I have been to CES on and off since the mid 2000’s. My friends and colleagues typically ask me ‘how was CES?,’ expecting some techno-prophesy. There are no pithy, tweet-worthy phrases to sum up ‘how it was’. CES is a techno-orgy; it’s like no place else. It both attracts and repels you simultaneously.
In reflecting on what I saw, there are a number of disappointments that make me say I really don’t need to go back. Let me enumerate:
- Let me say it again, redundancy. After the first 20 ‘smart light bulbs’ or ‘drones’ or ‘fitness trackers’, the brain goes numb. Much of CES is evolution than revolution and thus finding the signal in the noise of the total product array can prove challenging.
- Not to be too obvious, but it bears mentioning, the focus is, in my view, entirely too much on Electronics and not enough on the Consumer. As someone more interested in the consumer experience than the electronics, I think the technology can serve itself and not the user. There are so many items displayed that I believe are solutions in need of a problem. Just because we can, does not mean we should.
- Similar to the previous point, technology need not solve every problem. I virtually had a panic attack when I saw a ‘dental floss’ device that I feared was Bluetooth enabled. Thankfully, it was ‘just’ digital (dispensing and reminding), and not connected. Even then, I’m not sure I need a digital dental floss dispenser. Perhaps on a more culturally disturbing level, I saw several manifestations of robots for children – to be their friend, to be their helper, to rock them to sleep, etc. The need that drives this kind of technology is indicative of perhaps larger issues. My colleague Meredith Paige coined the term ‘Impersonal Care’ to describe this. Much of the technological solutions displayed are of marginal value – ‘is the juice worth the squeeze?’
- On an entirely practical level, with all the media coverage, do I really need to be there in person? In using my Fitbit, I walked (wandered, actually) about six miles each day and felt like I had only seen the bare minimum of the show. There’s always more to see. There is no bottom. So I’m thinking that since most of the media curates the important stuff, what if I just sat back and dialed in to CES Live, Engadget, CNET, press outlets, bloggers, etc? I’d capture the most far-out and breathtaking developments from the comfort of my own home.
While I continue to be concerned about what technology is doing to us intellectually, socially, and culturally, there are several reasons I will most likely return year on year:
- There are real human problems being solved in new and interesting ways. Technology is being used to make us safer (e.g., in automobiles), augment our senses (smart hearing aids), reduce waste (energy usage), etc. Unfortunately, you’ve got to go through layers and layers to get to the important/interesting stuff.
- Concentration of so much technology in one small space – you can explore drones, cars, robots, appliances, etc. in a small space. If one is looking for category trends or cross-category trends they can be found in ways just not possible through the media, online or in a store.
- It’s a great way to stimulate the brain coming off the holidays. The whole environment is invigorating (or, for some, chaotic!). New ideas are everywhere. There are amazing people to meet, and some great ideas to build around.
- And lastly, it’s just a lot of fun. You get to see, do and try things that you might not get a chance to do anywhere else. (When else am I going to meet and talk to Nick Offerman?)
Next time I’m going with a plan. I find the really interesting things are from smaller vendors, especially those in the Eureka! Hall
and those startups funded by large companies (Sony had some really interesting startups present). Second, if you’re there and you want to know what’s hot, look at the crowds. For really cool stuff, it may look as if the piranhas are feeding on the carcass of some poor erstwhile beast. There’s usually something there.
Next year, let’s hope for more revolution, more relevance, and more fun!
Robert Schumacher is an Executive Vice President of User Experience at GfK. Please email email@example.com with your comments.