What was worthwhile at this year's CES.
CES 2015 wrapped up about a week ago: the stands packed, the carpets rolled up, the hangovers nursed at Las Vegas’ McCarran Airport—until the next conference rolls into town. I wrote about my experiences in a diary for Campaign’s U.S. edition, which you can find here. This is an extended summary:
The presence and the absence of women at CES 2015: In an era when the chief technology officer and technology adviser to President Obama is a woman (the brilliant Megan Smith), I’m struggling with the show’s continued reliance on semi-clad booth babes. They were everywhere, in crop tops or sparkly dresses and caked in makeup, often running on treadmills to demonstrate wearable fitness gadgets. Meanwhile, few of the panels featured women. Come on, tech world—it’s the 21st century! Women are an important consumer tech market. (Already in the U.K., more women own tablets than men, according to research by eMarketer, and make up 52 percent of gamers.)
That said, MediaLink did a great job, featuring Margo Georgiadis, president of Americas for Google, and Deborah Wahl, CMO for McDonald’s USA. And the Ipsos Girls Lounge hosted a stellar panel that included Allie Kline, CMO of AOL, and senior female leaders: Meredith Kopit Levien, EVP of advertising at The New York Times; Shelley Zalis, CEO of Ipsos OTX; Kristin Lemkau, CMO of JPMorgan Chase; Carolyn Everson, VP of Global Marketing Solutions for Facebook; Tina Daniels, Google’s head of Global Platforms and Publisher Marketing; Nadine McHugh, SVP of Omni Media, Strategic Investments & Creative Solutions at L’Oreal; Lisa Archambault, Zappos’ head of Demand Generation Marketing; Lisa Sugar, founder and editor-in-chief at PopSugar; and Wired publisher Kim Kelleher.
I saw Megan Smith talk at an intimate Ipsos Girls Lounge event, introduced by Makers founder Dyllan McGee. In a suite at The Encore, packed with successful professional women, Smith shared her White House experiences (government websites are on her list to overhaul) and her plan to unlock the innovation and coding talent in the U.S. through outreach programs, especially targeting those with fewer advantages. She wants to apply the talents that the U.S. has in Facebook, Amazon and Google to health care, veteran and governmental websites. She’s also working to uncover the history of women programmers, technologists and innovators—from Apple and NASA to WWII—whose stories have gotten lost.
Brand Innovators: Digital magic and Gen Z: On Monday I spoke at Brand Innovators’ Mega Trends day, opening the morning at 9:40 a.m. (Amazing: People actually showed up at that time. In Las Vegas.) My speech was about how technology is being used in new creative ways to make immersive, multi-sensory, sometimes magical experiences in stores, at events and in public spaces—bringing a new emotive layer and sense of wonder to technology.
Brands from Intel to Hyundai to Google are also coming up with spectacular, creative ways to visualize data, making data more human in an era of Big Data. Also on the lineup were Shaquille O’Neal and AOL’s Digital Prophet, David Shing, who spoke of the opportunity in real-time responsive marketing—mentioning the runaway Twitter success of KitKat’s comment on the iPhone 6 “Bendgate” (“We don’t bend. We break”). He also spoke about the frenetic multi-screen habits of Millennials.
There was a growing interest in Gen Z, which was interesting. Maybe everyone is sick of the Millennials! John Koller, VP of marketing for Sony PlayStation, and Toni Wallace, senior director of strategic marketing at Sony Music Entertainment, had a lot to say about this generation. They don’t want things to be handed to them, they want to earn it—they don’t want free things, they’d rather have privileged access for solving a problem or demonstrating their super-fandom. They also, however, want to purchase items instantly at the point of inspiration, so brands will need to make commerce even more seamless for them. Expect many more Gen Z research reports to follow.
Television: On the subject of bending screens … curved TV screens were big. (The thinking is that they make entertainment more intimate—either that or they’re just a fad to make people buy new screens. You decide.) Then there’s ultra-high-resolution 4K television. Sony has been filming a lot of entertainment in 4K and also ramping up its partnership with Netflix. The CEA predicts that in 2015, sales of 4K Ultra HD TVs will reach $4.9 billion and grow 106 percent over 2014. Televisions larger than 50 inches will account for 11.3 million units in 2015, up 8 percent over 2014.
