Adam Fulford
Adam Fulford
A view from Adam Fulford

CES Day One, where's the revolution?

At the end of day one of CES I'm left with the feeling that something's missing, writes Adam Fulford, managing partner, business development and integration, at Mindshare.

The keynotes have offered up a veritable smorgasbord of evolved established devices all with the ‘er-factor’; faster, curvier, thinner, bigger, cooler, and higher resolution, to indicate that they’re better than last year’s offerings.

The sideshows bring the wacky: cupcake sprinkle ATMs, iPhone tasers, and Singing Obama Dolls are all there. There’s plenty to generate PR and column inches, of which there are many, arguably the biggest success of the show so far.

And then there are the big trends all of which seem very similar to last year: Whether it’s the Internet of things, connected home, connected cars, self driving cars, health tracking and wearables in general, 3d printing, and digital anything. While some of this is genuinely impressive (valet parking cars for example) much of this is still a vision. Other pieces felt more like a mash-up of anything with one of these key trends.  

As a result you get things like internet-connected belts to keep an eye on your waistline, virtual mirrors to preview your makeup, and baby bottles that tell you the best angle to feed your baby. None of which seem like simpler solutions than remembering which belt hole you use, trying out your makeup, or listening and observing your baby.  

It seems like the fact that CES is only 12 months away forces an entire industry into a frenetic round of innovation brainstorming and development. It results in a show where most of what is presented isn’t that revolutionary, feeling like a desperate scrabble for ideas. A shotgun spray of technology, most of which won’t hit the mark because it isn’t really needed.

So what’s the solution?  

A start would be to filter ideas by asking not whether we could, but whether we should.

Doing this immediately puts us in a world where users, customers and people are king. It keeps us focused on what has genuine utility.  

The process of understanding and testing with audiences is fraught with challenges of course. The old story that we would never have had the original Walkman if Sony had listened to research is absolutely true. But it might have stopped them re-launching with the new Walkman we heard about yesterday; a device that in my humble opinion is too expensive and too over engineered to dent the mass market.

The irony is that this is something that marketing departments and advertising agencies do all the time but manufacturing companies seem less able to do. Maybe it’s the pressure of secrecy, or maybe it’s just the engineer’s urge to do something because it’s possible that stops them, but it’s in everyone’s interests to channel our collective efforts into projects with greater utility.

If we can’t change the annual cycle and pace of development we need to change the process if we’re to get to better ideas.

Perhaps then it’s time for more tech manufacturers to take lessons from the rest of the digital community. Sectors such as design and build and adaptive digital communications are great reference points. In these industries rapid prototyping and user testing are part of every day innovation and development.

It’s in everyone’s interests; the stream of gadgets hitting the web yesterday reminded me more of Randall Peltzer, the inventor and salesman from Gremlins, than the tech industry’s finest at work. His invention, the Bathroom Buddy included a toothbrush and toothpaste, comb, toenail clipper and mirror amongst other things, all in one handy device, it’s amazing there isn’t one in every traveller’s suitcase …