Podcast: An Audio Walking Tour of CES 18

By Audio InSites Archives
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In Episode 12, MediaVillage journalist David Polinchock and I capture spontaneous audio snippets and interviews at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.  Our stops include a visit to the Google Home gallery, an interview with Edison Research's Tom Webster on new smart speaker research and a chat about marketing headphones at Audio-Technica.  Then we move from audio to autonomy, speaking with experts on new forms of autonomous transportation and how it gets connected to the consumer.  The following transcript has been edited for clarity and length.  Listen to the entire conversation for full insights here, and please consider subscribing to all our Insider InSites podcasts on Apple podcasts or Stitcher.

First Stop -- The Google Home Gallery

E. B. Moss: Google's Consumer Electronics Show sponsorship presence was everywhere - including the city's monorail, where they piped in audio to the passengers, instructing them to learn how to utilize Google Home...  

David Polinchock: That Hey Google kind of new audio assistant is what we're getting in homes and in the rest of our lives. One AR manufacturer announced a partnership with Alexa so you get voice control in your heads-up display, so you can see how this is changing how people are doing things at home. One friend had one of the voice connection systems all throughout their house and had to take it out of the kids' room because the kids were doing their homework by asking it all the questions and just getting all the answers. Overall, I think what people are looking for is a connection of all their things, so it's not "I have this list over here and this list over here" but with Hey Google on my phone when I get home at night I can follow up the conversation with my Google Home Assistant because it's all connected. ...We also have interactivity in air conditioners and washing machines...So you're seeing Hey Google and Alexa and other products leave the single device and get incorporated into all of our lives.

Audio Everywhere – A Chat with Tom Webster of Edison Research

MediaVillage will be publishing more takeaways about updated smart speaker research that just came out in conjunction from Edison Research and NPR, but a couple of specifics from his CES panel jumped out at me:

E.B.: Tom, you said gifting over the 2017 holiday season exponentially upped ownership of smart speakers.

Tom: Yes, we've seen the initial adoption of smart speakers grow at a clip more than we saw smart phone adoption grow when we first started tracking. With both Amazon and Google coming out with $29 units had a lot to do with that, but I think eventually we're going to stop caring about the devices themselves because that technology is going to just be baked into everything.

E. B.: What do you think Hey Google needs to do to compete more with Alexa [which dominates the marketplace]? And, you said we're at about 16% ownership of smart speakers in America right now, so there's still plenty of growth opportunity there. What are the differences and how do you see it competing more?

Tom: They're both going to be very competitive devices for a long time to come and for a lot of people it's just learning the use cases. We know from the previous Smart Audio Reports with NPR that 88% of people with an Alexa are Amazon Prime members. So there is a natural connection there. They're already being marketed to in a way that is contextual for them. ...And 44% of smart speaker users tell us they're using the audio assistants on their phone more as a result of using the smart speaker. So, it's just learning, education and getting people context. ...Ten years ago, we used to ask, "What's your mobile strategy?" Now I think it's valid to ask, "What's your audio strategy?" because people want to communicate with brands that they care about.

E. B.: Yet perception of trust and security are a couple of obstacles we still have to overcome?...

Tom: ...They are valid concerns: When we interviewed people, who don't own a smart speaker but who are interested in the category three of their top concerns were all related to security, privacy, ... having the government listen in on their data. All of the makers of this technology are going to have to find ways to address them because it's one thing to say, 'O.K. Google or Alexa play some Fleetwood Mac,' it's another to start reciting your credit card number into it.

From Noise-Cancelling Headphones to Traffic-Cancelling Autonomous Transportation

Next, I spoke with Jeff Simcox, Director of Marketing Communications for Audio-Technica on his idea to entice attendees into trying noise-canceling headphones via a welcome treat of a chair massage plus a tongue in cheek guided meditation-meets sales pitch.  Then it was on to autonomous cars and Virgin's supersonic Hyperloop, all new forms of transportation that drove crowds to see and touch new ways to get around.

Hyperloop looks like a long monorail pod from the future, and we spoke to Director of Marketing Ryan Kelly.  

Ryan Kelly: In 2013 Elon Musk had a vision for a new form of transportation and founded Hyperloop One. Now we are actually Virgin Hyperloop One, and just broke a speed record: 240 miles per hour in 300 meters. How? Hyperloop is in a tube from which we suck out the air to almost zero atmospheric pressure to provide frictionless travel and reach higher speeds than trains that you might see in Japan. It also means it's more energy efficient and effective because once we start and accelerate we're floating. So this actually levitates above a track, which is pretty unbelievable. ...Think about where we're going to be in 2021 – when we'd like to be up and running -- faster autonomous vehicles, with cleaner energy, and we are a completely energy agnostic solution.

