A view from Jason Mander

Tech viewpoint on CES

Even by its own high standards, the range of new devices and tech capabilities on display at this year's Consumer Electronics Show was impressive.

From virtual reality and robots to a list of smart devices longer than your arm, it’s not hard to see the transformative effects they could have on the consumer and therefore the advertising industry.

But while it’s fun speculating about how futuristic drones or artificial-intelligence assistants could be utilised in brand campaigns, there’s a need for a healthy dose of realism here. 

After all, there’s quite a difference between what consumers could do and what they will actually do. It’s also pretty easy to overestimate the speed at which new devices can hope to achieve mainstream status (our data shows that less than 50 per cent of online adults use a tablet, for example, while less than a fifth use health and fitness apps).

With most consumers still to be convinced that they need a wearable, the range of devices on display at CES suggests that the road ahead is set to be particularly bumpy. That means the vast majority of wearables that we saw at the event are going to struggle to find a sizeable audience, especially given their ultra-specialised nature. 

If the success of the smartphone has taught us anything, it’s that consumers love multipurpose, all-round devices. In contrast, many of the devices debuted during CES are spectacularly good at doing just one thing – especially those with a health focus. 

Despite all this, there are some areas where the words "CES" and "mainstream" feel more natural bedfellows. First, there’s the smart home. Here, brands will be queueing up to embed smart sensors that deliver either cost or efficiency. They will take off because of real energy on the supply side. 

Second, there’s the unexpected announcement from Netflix that it’s going global almost immediately. Although we knew this was coming at some point, it has surprised most with the scale and speed of its expansion. But that there’s an appetite for this is unquestionable. Our data shows that a tenth of online adults are currently using virtual private networks to gain access to content not available in their own markets, peaking in regions such as Asia-Pacific, where Netflix has had little presence to date. 

What’s more, VPN users are more likely than average to pay for content. Unlike with wearables, this has been an area where supply to date simply has not met demand – suggesting that Netflix has made one of the smartest announcements of all at CES.

Jason Mander is the head of trends at GlobalWebIndex