The 56 previous International CES expos have shown as reality what was science fiction only a few years earlier, and the buildup to 2013 led us to expect no exception. While others walked the main convention floor I went off the beaten track to find yesterday's science fiction that is now reality, and as a result CES did not disappoint me as much as it did many others. Mainstream observers and press reported that although "Innovation" was the theme of CES 2013, many flagship demonstrations were just bigger, better versions of what we've already seen. True. You've read about Samsung's bendable screens;fully automated, robotic cars from Audi and Lexus/Toyota; Qualcomm's Snapdragon 800 processors that allow for top-tier quality in mobile devices.; 4k 3D resolution and OLED screens from Samsung, Sony, LG and others; Samsung's "Evolution" interconnected devices that promise smoother and more secure integration of multiple devices; kitchens of the future; medical devices that remotely connect the human body to doctors and medical measurement. Overall, this year saw the fastest, biggest and best technology since…well, since last year. This kind of development is important, and drives much of the worldwide consumer economy, but it lacks the inspiration and the "wow" of something truly new and innovative. For that, I shifted my focus to "Eureka Park" at the Venetian Hotel.
A BIG YEAR FOR LITTLE GUYS
The Eureka Park exhibit offered cheaper space for newer companies, with a show floor supported by Startup America, and grew by 50 percent since the 2012 show. This exhibit was the home of the startup, companies founded on a single idea its inventors hope will change the world. Although the bigger, established companies gave us a technological tour de force, some of the most interesting debuts happened in this lesser-known neighborhood.
Displair, which was featured in a GE FocusForward short film, was my personal favorite. Watch the video here. Displair, developed by a 25-year old Ukrainian inventor when he realized he could recreate the Northern Lights, is a water/mist based holographic transporter through which you can imagine future CES presentations that make real "Beam Me Up, Scotty" and The Minority Reportfiction, complete with touch, smell and mobility. Although Sendboo closed their booth early and went home, their next generation messaging and real-time translation app that instantly translates conversation offers an exciting glimpse into a single-language future.
Cube 26 demonstrated software that allows any device with a camera to enable facial recognition, read body language and gestures, and to do what you want before you tell it to. Applications the demo suggested included pausing a movie when you leave the room or turning off a violent offering if there are only young people on the couch. The same technology will allow program providers like Netflix or Hulu to recommend shows based on your facial expressions over your history of watching other shows. Cube26, formerly PredictGaze, says it is at the forefront of the User Interface Revolution, a revolution that will be at the forefront of future CES events. This has profound implications for future advertising, especially when paired with the T-commerce Samsung demoed as standard with their smart televisions. According to a write-up at the Daily Beast, Cube 26's only existing client is a Japanese retailer who uses the technology to monitor facial expressions on their sales floors. How long can it be before Amazon uses the same to upgrade their recommendations feature?
Glassup is a less elegant version of wearable augmented reality and smartphone capabilities in a wearable pair of glasses. Not as sophisticated or practical as Google Glasses, they were one oftwo companies demonstrating wearable smartphone technology, with the promise that the smartphone screen embedded in contact lenses will soon be on display at CES. Similarly, wearable power generators such as gel pads in shoes that feed electricity generated by walking through the body and directly to mobile devices are the near term horizon. Nectar provided a wireless, multi-device charging station, while WiTricity showed us a bowl-like contraption you can drop your devices into when they need some juice . Both will soon save us from having bedside tables that look like the floor beneath our desks, and show that mobile is a force. Tactus Technologies was this year's winner of the Eureka Park Challenge. Their dynamic touch screen technology offers tactile feedback for flat screens, allowing for faster and more intuitive connection with your mobile devices.
For marketers, parWinr presented innovative technology that enables marketers and content creators to transform a video asset into an online game, engaging and activating consumers. A practical tool for customer service and research is Live Talk, a video chat application that allows website visitors to directly connect with you face-to-face in real time. Kraftwurx was at Eureka Park demonstrating 3D printing and promoting their cloud-based service for 3D printing that connects designers, consumers and 3D printing manufacturers with e-commerce tools that turns ideas into printing-on-demand reality. Condition One, which was also featured at the GroupM Next client event a few months ago, opens a 180° panorama view for videos activated by dragging the mouse or moving the mobile device, enabling more immersive video content.
Early stage technology from Asius Technologies foretells CES 2014 and 2015 when "hearing aid" like devices will be embedded in the ear that not only are bluetooth connections to myriad mobile devices but also correct for hearing loss, an affliction that will be impacting a growing segment of society.
