FROM: KERRY EDELSTEIN, PRESIDENT AND FOUNDER
The last time I was at CES was three years ago; and it’s funny to look back and realize that my impressions haven’t completely changed. But like CES, they have slowly evolved. CES 2018 didn’t feel as novel as CES 2015, but it felt distinctly more useful and relevant.
The last time I attended CES, fitness trackers for women were adorned with cheap rhinestones, and smart watches were large enough to eat my wrist. So you can imagine how pleased I was to see that tech companies have finally started partnering with designers. At the Fossil booth, there were partnerships with designers like Kate Spade to offer hybrid smart watches that I might actually wear. I still like the durability and design of my current watch better, but I’ve stopped physically cringing at smart watch design. Which represents tremendous progress over 2015.
What’s also interesting about aesthetics is that the IoT space seems to be embracing beauty from the outset. In one of my favorite CES moments, I was wandering out the door of LVCC, when I heard this spectacularly brilliant electric fiddle music behind me. I could sense it was live, and I turned back around. I found the fiddling troubadour wandering the Ford smart cities exhibit, and a crowd immediately built around him.
As I looked around me, I realized that Ford had built what could only be described as a beautiful exhibit. There were artists creating art in real time, on park benches. An ice cream stand. Images of modern living next to nature. Bike lanes. A giant chalkboard where you could share ideas with others. It felt wonderfully idyllic and communal.
What I didn’t see, almost comically, was traffic and gadgets. And I can’t imagine that’s an oversight for Ford. What an interesting social commentary, that tech might become invisible to us, used primarily to enable rather than replace in-person community. I’m in the market for a new car, and if we’re being honest, it kind of makes me want to test drive a Ford in solidarity.
SOCIAL COMMENTARY ENTERS TECHNOLOGY
And while we’re on the topic of social commentary, let’s take a moment to congratulate Netflix, who cleverly presented a dystopian cryogenic booth called “Psychasec” as an ad for its upcoming launch of a new sci-fi series Altered Carbon. And boy were people falling for it. One part art exhibit, one part social commentary, and one part guerrilla marketing tool, it was all parts clever and a great way for Netflix to represent at the show. I encourage you to read the above-linked Engadget article; they encapsulated the scene perfectly.
THE C IN CES IS BACK!
In 2015, I saw a lot of cool stuff that lacked purpose and practical application. In 2018, drones weren’t just for racing and selfies, but also for agriculture management and teaching coding to kids. My colleague Jordan and I came across one booth where kids can code their own motion-activated drone, which requires them to be physically active to get it to fly. As a board member at a charter school, I kind of love the idea of bridging gym class and coding bootcamp into a cross-functional activity.
The emerging practicality extends to day-to-day life. On multiple occasions, I found myself asking, “Where are you distributed?” Target and Amazon, I hope you’ll actually sell that prescription assessment kit for $30, that’ll save me a trip to the optometrist and a $60 co-pay. And Swim Outlet, if you really do carry a tiny monitor that attaches into my bathing suit and measures my breathing during a workout, my pulmonologist and I would really love that info to monitor asthma. Does it come with free shipping?
Speaking of practical, we came across some cool practical features that seem limited to new innovations. Case in point: why do I need an autonomous vehicle to have electronic signage on the back of my car? I would use that now, on my human-operated vehicle. Imagine the value of being able to say, “Hey you back there, could you maybe stop tailgating me?” or “Sorry, I’m lost and need to merge in please.” Or as my friend Tom pointed out, it could also be used for positive messages, like, “Thanks for letting me in!” And “Have a great day!” Ok fine Tom, make me take the high road. Pun intended.
EVERYTHING OLD IS COOL AGAIN
If you’ve been paying the vaguest attention to cultural trends in this Stranger Things world, then you’re aware that nostalgia is all the rage right now. Tech has jumped all the way onto this bandwagon, with resurgences of Atari, Polaroid, and a new Kodak device that will scan and digitize all your old slides and negatives. (Bonus points to Kodak for simultaneously delivering on the Maker trend with its colorful toolkits that look a lot like analog Snapchat. Might Kodak craft its way to a comeback?)
And you know what, it’s fun! But I take back everything I said about being relieved that I didn’t grow up during the digital era. Someone hide those incriminating preteen photo negatives.
SMART HOMES NEED INTEROPERABILITY.
Maybe I’m just jaded or perhaps progress has stalled, but the cool seamlessness of the LG and Samsung smart home booths just don’t speak to me anymore. Truth is, most of us are never going to replace everything in our homes at once, especially if we’re renters. Alexa needs to talk to Google Home, which needs to work with Philips light bulbs, a Sony flat-screen, and an LG refrigerator. Right now, the smart home space is a giant exercise in game theory – and many brands remain in that non-collaborative, “Lose, Lose” quadrant in the Prisoner’s Dilemma.
From where I sit, interoperability appears necessary to send smart home adoption into mass adoption lift-off. I hope to see a little more co-opetition in the future.
IT’S ALL TALK.
One day, we won’t all have to pretend we’re talking to the dog when we talk to ourselves alone at home. And that’s because every device coming out now seems to have voice activation built into it. While Siri appears to have gone on vacation, Google Home and Alexa are being built into, well, everything. Pretty soon we won’t have to leave the couch to do anything, which maybe means we won’t be as excited to measure the 10,000 steps we’re not taking. And suddenly, it becomes clear why the latest fitness wearables talk to us, and notify us to get off our butts. You have to admire the circular irony.
BUT SOME OF IT’S STILL PIE-IN-THE-SKY TALK.
Raise your hand if you read about Mark Cuban driving in an autonomous vehicle. Moments before that news story hit the press, I saw that vehicle drive by me. And you know what I saw? Someone in the driver’s seat. I love the principle of autonomous vehicles; my 77-year-old mother and I had a wonderful conversation last week about how much freedom it will give seniors, for example. But enthusiastic coverage exaggerates the status quo; we’re not there yet. CES is still shuttling people around on gas powered buses and golf carts, driven by Vegas residents. Even worse, a major power outage at CES’s largest venue highlights the deep irony of a network of cutting-edge electronics that are completely dependent upon an aging, non-renewable power infrastructure.
THE WOMEN HAVE MARCHED ON IN.
Perhaps the change in CES that delighted me the most is that there were women, everywhere! The previously quiet and peaceful women’s restroom of the central lobby was legit crowded this year, and not with booth babes. The male keynote lineup got a lot of negative press, but the truth is, every panel I attended had 50% women. And they were smart, successful, articulate women. Even better, the male panelists didn’t interrupt them. It was magnificent to behold.