Ah, CES, you have to love the fact that the first major tech (and physical tech mind you) event of the year is visited by well over 150,000 people and more than 3,000 exhibitors touting their wares. It continues to be an overwhelming experience by the sheer volume of products and services on offer, while drawing a diverse crowd from consumer technology enthusiasts to agencies, startups, media companies and big brands all trying to make sense of the innovation at this scale.
Everything I saw tech-wise with some of these amazing devices allows me to redefine CES from Consumer Electronics Show to Creatively Evolved Storytelling. Every device touches digital and we are now seeing converged platforms, platforms brands dream of way they can engage with people in new ways -- beyond advertising.
The overwhelming selection of TV's from OLED to 4k to 8K from Sony, Samsung, Panasonic and LG create a both an opportunity and a dilemma. The richness of these screens creates a depth and realism of image we have never experienced and the opportunity now becomes how can brands use this depth to engage, captivate and be remarkable in the eyes of consumers. The challenge, however, is on the production side, where content not optimized for this richness is flat, lifeless and old. Boo. Samsung showcased the first ever curved OLED TV, which is designed for great depth of field and viewing angles, as well presented for the first time their Youm bendy screen technology, which may make its way to high-end smartphones later this year. This technology is less about moveable, gestural technology and more about curved forms (for clarity and depth) and overall screen strength.
Not surprisingly, 'screens everywhere' was a theme that continued this year. Beyond the TVs, we saw extra wide screens from LG, Samsung and Panasonic to cater for the people who desire the two screen effect in one screen, which comes in landscape or portrait. A 20-inch tablet also popped up from Panasonic, designed ideally for architects and photographers. It is early days for these devices, as the extra screen tries to find a home. Size and weight will continue to be an issue for these.
Retail-ready screens were popular this year with Samsung leading the pack launching their transparent screen, which combines physical objects and a translucent LCD screen in the form of a light-box. This is an example of the future of retail screens by combining real objects with video content provides a very powerful platform for storytelling.
Auto is the place where constant innovation is focused. The car is now the 16 foot mobile device, where we will soon see 4G networks built in and auto manufacturers may eventually open up their platforms and "open source" the application development as opposed the closed ecosystems we experience today. Ford, Hyundai and Garmin showcased the power of the big screen on the dashboard and their integrated apps, while Audi focused on the richness of 3D sound as an in-car experience partnering with exception sound engineers Bang and Olufsen.
Just like the health category, auto manufacturers are grasping the fact that interfaces that make things simpler, but not more simple will win every time. AOL Autos recognized the importance of tech in cars and created the "Automotive Technology of the Year" award, which this year was won by Chrysler.
The connected home provides much excitement where we can now experience devices and appliances working together to make the home both more efficient and economical. Your microwave can take priority, pause the washing machine until the meal is cooked and automatically turn it back on for economical power efficiency. Many tech companies like Toshiba and their "Home Cloud" provide many examples of smart-devices working together to make the home smarter.
The health category is booming and the reason for this really comes down to two things. Interfaces, data collection and presentation has been simplified and mean measuring everything is now fun. All of the fitness or health tools seem in popular products like FitBits and Nike Fuelband have been available for some time in products like Polar. However the connection to mobile and socializing the content to a wider community is new. Gadgets are available for measuring every part of your life. The wackiest health product at CES was a fork that vibrates to let you know you are eating too fast. Odd at best.
The challenge for marketers will be similar to auto: How can brands be part of that conversation and provide a valuable reason to be part of their health experience? Companies like United Healtcare are obvious, but I can see other healthy eating brands, fitness clothes brands, etc. wanting to intersect with peoples activities.
Also on show at CES is the evolution to "smart objects." This is at the connected and converged platforms of things. Many times they do not have a screen; they monitor activities in the home, on the run, and while asleep. All designed to monitor activities and make our lives better. Zuzix is one example of the future of augmented reality. This is the closet product at CES to resemble Google Glass. While an early commercial example of utilizing your peripheral vision to multitask, it does provide a glimpse of this world in action. Honestly, I found the experience awkward and very unnatural. So we shall have to wait and see.
Being a big fan of 3D printing, it is always wonderful to see how it is advancing. I think we are still at the dot-matrix of ink printing in this category. While the resolution of additive printing continues with the likes of 3D Cube and Makerbot, the subtractive 3D printing techniques are also fascinate me. There are many real commercial examples of this in use in the home beyond building toys for hobbies. Why not print a flat-priced box for mailing from USPS as oppose to having to go to their office and wait in line to buy one?
There were signs of some real innovation, however, especially with Tactus providing an interesting take on the touch screen as they have developed a technology that transforms the screen to a tactual keyboard when needed. I also thought the Wifi camera technology by Samsung and Canon to name a few was a natural extension of photograph. These devices are high quality cameras with a big screen on the back and all the apps you would expect to get your photos online instantly.
Switch 3-Way LED was named best innovation at CES. This technology, replacing a 25/50/75-watt incandescent bulbs while using a fraction of the electricity, overall produces a pleasant experience where light is emitted. There may not be an obvious way brands can be part of this experience, but we sure will think of way that it can.
So as we come to the end of another CES, I remain optimistic that next year we will see a category disruptor presented that addresses this statement: "I did not really think I needed that product, but I really do now." Until 2014, I will keep the an eye on Engadget and TechCrunch for the most healthy and creative point of view.