CES, formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show, is the global gathering of innovators for tech’s biggest showcase of the year. CES is historically one of the best ways to get a pulse on emerging trends in technology that will impact consumers and thus informs how brands can and will engage with consumers through those technologies.
Here are the top trends from this year’s virtual show…
CES 2021 was made possible thanks to “10 years of social innovation in the last 10 months,” brought on by a global pandemic that accelerated video conferencing and connectivity at a scale we never could have predicted. The all-virtual conference was made possible by the widespread accessibility of high-speed internet, the ease of video conferencing, and the plug-and-play ability of companies to produce promotional videos, build microsites, build XR and VR experiences, and participate in chat with attendees.
This year we’re seeing new virus-killing technology beyond healthcare, including innovations working to get antimicrobial, touchless, and ultraviolet light technology systems into homes, transit, and workplaces to tackle the current pandemic and future ones. Ubtech’s Adibot disinfects offices and schools with UV light — kind of like a disinfection Roomba. GHSP Grenlite even works in consumer vehicles. Targus announced an antimicrobial keyboard light and backpack. The BioButton is about the size of a silver dollar and uses sensors to continuously track your skin temperature, respiratory rate, heart rate, activity level and sleep — all factors that could indicate a positive COVID-19 case. And yes, there was some face mask innovation, including a $50 face mask phone accessory and a mask concept from Razer with voice projection speakers (so you can sound like Darth Vader or Kylo Ren, finally). Just don’t forget to recharge your mask!
We’re tracking a significant number of smart glasses-related patents filed from some of the biggest tech companies — Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Snap, and Facebook –—who are all working on new technology and innovation that will change how we think about wearables, hearables, augmented reality, and an AI-assisted lifestyle. At CES this year, there was once again a number of smart glasses exhibitors showing where technologists are looking to balance utility, privacy, and fashion. Don’t rush out to buy a pair just yet, but don’t be surprised if the coming years offer more and more affordable options for glasses-enabled tech that look pretty good and help get our faces out of our phones.
A key need coming out of lockdowns and quarantines is trying to keep ourselves active, healthy, and stimulated. CES 2021 exhibitors focused on replacing the gym at home, as outdoor activities and socially-distanced sports found themselves more in demand than previous years. Fitness platforms are the overall trend umbrella with the launch of Ultrahuman and Samsung Smart Trainer joining the ranks of Peloton and Apple+ to be your personal fitness operating system. Fitness OS is software designed to use the best parts of social engineering, apps, and fitness tech combined to make exercise more than a New Year’s resolution.
This year Samsung made waves with Bot Handy, a robot that can clean up messes, load the dishwasher, and move things around a house. Reachy is a robot you can control with VR via “VR teleoperation,” similar to socially-distant surgery, except for whatever you want it to do — like take stuff out of the microwave (if you have $17,000, of course). Joining the ranks of therapeutic robots comes Moflin, the fuzzy emotional support robot that uses sensors, accelerometers, and microphones to power algorithms that help it learn and grow, distinguish between different people, and “express its feelings.” It is basically what consumers thought the Furby was in 1998 and is targeted at senior citizens or others who crave companionship.
Similar to the buzz surrounding 5G mobile service in previous years, CES 2021 was buzzing about the Wi-Fi 6/6E platform that will help distribute faster speeds across all of our devices. In layman’s terms, Wi-Fi 6/6E is designed for an “Internet of Things”-world on a newly opened spectrum. You know how you currently see 2.4GHz and 5GHz options on many routers? Wi-Fi 6E adds a third — 6GHz. And although we may not see extreme increases in speed by itself, this technology caters to lots of devices trying to access the same Wi-Fi at once or large group settings — kind of like the aftermarket mesh networks many of us have installed in our homes. Wi-Fi 6 gives you more bandwidth for all of your devices, and at CES 2021 we saw new routers from Netgear, Linksys, and TP-Link, plus all sorts of new gadgets that will soon transmit in the super-wide 6GHz band. Nearly 20% of all Wi-Fi 6 device shipments are expected to support 6GHz by 2022.
Our cars and devices are getting better at sensing the outside world. By 2030, 50% of all cars produced may have LIDAR — motion sensing radar — whether for autonomous vehicles or advanced driver assistance systems. Although it’s a technology we usually associate with self-driving vehicles, the fact that phone manufacturers are pushing LIDAR into devices like showers, drones, phones, and more, means there are a number of use cases for shopping at-home. Whether you are shopping for furniture, clothing, artwork, or a car, you can now literally see, place, and size these higher-risk purchases before buying online. So while CES always has plenty of smart mirrors, digital fashion, and LIDAR innovations for vehicles, industry leaks indicate soon every iPhone 13 will have LIDAR, thus opening a whole new host of utility in the coming years.
Amazon Go made headlines for creating a checkout-free, employee-less retail store experience. Now Texas start-up LiveArea has created a new mobile, app-free payment method to make in-store shopping work the same at any store. By integrating with a brand’s existing website, users simply scan an item’s barcode, and the product lands in their mobile (and physical) cart. After all items have been scanned, the user pays via mobile checkout, and is given a code to scan at the store’s checkout counter for a paper receipt. This in-store-yet-online shopping experience opens the possibility for all check-out experiences existing in one familiar interface — the customer’s phone. For financial institutions, this points to the next iteration of contactless payments on the horizon. Pilots are underway at Kiehl’s, Adidas, Marc Jacobs, and others.
Every year appliance companies show off new smart fridges that have huge screens, voice integration, and will order milk when you’re low, but the price point and software limitations always hinder mainstream consumer adoption. However, this year we’re seeing rapid progress in computer vision, eCommerce integration, and machine learning so the food products in your fridge can be “seen” and verified with your online shopping list and purchases, create recommended recipes, and track consumption habits. The Samsung Bespoke Family Hub features a large app-enabled touchscreen that covers everything from meal planning, to the ability to see what’s in the fridge, to integration with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. If this trend persists in the coming decade, CPG brands may need to consider adapting packaging to be sure their products can be “computer seen” and automatically reordered, added into recipes, as well as share and receive data that is the result of usage.
Bigger, flatter, smarter, and crisper — CES always features the latest in television innovation. But many consumers fully understand what to do with much of the “smart” technology in their new TVs. This year, Sony has unveiled a new AI powered TV that automatically adapts and optimizes the graphics using their new Bravia XR Chip. The Bravia XR experience leverages years of research that has taught the AI to optimize the image, video, and audio based on contextual and environmental cues. The technology automatically enhances contrast, brightness, and upscales to 3D immersive audio based on what is happening within sections of the video screen. Sony Bravia users will also be able to access the unique Bravia Core library of optimized titles that provide an IMAX-like 8K experience at home — a feature that may be highly-valued as consumers continue to enjoy on-demand Hollywood content post-pandemic.
Your brand may not be ready to go all-in on the next generation of emerging technology that made waves at CES 2021. However, almost any company can leverage consumer engagement and press interest in AI, IOT, VR, AR, and the rest of the alphabet soup with small campaign pilots designed to drive buzz, articles, and attention. Don’t get paralyzed at needing your emerging tech idea to be perfect or perfectly timed. Instead, create something small and launch it as a test. You’ll be surprised how much attention and traction a creative activation with emerging technology can earn in 2021. Let’s brainstorm something today!