David: So, if I'm inside what's my experience?

Ryan: This is the first time that we're talking about the passenger experience in public. 2017 for us was what we call our Kitty Hawk moment, to prove the technology works. Now 2018 is about let's get real; how do we commercialize, what's the experience going to look like, how do we work with regulators, et cetera. In the same way that in the digital space we expect fast on demand and a personalized, customized experience, we're trying to bring that into the infrastructure mind frame, which hasn't necessarily been the case because this is one of the first new forms of transportation over 100 years. ...Let's say I book a ticket for the Hyperloop here in Las Vegas. The app knows that I'm having a meeting with three other people that I met at CES so they're going to give me a customized pod with a meeting table et cetera. Versus, 'I've had enough of CES and I don't want to talk to anyone I know and I just want a silent pod'. In the future when we get this thing up and running, and potentially maybe there are other apps like Seamless, et cetera, by the time I get home my pizza is there.

At Accessible Olli Brittany Stotler of Local Motors described their form of creating commuter connections for the differently-abled.

Brittany: This new project is about what it means for people that may not have the function that everyone else has, as well as the aging community, interact with self-driving vehicles, making it easier for them and ideally providing them more freedom. ...For example, how to make an Olli stop accessible for somebody who is visually impaired or wheelchair bound. ...Ideally, you'll have an app on your phone requesting to get on the next Olli that's coming into the station with your preferences set.... We've got a couple of different options with ultrahaptics - a really neat technology system which, for those who can't see or have limited mobility they can actually ... rather than having to press a button ... they can just wave their hand in front of it and you feel it and it creates like a virtual button for them.

E. B.: What's the revenue model for this?

Brittany: We are selling Olli and Olli stops to cities - master planned communities, which is where a lot of the elderly will come into play -  and then into large campuses and theme parks.  

E. B.: Is there an opportunity or a plan to take advantage of some of the data capture via the app?

Brittany: There is potential. Currently we would own all of that data though our app but depending on the partnership it could potentially be a white label for a city's Olli. They can wrap it however they want on the exterior...you can have a video playing, and it'll go on any of our windows, so it turns into almost mobile advertising.

David: For our readers and our listeners in this case, I think, this is an opportunity to reach this new audience in a very compelling way.

Brittany: Right. Say you're on a campus and students are going by a Peet's Coffee every morning, and as they're rolling up to that stop Peet's ad comes up on the app or within the bus to say 'come inside, tell us you were just on Olli and here's your discount code.' Then that's another way whoever's purchasing the vehicles can start recuperating and making money on the advertising piece.

For a less autonomous but very elevating experience we spoke to Workhorse about their "octocoper" called the Surefly.

David: What's the range on this experimental aircraft - this personal electric "octocopter"?

Workhorse: 70 miles. With a gasoline generator that powers it without waiting for the lithium-ion battery for hours to charge up and all that stuff. A normal helicopter you have to have pedals and handles. We fly like a drone. All the kids [here] could jump in and say, 'let's go, let's take it up,' because they're so familiar with video games which is like the way this flies. It is also not as complicated as the helicopter and only has a ceiling height of flying of 4000 feet. The helicopter's been here for 78 years .... We're planning on creating a new method of transportation.

David: And what's the price point on it or what will it be?

Workhorse: $200,000 and for $1,000 your place is saved in line and we would probably start delivering in 2020.

How It All Comes Together

One of the trends we see is serving the aging population, which has a certain expectation level of service and experience and technology, and that's only getting bigger. A lot of brands are really trying to figure out how to deal with a population that's having vision problems and mobility problems and hearing problems. But the 25-year olds are very tech savvy. They're the Hyperloop audience, they don't want to be waiting on the street corner without having any idea of when the bus is coming. So you're seeing mobility things like Olli and transportation systems and whole ecosystems. You're seeing companion bots. You're seeing machine learning, artificial intelligence, computer vision coming into play.

And we've seen the trend of connectivity to make things easier in life, like not having to pick up one device to do one thing and one device to do another or I want to get some place and how do I get there. So everything is connecting us whether it's virtually or physically like with Olli, like with the experimental aircraft... everything we've seen today is all about connectivity.

The big thing is its connectivity that has value to you and me not connectivity that has value to some corporation. I'm excited about a technology that will help my life be better and in the course of my life being better the company makes money off of that, that's great. Like with Olli. Where there are branding opportunities but it's giving me something of value. Gen Zs might say, "We get that brands track us every day and we're okay with that, that's the world. But what they're not okay with is 'you track me every day and then you don't know who I am'.... "

Our CES lesson is to "connect with me, but in a meaningful, valuable way."

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