In terms of viewing habits, Medialink hosted a great talk with CBS CEO and president Leslie Moonves, who talked about the rise of the broadband-only home and how CBS’ new All Access has helped the organization triumph amid the sea-change in consumer habits.
Open-source tech: More and more, companies are understanding that by opening up their patents and their technology to the outside world, they can benefit from the incoming stream of voluntary innovation—and also use the move as a PR platform to appear as self-confident, open-society benefactors. Samsung is opening its platform. Toyota opened its patents for hydrogen fuel to inspire more innovation. Last year, Patagonia, the outdoor-gear brand, said its new eco-friendly wetsuit material Yulex (a proprietary “biorubber”) will be available to the rest of the surf industry, so that higher volume can drive down prices.
Sustainability void: Strange to depart from a city like Las Vegas with Naomi Klein’s hot new book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate as in-flight reading material. As the plane soared above the toy town of palaces, pyramids, 24-hour sparkling lights and swimming pools, Klein’s descriptions of the catastrophic environmental crisis ahead seemed almost unreal. Las Vegas doesn’t give a hoot about sustainability; nor, seemingly (save for the odd exhibitor and a small dedicated space), did CES 2015.
And yet, a short flight away, California recently suffered its worst drought in more than 1,200 years, with more predicted to follow. (Which, depending on which academic you subscribe to, is directly linked to global warming.)
There were some innovations in sustainability at CES, but it all felt a bit micro considering the macro issue it is. Should CES make it a higher priority? I think so.
Automakers led the way in sustainability this year. Mercedes-Benz introduced a pollution-free, self-driving car that uses hydrogen power. And as noted, Toyota released its hydrogen patents in a bid to support carmakers using alternative fuel sources. It also showcased the Mirai, its hydrogen-powered car.
On the home front: Many of the innovations in the connected home were designed to help people manage their energy consumption. LG touted its EcoHybrid dryer, which it says cuts down energy use by 53 percent over typical dryers. (It won a CES award for Innovation.) Whirlpool demonstrated an energy-saving heat pump dryer.
Next year I’d love to see more of this. There’s also exciting things happening in emerging markets like Sub-Saharan Africa and India, where innovators and technologists are taking a lean approach to development and creating products that are sustainable, self-charging and carbon-neutral.
Connected cars: Outside of sustainability, the connected, self-driving, clever car was one of the hottest products at CES 2015. We may not all have self-driving cars in the next few years, but increasingly we’ll have cars connected to our cloud, with gesture-controlled touch screens that can make restaurant reservations. (And—if we’re teenagers in Volkswagen’s GoPro—will tell our parents if we’ve been speeding.) CEA forecasts that automotive electronics will reach $14 billion in revenue in 2015.
Connected home: The big question with the connected appliances is how these will all connect. Will people really buy all their home goods from one brand? Many of the product-based brands have been creating self-contained ecosystems. As a result, standardization has been a hot topic. Qualcomm, whose impressive stand focused on the Internet of Everything, is aiming to be a platform that connects all that data. “When will everything speak to the next thing?” read its banners. “The world will change when every device speaks the same language.” Qualcomm has also been delving into the connected home with its SmartHome platform.
Intel drew on a similar theme of creating a platform to connect devices. It also showcased some of its more experimental work, including products by finalists in its Make it Wearable Challenge. These included clever 3D-printed prosthetics and incubation aids for premature babies that vibrate and contract in sync with a mother’s heartbeat. (Many of the innovations echoed trends identified in our Future 100, released last month.) Intel has been doing some interesting creative projects recently. I’m a big fan of its Creators Project, in particular the collaboration with Canadian creative-tech studio Moment Factory. If you haven’t seen Foresta Lumina, the multimedia theatrical experience they created for a Montreal park last year, take a look here.
