Consumer Electronics Show

A humanist's takeaways from CES

The products and ideas on display this year will make great storytelling tools for marketers

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Credit: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

Did you know the Consumer Electronics Show has been around for more than 50 years? And over the past half-century, some incredible innovations have been launched at the conference. In 1970 it was the first-ever home VCR, unveiled by Phillips. In 2002 Microsoft demonstrated a preview version of Windows XP Media Center Edition. Fast forward to 2008, when Bill Gates announced his retirement in a CES keynote speech.

Now that CES 2019 is rapidly retreating in the rearview mirror, it's tempting to wonder how this year's great tech conference will go down in history.

This year, CES could just as easily be remembered as standing for Creatively Evolved Stories. In the past few years, there have been no major breakout categories, but deep refinement of the ones that exist, so the ability to tell incredible stories is a gift. And this year - from nostalgic gadgets to the reality of 5G -- storytelling and a creative evolution is at the core.

Some products on display will be available in two months and others never, but that's the beauty of the chaos of CES.

Finessing what's already available

Think of smarter devices like wearables. It's a category I'm so intrigued by, simply because of the volume. The new development of sensors will change the utility of the wearable; think Apple Watch and the heartbeat sensor, or Withings ECG or BPM cuffs. These smart wearables are designed to ensure our longevity and health. Not all devices are for the wrist, they have moved to almost all parts of the body evidenced by everything from smart underwear to headbands to glasses. Some smart glasses are designed to provide information via a screen. The Bose AR glasses deliver contextual information via sound in the arm of the glasses.

Other refinements were provided by the large TV manufacturers like LG and its AI TV which auto-adjusts based on the lighting conditions of the room. Sony and its AI smart speaker eliminates the need for additional speakers by sending sound to certain parts of the room. Samsung developed The Wall, a stunning design that allows you to configure any combination of MicroLED's to your exact design spec and aspect ratio. LG showcased a rollable TV screen which opens and closes out of a modest cabinet, which also houses the speaker and controllers. Samsung has the Frame, a TV that showcases artwork when not streaming content. It doesn't matter which of these you favor, they have one key thing in common: these screens are meant to fall back into the environment and not be so prominent.

Nostalgic technology

Everything old is new again. Or at least it appeared that way on the CES show floor, from products like Ion's cassette boombox analog AM/FM radio (also a bluetooth speaker) to more retro brands like Kodak and Polaroid making a comeback with new vintage inspired instant digital cameras. Panasonic even updated its legendary Technics Turntable. What does this old-school theme mean for brand marketers? Nostalgia plays, even in technology. When done authentically, reinvention can go a long way in reintroducing a brand, product, or even an ad campaign.

Other tiny elements of nostalgia were seen in Royole FlexPai with their foldable Android phone, not even close to ready for prime time, but reminiscent of the Motorola Razor or the Nokia Communicator. The Huawei Magic smartphone has a slider that reveals the camera, so the screen is not compromised by a notch.

Tech for good

Not all of the products demoed on the show floor this year were purely for amusement. We saw quite a few incredible innovations that can improve daily life in developing areas of the world.

Heard of Yolk before? It's a South Korean solar energy company that partnered with a Kenyan educational organization on the Solar Cow Project. These solar cows are placed at schools in developing areas in Africa where young children are put to work before their early education is complete. Now students can plug milk bottle-shaped portable batteries into the charging station - the cow - when they get to school and bring home recharged power banks, saving their families money and time in regions where electricity is scarce and expensive.

Tech has the power tackle some of the largest global problems including healthcare, poverty, education, and environmental sustainability. It was good, and important, to see that reflected at CES this year.

Imaging reimagined

While technology sometimes feels homogenized, cold and generic, everyone is quick to ensure their tagline is humanized; be creative, be unique, imagine the possibilities, be you, you do you! Ha. It is true the real innovation with the technology is you. The creator, the critic, the curator of experiences. Seems everyone wants to build tools that design gorgeous, screen-licking-good content that you cannot take your eyes, ears, hearts and mind off of. Technology is teaching us that uniqueness comes in the way the creators take democratized tools and create something new, fresh and surprising. Whether that's Canon developing a software developer's kit for "everyone" or every smartphone manufacturer developing tools native to the phone for a unique point of view for capturing content.

This is a new twist on image capturing, and backed by some of the coolest new tools for producing art and video. CES isn't the typical place for photography and production products to take the spotlight, but they did. Huawei's 3D Live Maker scans objects, or even people, and then brings them to life with AR. Incredible. Sharp, which hasn't launched a consumer camera in ages, announced a new 8K prototype camera. At a consumer-friendly price, this 8K camera currently offers the highest ultra-high definition television resolution in digital cinematography.

From cameras to new lighting rigs, these tools encourage us all to tap into our artistic side. Consumers can become prosumers. Content is becoming more democratized as tech advances, and that's something brand marketers can take advantage of.

5G = the fourth industrial revolution

The promise of 5G was everywhere at CES, and is here - especially for my team at Verizon Media. What does 5G mean? Almost zero latency in waiting for content. Over a longer horizon, 5G networks will enable numerous new applications within the so-called Internet of Things that include self-driving cars, smart-home devices and virtual/augmented reality. With 5G, an AR gaming application could overlay real-time statistics about the local area into smart glasses as the player looks around; it's wireless technology that will go beyond the phone.

For advertisers that means a better consumer experience. Interactive ad formats like AR will look crisper on smartphones and the technology will open up opportunities for more dynamic formats that tend to require additional data.

Micro moments are macro trends

We're all looking to create the next big thing, or predict the next major trend. And at massive events like CES, it's easy to get lost in the overwhelming noise of product launches or dazzled by the big, shiny objects. As marketers we've got to look closer though, at the more minute details that ladder up to more mainstream and macro trends.

So my biggest takeaway from CES 2019: It's all about Creatively Evolved Stories. The ability to tell incredible stories is a gift, and the products and ideas on display this year, from retro-tech to 5G, are tools marketers can use to connect and tell their stories better than ever in compelling, unique and creative ways to be enjoyed across an array of screens and connected devices.

David Shing is Verizon Media's digital prophet

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