What's Out and What's In at CES 2017


By Tony Bailey, SVP, Technology, DigitasLBi

Mobile (Out), Voice and Mixed Reality (In)

In just a few weeks, several hundred thousand people will head to Las Vegas right after New Year’s Day.  They’re not going because they want to put their resolutions to the ultimate test; they’re going because of the annual ritual that is CES, the Consumer Electronics Show.

For much of the show’s history, CES was for industry insiders.  The buyers from electronics stores.  The journalists covering product launches.  The manufacturers looking for new suppliers.  And that’s still the majority of attendees. 

But CES is no longer just an electronics show for the latest gadgets and biggest TVs.  It’s turning into a kickoff for media companies ahead of the Upfronts.  It’s a startup showcase that’s eclipsing SXSW.  It’s also becoming a major destination for marketers who want to better understand how customers will consume content and interact with brands in the year ahead.

With over 3,600 exhibitors covering nearly 2.5 million square feet of exhibition space, it’s easy to get caught up with the demonstrations of self-driving cars, underwater drones, and curvy cinema screens.  But look deeper, and you’ll see a bigger theme developing this year.

The Post-Mobile Phone Era: Voice and Mixed Reality Take Center Stage

One big trend you’ll see: the mobile phone’s era of dominance is coming to an end.  How did this happen? Ask yourself this: when was the last time you used a desktop computer with a keyboard and a mouse, outside of the office?  It may have been because the site you were visiting wasn’t cutting it on your phone or tablet.  The phone was primary, while the desktop computer was a trusty backup. 

We’re now getting close to a time when the mobile phone becomes the backup device when using voice commands spoken to a digital assistant or using an Augmented Reality headset don’t get the right results.

That may sound like far off science fiction -- until you go to CES and see it for yourself.  This massive shift will turn the “screens and pixels” thinking of the last 20 years upside down. Brands that are still trying to master mobile will find this particularly jarring.

Of all the trends on display at CES 2017, the two most important for brand marketers to pay attention to are Voice and Mixed Reality (AR/VR).  With the furious pace of innovation, increases in computing power, and advances in Artificial Intelligence, these two mediums provide a way to interact with machines that’s far more natural than tapping on a tiny screen.

Digital Assistants Gain Ground; VR & AR for Education

With the advances made with smartphone digital assistants like Google Now, Siri, and Cortana, consumers are quite comfortable with spoken commands -- asking about the weather or sending a quick text.  It’s easy to see why.  When the speech recognition works, it’s a very natural way of interacting that isn’t nearly as immersive as navigating a phone screen.  It’s also far more productive, as most people speak 4 times faster than they type.

Last year at CES 2016, the big surprise was how quickly Voice became the new Swipe for controlling consumer electronics.  Many of the products on display with some sort of voice recognition were being powered by Amazon’s Alexa Voice Services -- an SDK that Amazon deftly released into the world in 2015 for developers who wanted to embed the power of speech recognition into their product.

Why should marketers pay attention to these digital assistants?  As products like Google Home and the Echo grow, the human voice becomes the primary way to get information.  In an average home with 7.8 connected devices – devices onto which marketers have traditionally fought to get app installs -- there’s now one shared device that’s a go-to for everyone in the house. 

The same is true for mixed reality.  Real world applications for VR and AR, while limited to gaming so far, are developing for education.  It’s no surprise that it would be more intuitive to learn from a realistic 3D environment instead of a 2D book or video.  Recent CES shows have featured vendors who make the glasses, and this year we’ll see more companies showing apps built on the glasses.

Next Frontier

In both cases we are looking at a new frontier for marketers.  Neither are exactly mainstream just yet, but they are close to “crossing the chasm”.  Two of the primary factors that drive technology adoption are the availability of hardware and the availability of content or applications.  The best place to understand the progress of both will be in a few weeks, at CES 2017.