December 31, 2016

A Preview To CES

CES: All Joined Up 

December 31st, make New Year’s resolutions; January 3rd, leave for Las Vegas. Oh well. The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas opens Jan 5th. It puts the ‘new’ into New Year. As every year, we expect the usual acreage of thinner, faster, brighter screens with astounding HDR (High Dynamic Range) resolution; smarter and lighter VR headsets, domestic appliances with functionality that we never knew we needed and an increasing range of devices that render our bodies as sources of data, our homes smarter and safer, and our view of our environment virtual and augmented.

2017 will finally see OLED screens deployed at scale, on displays that will integrate with life and home to a more significant degree than as ‘just’ an entertainment delivery device. This has attendant but uncertain implications for marketers.

What we can’t see is every bit as important as what we can. It’s good not to forget the invisible infrastructure that allows us to appreciate these devices. Five years ago, 4K HD video was in the world of wonders and streaming 4K was all but impossible; not now. Through a combination of increasingly ubiquitous 100MB plus domestic broadband and the newest Nvidia Tegra and Qualcomm Snapdragon (http://bit.ly/1uaV3FC) chip sets, 4k is available on displays of every size. For 4K streamers, on mobile, WI-FI seems the best option for a while as the 5G standard is unlikely to be finalized until 2018, with deployment at any scale not until 2020. Once again devices remain a step ahead of the connectivity required to use them to their full potential.

CES 2017 is and will be about the increasing intelligence and connectivity of everything, driven by advances in machine learning, artificial intelligence, passive sensors, robots and robotics. We are heading into a period where the impossible is not only probable but present. It’s only in part about the devices themselves; it’s mostly about how they, and we, are changed by connected data. Speaking of what lies beneath, CES will feature Spartan anti-radiation boxer shorts – a must for the ultra-cautious, ultra-connected consumer (http://bit.ly/2fCyac3).

6 months after CES opens, almost to the day, will be the 10th anniversary of the launch of the Apple iPhone. Almost every device and service we use today is somehow enabled or enhanced by ubiquitous smartphone and bandwidth distribution; and the ability of the app ecosystem of the former to act as the controller of pretty much everything else. This construct is far from exhausted as demonstrated by AR phones built on Google’s ‘motion tracking and area learning’ Project Tango (http://bit.ly/2fQaEWR).

It does, however, beg the question of the next leap – the leap to an untethered world in which devices operate increasingly independently of the smart phone and screens, and instead respond to voice, gesture, physical and emotional signals as well as beacons in the built environment, and to each other.Enabled by rapid acceleration in the computing power unlocked by multi-core chip set graphic process development, nowhere is this more important than in facilitating the rise of autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles. The more they are connected to each other, the greater the potential for safety and the optimization of road space and other resource and perhaps even the morality choices of protecting the occupant or those on the outside. Different use cases, but familiar players are evidenced by the increasing penetration of Android Auto and Apple Car Play. 

More (seemingly) prosaic learning devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home respond to voice activation but increasingly act as anticipators of our needs based on past and, perhaps more intriguingly, future behaviors. In the case of Echo, and its alter ego, Alexa we know already that the data trail we leave across the Amazon Cloud enables automated or predictive replenishment enabled by an infrastructure from warehouses to aircraft and drones. In the case of Google Home, we are starting to see the manifestation of our digital fingerprints on the Play Store, Maps, Waze, Mail, Search, Calendar and Chrome as Google Assistant uses that data to lubricate the next step in life’s journeys from booking travel to auto-dialing conference calls.

Echo is also bringing to life a new category of apps. In this case they are called Skills. Early examples include ‘Alexa get me an Uber’ to ‘Alexa open Johnnie Walker’ (in this case guided tastings and a stroll through whisky knowledge). These Skills will proliferate and stretch from the indispensable to the incomprehensible but be united by the need for the creation of services and content that will respond to new person to machine interfaces in order to maximize their distribution, discovery and utility. 

Perhaps it’s this pervasive intelligence that separates Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and IBM from their peers.

In short, CES will be our latest update on the increasingly able loop that connects humans and their data exhaust to the things that move us, entertain us, feed us and maintain the health of our bodies and safety of our homes. For advertisers, the question will be simple and the answer complex. How do we build, maintain and make discoverable a data story around brands, without and without screens, to ensure their prominence and survival in an age of machine mediated relevance?


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