More on the connected home: Funny that with all the friendly, rosy “We’re making the world a better place” pitch videos set to ukulele soundtracks, a parallel trend was home security and protection—suggesting a rising paranoia among consumers, or guilt from working parents leaving their kids at home. Withings and Netatmo both introduced home facial-recognition security systems: monitoring pods that “capture special moments” while also recording unrecognized people and alerting consumers of their location.
Withings and Netatmo are ones to watch on the tech scene. Personally, I’m not a fan of the facial security systems, but their other products—all nicely designed—are quite exciting. I love Netatmo’s bracelet that regulates sun exposure on the skin, informing the user when to apply sunscreen.
Meanwhile, CEA forecasts that smart thermostats will reach $282 million in revenue this year and reports that 20 percent of broadband households plan to buy smart home devices in 2015.
3D printing grows up
Drones and 3D printing put in another appearance. Interesting that MakerBot is taking a more adult approach this time (after focusing on toys), trying to appeal to Pinterest “moms.” The company introduced PLA Composite Filament, which allow users to create objects that resemble limestone, iron, maple and bronze. It also showcased a partnership with Martha Stewart on homewares.
Wearables, fitness and well-being: The biggest story of every tech conference for a while now, wearables were out in force at CES 2015. The usual assortment of fitness devices was there, but the emphasis has expanded to encompass well-being, stress relief and sleep support, with some devices even claiming to do this neurologically (see Muse, the brain-sensing headband, MyBrain and Thync). Data is being used to learn about sleep patterns and support meditation and mindfulness. Alarm clocks are increasingly exchanged for silent vibrations and ambient light bulbs that change shades.
Swarovski introduced a sparkly wearable with Misfit that is solar-powered, which is quite nice, but I’m a bigger fan of Kovert Designs, founded by Kate Unsworth, which is making waves in the tech/fashion space.
Fitness-wise, with wearables it was all slightly “yawn.” Fitbit has expanded and matured into a portfolio of fitness, sleep and well-being aids. I quite like Skulpt, which is not so much a wearable as a device you apply to your upper arm, or muscle, after working out to measure body fat and muscle quality (perhaps not so great so soon after the holidays). Sensoria markets an e-textile sock that can monitor fitness and also tell runners how they are running and how to run better.
John Sculley is on to something with his new ventures. Not only has he launched Obi, a brand of affordable (but aspirationally designed) smartphones for emerging markets, he is also one of the key investors in Misfit and Beddit. The latter is producing a sleep monitor—not a wearable but an Internet-connected fabric band that users strap to a mattress. It monitors patterns and wakes you up with gentle vibration. Sculley is developing a whole Internet of Things-meets-wellness ecosystem—smart.
The CEA forecasts that the smartwatch market will be worth $3.1 billion in 2015, that smart eyewear will reach $181 million, and that fitness and activity trackers will surpass $1.8 billion. The CEA says 85 percent of consumers agree that using a fitness or activity tracker has helped motivate them to reach fitness goals.
Light: Light, and lighting, was also a big trend, with many ambient glowing models claiming to aid sleep and boost well-being. Misfit displayed connected light bulbs that it says can sync with your sleep, adapt to different moods and boost wellness. Withings introduced Aura, an ambient sleep-aid lamp. There was also holi, a smart lamp that purportedly synchronizes with the body’s biological rhythm to provide the best lighting to assist sleep. Its coordinating app analyzes sleep patterns.
I also loved Sony’s Symphonic Light speaker lamp, which was beautifully dreamy. The lamp casts magical flickering light as it plays.
What else? Ozobot is a neat connected-kid gadget. It’s a game in which color-responsive mini-bots interact with drawings on paper or screen, and can be used to create games and solve puzzles. The video probably explains it better.
Along with these highlights, there was a glut of products on show with increasingly novel attributes. Do we need a connected toothbrush? If I were to give just one takeaway from CES 2015, it would be that with so many of these gadgets, especially wearables, companies are adding features and creating products without thinking about why: Why is this relevant? And is it unique? They call it the Internet of Everything, but does it all need to be connected? I’m not so sure. It has to enrich people’s lives or else it’s just more stuff for the landfill.
Image credit: Huffington Post