Jan 19 2016
Ryan Manchee

#CES2016 Review: Envisioning the Digital Possibilities


Meh. That was the resounding response I overheard as I weaved through the 2.47 million square feet of exhibition space at the 2016 CES. ‘Meh’ was the common theme in many of the quickly posted recaps from advertising and technology bloggers.

I on the other hand had a totally different take. For me, CES2106 was all wow. Wow is my response to not just the ‘meh’ populace, but what I saw and experienced over my four days in Las Vegas.

There were over 3800 exhibitors from all over the world showcasing some truly incredible gadgets, devices, and electronics. Are all of them going to change the world? No way. Are the majority of them even going to have a significant impact in how we consume or share media? Not likely. But some will – either directly with more immediate adoption, or in the future through an iteration.

This is what CES is about. Exploring the floor, listening to the passionate voices of the product specialists, discovering the nuggets of awesomeness, and envisioning the possibilities.

But, the unfortunate reality is -- we’ve become desensitized to innovation. Maybe it is because we throw that word around so much these days it has lost its meaning. But innovation is not just a shiny object. As marketers, we know how to make an object shiny, so we’re doing ourselves a disservice when we don’t identify advancements in technology as innovation, especially in the seemingly endless halls of CES.

Over 40 years ago, Arthur C. Clarke wrote that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” As consumers, and as marketers, we have a desire to be wowed by what we can’t see or understand quickly. The paradox today is that while (electronic) technology has become incredibly pervasive in our society, we are becoming increasingly aware of the tricks and have a growing disdain for what we perceive as obtrusive technology. We want magic!

So what was awesome and had glimmers of magic at CES?

I was impressed, not just by the massive number of connected devices fulfilling the IoT (internet of things) prophecy, but how the devices are truly starting to work together. My amazement over a Samsung refrigerator streaming T. Swift subsided after a few minutes. But when a refrigerator is connected not just to Pandora but to my other appliances and devices throughout my home, and is controlled through a hub -- pre-heating my oven and programming my microwave based upon our Taco Tuesday meal plan, reminding my wife and I that we only have 67 minutes until our daughter’s soccer game so with normal traffic expected we need to leave by 6:45, and that there is a 30% chance of rain so bring an umbrella when we’re running out the door, and we don’t have to remember to pick up some dishwasher detergent because it knows we’re low and orders for us – that is invisible magic that makes real life better.

Moving forward, I expect the conversation to evolve from connected devices to interconnected devices. We are starting to see what has been marketed as simply smart is becoming exceedingly clever. It is up to marketers to identify new ways to be involved in this environment to add value.

One brand that is doing an incredible job of this is Under Armour (and I’m not just saying that because my 7 year old son and his running buddies are decked head to toe in UA). With Under Armour’s focus on making athletes better through technology and innovation, it was not a surprise to hear their head of media & advertising, talk about “devices as we know them falling away” and how they want to make “collecting data [be] as easy as putting on a t-shirt”. At CES, they rolled out their first piece of smart apparel -- connected shoes -- which have built in sensors. With these $150 shoes, there is no need to strap on your fitness band or enable an app on your smart watch. You just go. While these sensors help in an active, physical setting, they are enabled in an incredible passive manner, too, syncing seamlessly post-physical activity.

Nonetheless, CES had quite a bit magic that was very apparent and in your face (both literally and figuratively).

An example I heard from Google was how media has evolved over the last century and how we are getting closer to it: we started with the radio which may have been as far away as the other room, to the TV that was in the same room, to a computer that can not only travel with you but is only an arm’s length away, to mobile phones which are held close to our face. What’s next is the extreme immersiveness of Virtual Reality.

Incredible content is being produced. Just look at YouTube’s #360Video, which is a hub for a wide array of 360 degree videos or Discovery’s VR app, which houses a growing library of very impressive immersive content that takes you all over the world and face to face with sharks, elephants, and puppies. I believe there is enough newness and amazement with 360 video, and particularly virtual reality, that 2016 is going to be a big year for buzz with a variety of brands having advanced experimentation. In 2017, there will be an inflection point to either gain greater momentum with advanced technology that minimizes the obtrusiveness (and let’s be real, awkwardness) of VR, or else I expect a similar fate as 3D televisions, which were absolutely non-existent on the show floor this year.

On my flight home, I  realized that 20 years ago this past December, my parents bought our first Windows PC, complete with access to this new thing called the World Wide Web. When I first connected and I began to explore, it felt like magic. Since that time, there continues to be incredible innovation with technology, both completely new types and significant advancements. CES 2016 was anything but meh. In a city known for its stage shows, is it any surprise CES was filled with advanced technologies that in my opinion, were indistinguishable from magic?