Spicebox introduced "appcessories" designed to enhance the smartphone experience, pointing out that "the world has only seen the tip of the iceberg with regards to smartphones capabilities." The Mauz transforms the smartphone into a computer mouse and Wii controller, "with a touch of Kinect," using a matchbox sized attachment. Again, these and other advances foretell dramatic advances in motion detection tools that promise to be at the forefront of CES mainstream exhibits in the next few years.
Other highlights included:
A smart compress by Dhama Innovations that applies medical heat or cold on the body's demand.
Zboard, an electric skateboard that can hit 17 MPH.
TVF, Inc's WiFi stick app that turns a smart phone into both a video delivery system and a remote control.
A mobile recognition suite by CVISION that allows documents and even people to be identified and sorted by taking a photograph.
THE YEAR OF MOBILE DOMINANCE
Christmas 2011 saw more mobile devices purchased than any other kind of computer. This last holiday retail season saw more mobile devices purchased than other computers combined. Mobile dominance continued as a theme at CES 2013.
Dozens of new models hit the floor, including Hiuawai's Ascent Mate with its 6.1 inch screen. Sony brought the Xperia Z, and Samsung showed off its flexible, durable screen for smart phones. But the variety of mobile offerings was only part of the story.
MediaBizBloggers' Shelly Palmer remarked on previous powerhouse technologies that were in short supply or missing entirely from this year's expo. Point-and-shoot cameras, music players, GPS devices and recorders of all types were conspicuously absent. All those devices are now available as apps, and the market has come to realize it. The takeaway here is what Shelly called "screen ubiquity." Screens are everywhere, all the time, which means customers are available everywhere, all the time. The businesses that do well in the coming decade will be those that learn to leverage that availability without becoming so intrusive as to alienate this growing mobile market.
SCREENS GONE WILD
International CES has always been a proving ground for screens. Since its inception, the conference saw the debuts of HDTV, plasma screens, OLED, 3DTV and a host of items made to display stuff on them. This year saw screens large and small, curved and flat, rigid and flexible, even invisible and intangible, even a 4k resolution, 3D screen . The options were vast, the choices bewildering, but that only means that somewhere in that forest of screens is the perfect device for you. Screens aren't just everywhere, they're of any size, shape, resolution and level of quality.
INTO THE DARKNESS
Few events at CES this year truly underscore the growing interconnectedness of technology and marketing like a comment made by Qualcomm CEO Paul E. Jacobs during his keynote address, in which he announced apartnership with Paramount Pictures to promote the upcoming Star Trek: Into the Darkness. This campaign will combine marketing savvy with new technology to provide a wealth of ways for interested fans to interact with their promotional material. Some examples include
- A traditional sweepstakes that sends winners to the premier
- SMS and social media support with special offers for subscribers
- Rewards and achievements to earn by interacting with physical media using audio and video scans from mobile devices
- A geocaching program where true Trekkies can find hidden advertisements throughout the United States.
Younger consumers may like to joke about how seniors don't "get" new technology, but the health technology on display this year prove the baby boomers still own a huge swath of the market.
Healthspot's telemedicine kiosk combines next-generation medical diagnostics with a design and even sound effects that would make Mr. Spock feel at home. The kiosks allow a doctor to hold a virtual appointment with a patient using on-site tools and a high-definition touch screen. The strangest offering was Hapifork, a utensil that monitors how fast you're eating and vibrates when you need to slow down. It might be odd, but since studies show eating too fast contributes to obesity, it's by no means useless or silly.
Biometric monitoring hardware, software and applications from the likes of GrandCare and Independa promised longer and safer periods of independence for seniors. The benefits for lifespan and quality of life speak for themselves, but this kind of monitoring has even broader applications when considered in the context of marketing tools from other exhibitors at the show.
If International CES 2013 is an indicator, our immediate future means tech is everywhere, tech is intelligent, and tech is paying attention. Facebook already taught businesses the value of learning everything about consumers, even data that doesn't seem immediately relevant. The winning gizmos from this year will make it easier to know exactly what to say and exactly who to say it to, which gives marketers the option to deliver that message in exactly the right way.
More than the gadgets, the real star of 2013 was invisible: the disappearing line between technological innovation and media and marketing. The theme of the expo may have been "Innovation," but commerce in all its newest forms was the clear winner. Tech is everywhere, tech is intelligent, and tech is connecting marketers, media and consumers.
Finally, a shout-out to Scripps Networks, which hosted guests in a large tent that occupied a dominant location outside the convention hall, and was the only TV programmer with a major presence at CES. Also, thanks to Simulmedia, Videology, Grab Media, Digital First, Martini Media and Women in Media Mentoring Initiative, which co-hosted the Jack Myers CES Digital Community cocktail party at legendary Las Vegas Restaurant Piero's, and Videology, which co-hosted with me the Closing Night Dinner at Mon Ami Gabi.
Jason Brick contributed to this report.
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