CES 2018 Themes & Thoughts

By Lisa Kent 

Instead of focusing on specific products, this year, my observations are based on general themes and the questions they sparked. 

  1. Smarter than smart: Artificial Intelligence and Machine learning will make devices and software smarter and better able to predict, anticipate and add value to existing technology. The smart technology and internet of things today will become simply table stakes in the near future, our devices, homes, cars and environment will know us in ways we cannot even yet imagine.
  2. Lightning Fast Connectivity: 5G connectivity will change the game again on bandwidth and speed of downloading videos – much needed as we are highly video-content focused. The leap from 4G to 5G is huge and as it evolves, we may face the same kind of bandwidth, regulatory and device-related challenges we faced as expanded bandwidth before, only magnified. It was interesting to note that at CES, clearly an unimaginable amount of bandwidth was needed to enable the wireless and bandwidth needs of all of the exhibitors and attendees (175K). Not surprisingly, sometimes it worked for exhibitors or me and sometimes it didn’t which I thought was ironic. It begs the question, what happens when we become so dependent on technology or bandwidth that we cannot lead our lives without it, and something fails (power, wifi, the software, etc.)? What will our back up plans be?
  3. But don’t forget to weave in our stories: Still a thread of the storyteller and storytelling – importance is the same as always although way we tell stories and short attention span are different. They say a tree doesn’t fall in the forest unless someone is there to hear it. We need to find new ways to interact so others hear our stories. There was lots of discussion about how to capture the imaginations and influence buyers, and connect in authentic ways. The conclusion – faster, more surprisingly, more authentically and with the latest technology of course.
  4. Community is crucial: Along with storytelling comes the importance of the community — with whom will we share our stories, our journeys, our challenges and successes. Traditional games and sports were enhanced with augmented reality, virtual reality and new forms of interactivity and motion to complement their communication and strategic aspects. We may spend more time than ever interacting solo with technology vs. interacting with others so socially integrating any tool makes it more likely to be an ongoing part of most consumers’ lives. We already know that we Snapchat or Instagram the moments in our lives to others as often as we speak about them today. We can make the community even more engaging if there is a reward, feedback loop, or ongoing encouragement.
  5. Make it part of my life, not another thing: Seamlessly integrated technology for any personal need will become more and more commonplace. The additional device, button, switch, wearable tracker will disappear as everything becomes seamlessly integrated into our already existing habits or devices (phone, housing, cars, clothing, beds, daily life). We can only carry, wear or apply (and charge) so many things before they become too intrusive, numerous, unwieldy or inconvenient to use regularly. We won’t need switches or knobs or buttons in our cars or homes or workplaces. See Voice theme below.
  6. Talk to me: Voice will become/is becoming the preferred interface for humans and machines so voice recognition and activation technology must and are improving (slang, dialects, mumbling, nicknames, anticipated commands and needs, and more.
  7. Who controls our world? There appears to be an ongoing power struggle over who will control our environment (homes, cars, phones) right now between Google and Amazon but others are trying to enter with their own devices or platforms. Comcast wants to be our phone provider and Roku wants to put a digital assistant in our homes instead of Amazon. As Smart Cities take hold, Google may have the edge. Either way, the rivalry continues with Google making big headway this year – so we’ll see.
  8. Trust and Permission still matter to consumers: As people cede more and more power to their devices, companies need to build trust first. For instance, before we let a device or system take over our whole home (climate, calendar, food prep, security, maintenance, etc.) we need to see and have a success story in an isolated area (e.g. climate only to start). As self-driving cars become safer and more well- tested, I believe this will be the case for them too.
  9. Wellness Defined: Wellness, in general continues, to be a prevalent focus of technology. This year hydration and its many benefits was showcased as often as mobility. Applications to manage chronic conditions are the norm. The true stand out this year was sleep; a clearly increasing priority with a lot of dissatisfaction and opportunity. Solutions exhibited included both high and low tech (cuddle pillows, brain wave replicators, room ambiance, adjustable beds, trackers/behavioral modification, heating/cooling, sleep masks, light and sound therapy, cardiac monitoring and connectivity to change behavior – not dissimilar from other chronic condition management). Digital therapy is only the tip of this iceberg.
  10. Robots will have a place in our lives and work: Robots/robotics are improving and their impact continues to grow with robots once again leaping forward in capability and potential roles – could they now be companions to aging women/men to assist in aging in place longer? The word compassion was used often with these machines. Could they become more human-seeming, actually exhibit the elements of compassion, and play the role of “the device” in our homes? Outside of our homes as well, drones will play an increasingly important role – delivering, filming, and overseeing everything happening in the world. See the Orwellian comment below.
  11. Where does all that data go and who knows what? There continues to be a need to manage data well for positive outcomes and to eliminate the Orwellian/Creepiness factor. So much data is being collected and stored that there’s a fear other companies/government will know too much and also that the data in the cloud is NOT being maximized for our benefit.
  12. Innovation is a team sport: More than ever, partnerships will get us to the big idea. Larger companies voiced both the need and a new-found openness to the faster-paced innovation of smaller companies. Ford, Nike, Facebook, the NFL, Google, J&J, Bayer, and others specifically shared their eagerness to partner and entertain new technologies and ideas brought to the table by potential partners. Bayer advertised for innovation ideas in the CES program, J&J announced it’s “scholarship QuickFire awards program” for those who could tackle technology challenges they could not, representatives from many bigger companies told me they were there to find partners to help them increase the cadence of innovation. The head of new technology for UnderArmour said “there’s no way to have transformational innovation if we aren’t trying lots of new things all the time, and many will fail”.