator called Krush. Not to be done outdone, AR also had a heavy presence whether via headsets or advanced hologram technology. Even Magic Leap, the highly secretive Google-funded AR start-up, gave the Mindshare contingent a sneak peak of its mind-blowing version of AR, now due to go on sale in 2017. In the meantime, it appears that 2016 will mark the year that VR and AR finally get some scale, most notably via gaming. Whether there will be a VHS v Beta like death duel remains to be seen. Some would argue there is room for both, while companies like Magic Leap believe that VR is a dead end. More to come.

Every Breath You Take. The usual suspects – Fitbit, Misfit, Samsung, etc. – launched new wearable technology products. What was new and notable was the emergence of breath related technology. Breathometer’s Mint assesses over 300 different biomarkers and alerts you of any imbalances or potential health problems. Mint will be bundled into Philip’s brush kit sometime this year, enabling consumers to not only keep their teeth clean but also check their health with one simple breath into a device. Several other breath-related medical technologies were also on display, including LEVL’s Now, which helps you assess how much fat you are burning.

Product Relationship Management. Dozens of companies are offering their services to help turn your products into connected objects. French company Tangible Display uses image recognition to pair objects with screens. UK start-up Evrythng takes things a step further by embedding technology into every product enabling it to seamlessly pass data to your broader connected ecosystem, doing everything, or evrythng, from providing critical utilization information to automatically replenishing itself to acting as an instant point-of-sale. If fully realized brands will need to think of their physical products as entities that will need on-going digital management over their lifecycle, similar to the CRM approach taken to customers. Once connected, products will have an implicit or explicit digital voice, and the data it produces can trigger all kinds of synchronous real-time opportunities with customers, from advertising to utility to commerce.

The Usual Suspects. Google, AOL, Facebook, Twitter, and Spotify were just a few of the big advertising players holding court off the strip. Facebook held its quarterly Marketing Council meeting, where it provided an update on Messenger, which now has over 800 million monthly active users, not to mention a 100% YoY increase in the amount of messages to pages. When and whether Facebook decides to run advertising on the platform remains to be seen, but surely it must be tempted given the numbers. Most notable for Twitter was the very visible presence of founder and new CEO Jack Dorsey, who actively networked in an attempt to bring some renewed enthusiasm to the struggling platform. Spotify had a very nice showcase on how its streaming services are increasingly bundled into your home, your car, and multiple other connected devices. And AOL’s Tim Armstrong had a renewed spring in his step as the company capitalizes on its Verizon acquisition, emerging in a stronger position than it has been in years. Google and Yahoo kept low profiles, and Apple was absent as usual. Snapchat was rumored to be in town, although any proof disappeared after 10 seconds. 

Overall, CES 2016 felt a bit more real and pragmatic than previous years. Most of the technology on display felt within reach, things you could buy and use now rather than futuristic kit for another day. Perhaps it’s a sign of how fast the industry is innovating and accelerating that what once seemed unimaginable now feels like it will be available at your local retailer within months.