This CES story was less about revolution than evolution and the behavioral shift enabled by devices that let consumers communicate on a massive scale.
"I'm a marketer, and that makes me a behavioralist," said General Electric Chief Marketing Officer Beth Comstock during a CMO panel, explaining her presence at CES. "How is tech changing the behavior?"
Sometimes not as dramatically as many expected. While there was hardly a desktop in sight and the exhibition floor was full of smartphones, the TV continued to reign, whether in the form of sleek OLED screens -- less than a quarter of an inch thick -- or glasses-on and glasses-free 3-D TV. (Improvements continue, and though it's still not quite ready for prime time, 3-D TV is not going away.)
"New devices don't erase the old ones," said Genevieve Bell, Intel Labs director-interaction and experience research, at Ad Age's CAT@CES salon.
With their multiple devices, the 140,000 CES attendees clogged up Las Vegas' Wi-Fi, 3G and 4G networks, turning the notion of a networked utopia into a pipe dream.
But, suggesting that humans will persevere through lags in infrastructure, Ms. Bell noted that limited connectivity hasn't kept users in India from getting digital content. A neighborhood-based, people-powered solution fills gaps in that country's network infrastructure. Instead of downloading content from Wi-Fi or cellular networks, people often head to a local shop and pay a guy to put the latest video and news on their mobiles.
While CES typically emphasizes hardware, this year's show had a major focus on services offered through the devices, and that paved the way for some nontraditional exhibitors.
Attendees could get a breather from the floor by visiting Lowe's tent. It featured the MyLowe's home-improvement management tool, which allows customers to access purchase histories, including owner's manuals and warranties. And UnitedHealth Group had 3,500 square feet showcasing technology like Xbox Kinect fitness games, information and prescription apps.
These businesses especially embodied the creative uses of emerging tech. At CAT@CES, Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg proposed that more companies take a chance on creative people.
"I would love it if creatives were called upon to run more things," Mr. Hirshberg said, reflecting on his move to heading a public company from being co-CEO and chief creative officer of Deutsch, Los Angeles. "[Creatives] are underutilized when it comes to the "capital L' leadership and charting the course of the company."