I actually bled for this article. Turns out the comfy-chic white leather sneaks I wore to the world’s largest technology conference might not have been the best choice. Racking up to 15km a day on foot, the only respite for my skinned heels was that battling with 175,000 other people there to see tomorrow today makes for an average top speed of 0.25mph.
On the other hand, the technology and brands present are in hyperdrive.
By now, you’ll have read (or perhaps savantly avoided) umpteen articles covering the Lenovo Yoga 5G laptop, LG’s eye-melting 8K displays, and of course artificial intelligence (AI) powered everything. But the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is about so much more than announcements. It’s about humans and the way we’re living life. So while it would be easy to rattle off a list of individual innovations worth column inches, let’s instead zoom out from the fact Samsung’s Gen Z-geared vertical television is going to launch outside of Asia this year, away from Ford’s glorious Mustang Mach-E Tesla contender, and focus on what we actually all do for a living: understanding people. Here are the five things you need to know from CES 2020.
1: Tech makers are finally evolving past gadgets
Or trying at least. Countless products were on show that went beyond core technologies to propose actual solutions to human needs, marking a departure from the razzmatazz of making shiny boxes because we can.
A prime example is Bosch’s latest smart fridge offering, which now goes a step further than simply seeing what’s in your fridge to query a recipe database and make dinner suggestions that help to reduce food waste and save consumers time and money.
CookingPal’s Julia smart cooking system picks up where the fridge leaves off: recipe suggestions are turned into foolproof step-by-step instructions for budding chefs, tired professionals and busy parents to pop into the ‘Julia’, a gigantic bowl that kneads, chops, cooks, steams and more. This sharpened focus on human-centred product design uncovers potential for brands to enter these technology driven value-add ecosystems, to become an ally for a better life.
2: Smart materials will help us do more, with less
With the world quite literally on fire, considered consumerism has never been higher in our collective consciousness. Gen Z now outnumber millennials in the UK, and thanks to their influence on a family spending budget of £268bn, conscious consumption is going nowhere but up. When each purchase has to mean more and do more, multi-functionality is key.
Enter Solar Paper, a million-dollar Kickstarter phenomenon that built a paper-thin solar panel to charge devices, and is actively looking for new partners. Or take flexible-screen specialist Royole, which showed off with its ‘RoTree’ made of 1,000 soft screen leaves also embedded into fashion items, allowing clothing or homewares to be programmable at the touch of a button. Hong Kong based KnitWarm showed off its silver-conductive 3D-knit accessories that heat in 30 seconds when plugged into a portable battery pack but are otherwise indiscernible from regular knits.
Applications could include cold environment clothing, sports gear, elderly and baby care, automotive textiles, home furnishing, bedding and more. We’ve got the job of figuring out how brands can use these technologies to delight and deliver value in more than one context, challenging the one-dimensionality of products to build a more sustainable future.
3: The shift from ‘healthcare’ to ‘wellbeing’ has happened
CES was jam-packed with technologies and ideas to help us manage our holistic wellbeing in a more prophylactic way. This isn’t news, as trends like microbiomes and meditation have been sweeping Western society for the past few years, but we have now hit an inflexion point where more than just calorie counters are available to help people take active management of their well state as well as their diseased one.
We saw an evolution from the myriad fingerpick blood tests I discussed in December towards pee-stick-based diagnostics, more fitness trackers than any sane person could handle (the Withings ScanWatch stole the show thanks to its apnea and atrial fibrillation detection), bloodless glucose monitors, systolic and diastolic measurement blood pressure wristbands, ECG sportswear, and even a smart belt that helps prevent hard falls in the elderly by analysing gait patterns and other data points and alerting them to danger.
Sex tech finally made an all-out appearance, mainly concentrating on the female pleasure conversation.
Great, that’s a lot of sophisticated gadgets. But the point is the market is driving enough speculation that people will buy into new active management tactics. Brands in health, wellbeing, fitness, FMCG and even travel can tap into this evolution of consumer behaviour by helping design moments and ways to use these new devices to greater effect.
The single biggest wellness facet we’ll see explode in 2020 is sleep: it’s easy to track and there are many methods to correct poor sleep habits. Food and drink, homewares, apparel, lighting, music and health brands can all help consumers try to get better kip with smart mattresses, sleep trackers, headbands and lamps to optimise their slumber. We’ll see a rise in the conversation around sleep for performance, which will fuel adoption of tactics by seriously motivated early-adopters, driving mass interest by Christmas 2020.
4: 5G isn’t just about bandwidth
It’s going to be really easy to talk about loading speeds of video content or streaming capability for brands on their first forays into gaming. But while both of those symptoms of 5G are true, downloading a movie a bit faster or waiting less for our fave streaming show to start isn’t reason enough to run out for new 5G-enabled phones.
Brands that win at 5G will understand that its power is infrastructural in nature, such as the ability to support a sprawling Internet of Things with no latency between myriad devices, relay information from remote places such as drone footage, and even components that can charge themselves not from the grid but off millimetre waves instead. In 2020, focusing on applications that redefine what cellular network connection can do rather than streaming speeds will give you a longer-term competitive advantage.
5: Privacy shouldn’t be a luxury
With the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) coming into action, the collective conversation around ownership of personal data is going nowhere. Largely heralded the ‘American GDPR’, it is hoped to fuel a wider federal conversation around how consumers can access and have their personal information deleted from companies’ databases.
The conversation raged on at CES, most notably in the form of a panel discussion between Facebook, Apple, P&G and the Federal Trade Commission. Beyond the obvious steps we should take with our customers’ data to protect and respect them, we need to shift from doing what’s required to doing what is right. Transparent and easy ways to engage people on the topic and provision of tools for them to see what data brands hold on them and revoke whichever they desire will become a competitive advantage for those brave enough to lead the change.
With CES behind us, the horizon of big announcements is now clear until Google, Facebook and Apple’s developer conferences roll around in May and June respectively.
More than enough time for us to get stuck into our collective year of making great experiences. And for me to buy a new pair of shoes.
Gracie Page is emerging technology director at VMLY&R