Over the course of last week, it was said that 130,000-150,000 gadget enthusiasts, geeks, marketers and agency staff flocked into the Nevada desert in search of the next thing that will "change everything".
The International Consumer Electronics Show (and, in fact, Las Vegas itself) is different things to different people but, increasingly, it has become an invaluable time to gather with clients, exhibitors and colleagues to move our business forward. While it's true that these are many of the same people we all meet within our home cities, the concentration of decision-makers, combined with the ability to focus on the topics and products/technology at hand, make these discussions quick, to the point and very fruitful. Here are some trends and observations that stood out for me.
The amount and diversity of motion-sensing control of content make Apple's Siri voice interface seem oddly out of date. Would you rather yell at your TV from the sofa or make a simple gesture? Minority Report was in full force across Microsoft and Samsung. However, the little-known PrimeSense stole the show with its use of Kinect technology. It transforms your TV experience into the swiping and thumb/index finger zoom that Apple has pioneered. PrimeSense could turn out to be Siri's silent killer.
Smart TVs were everywhere. As their penetration grows, consumers' behaviour needs to change so that they actually use what's smart about them. The challenge for original equipment manufacturers will be to trump the EPG - making the start point for interaction new sources of content: YouTube, Hulu and Yahoo!. YouTube needs a breakout hit with its new channels to start heading to the tipping point. Watch out for what Yahoo! is doing with Tom Hanks' production company Playtone. They will produce, along with Reliance Entertainment, a 90-minute series set to broadcast online in 20 segments. It will be the first original scripted programme for Yahoo!.
Broadcast TV will continue to play a big role, but it is no longer enough. Marketers need to develop a strategy based on relevant content (predominately video-based going forward) or they will be left behind. This train has already left the station in a big way and is gaining momentum fast. For example, AOL's Tim Armstrong announced that the company will be the largest investor in online content in 2012. What is your content plan?
In the US, it's about next-generation mobile broadband from the big carriers and device-makers. Faster networks and more capable devices that will lead to greater content consumption via mobile. Don't count out Microsoft's Windows Mobile 7 - it is putting every bit of its muscle behind a good product experience. And Intel is entering the smartphone market with devices that will be faster and more powerful, with less battery consumption and mobile payment capabilities built in.
As all media is going digital, it seems everything has become a screen - in every imaginable size. You'd better get prepared with answers to the question of how the user experience will be seamless across a multi-screen user journey, from the 84-inch TV to the tablet or the smartphone.
We counted about 30 different ultrabooks. All major manufacturers launched, or are finally about to introduce, their alternative to the MacBook Air.
And many of them look and perform stunningly. Intel's aim is that, by the end of 2012, 40 per cent of the consumer laptop market segment will be ultrabooks.
The standouts were innovations pulling together multiple technologies, such as Mercedes' Facebook integration and Ford partnering with health companies to bring computing to sync in its vehicles.
2012 CES didn't seem to be all about breakthrough new technologies - instead, this year was about showcasing technology enhancements that will help us be more relevant and connected with consumers.
As ever, the challenge for marketers and brands alike will be to spot the potential among the vast array of possibilities showcased last week - and to understand the role of a device and the service design that sits behind it - in the life of the consumer.
It looks like what happens in Las Vegas no longer stays in Las Vegas, which means exciting times ahead.
William Lidstone is the executive vice-president at Razorfish.