CES warriors share their hypes and gripes about tech's big show
Industry execs weigh on what to expect (and what to avoid)
Each year, the conference circuit reboots with the madness that is the Consumer Electronics Show.
Nearly 180,000 brands, vendors, tech enthusiasts and analysts from all corners of the world show up in Las Vegas for the larger-than-life spectacle. It's here you'll find underwear that connects to the internet, televisions as thin as credit cards, and vehicles that park and drive themselves. Over-the-top parties, such as the one MediaLink hosts each year, are plentiful.
This year, much of the hype will center around the fifth generation of mobile technology, or 5G, which will enable internet speeds 20 or 30 times faster than today's. It's being developed with the notion that everything will be connected—from entire cities to the clothes a person wears. For brands, 5G offers access to a slew of data points captured from connected devices. With this tech, augmented reality is expected to reach its true potential—the uptick in internet speeds will allow for the type of experiences typically only found in science fiction.
But there will also be gripes. Paradoxically, while CES is the world's largest tech conference, Wi-Fi there is often slow or limited. The term "pedestrian friendly" doesn't exist in Las Vegas and navigating the event often requires waiting in long lines for taxis that are packed with people who all just left the same event. CES also hits just after the holidays, which, depending on who you ask, is a blessing or a curse.
Here, industry leaders attending CES share their thoughts on what they're excited about and what they're not looking forward to.
Rohit Thawani, Digital Experiences, TBWA/Media Arts Lab
Hype: Thawani says the French have been "bringing the heat to CES and are twice as innovative as any startup in [Silicon] Valley, or anywhere else. You can tell just how much France is investing into their startups by the sheer volume and audacity of ideas—everything from hypnosis to haptics to cloud gaming. If it's French, I'm spending time with it."
Gripe: "I'm so bored of the 'Oh, just took a few meetings' responses when I ask people what they did today. I'm hoping that the sport coats booking up all the fancy rooms at the [Cosmopolitan Hotel] on the company dime actually take a couple of days to roam the floor of the real CES: Eureka Park in the Sands Expo. I spend two out of my four floor days at Eureka, and it's refreshing to see actual bold and crazy inventions rather than incremental fridges and TVs."
Ben Reubenstein, CEO, Possible Mobile
Hype: Like many, Reubenstein is excited to connect with current, past and future colleagues. "The sheer concentration of talent across a variety of verticals and industries is unmatched."
Gripe: "There are entire halls of phone cases. Cut it out with the cruft—there's no innovation there."
Michael Kassan, Chairman and CEO, MediaLink
Hype: "For the first time, 5G is getting real. This is a technology that will eventually transform everything about the way consumers live, and the ripple effect on content consumption patterns will be intense. 5G will arrive in earnest next year, bringing endless possibilities to life for marketers that they need to pay attention to now."
Gripe: "The rise of intangible tech—5G, AI and voice included—has made navigating the floor more complex than it was when hardware ruled the roost. Marketers and agencies crave curation and efficiency at CES. That's why custom floor tours have taken off with brand leaders."
Tara Walpert Levy, VP of agency and brand solutions, Google
Hype: "Machine learning and AI are empowering companies to automate the day-to-day, and focus on what's most important. I'm excited to see machine learning show up in so many products and across lines of business from automotive to consumer electronics to marketing."
Gripe: "The amount of time spent in closed conference rooms versus the action on the show floor. Also, waiting 20 minutes for a cup of tea and then sitting in traffic for an hour to get three hotels down the road. Maybe machine learning can fix this!"
Andrew Casale, President and CEO, Index Exchange
Hype: "I'm excited to see all of it come to life from both a 'shiny object' and practical perspective. It's the first industry event of the year—attendees are hopefully well-rested from the holidays and ready to take on the challenges of the year to come."
Gripe: "Lack of fresh air. I love CES for giving us the opportunity to gather with industry greats from around the world, but not going outside for days at a time can really take a toll."
Jon Suarez-Davis, Chief strategy officer, Salesforce Marketing Cloud
Hype: Suarez-Davis believes AI will finally come of age "and not just across newer technologies such as virtual assistants or autonomous vehicles, but in very practical applications like dynamic email and mobile messaging, real-time interaction management and cross-channel journey orchestration."
Gripe: "Every year the focus of the event moves further away from the consumer and toward the speeds and feeds of the electronics, or technology for technology's sake. It's time to swing the pendulum back toward a consumer-centric, technology-enabled forum."
Helen Lin, chief digital officer, Publicis Media
Hype: "How are we linking new tech with existing products to build better consumer experiences? That's what I'm most interested in seeing at this year's show."
Gripe: "Convention halls are typically organized by general themes, but you end up walking miles around similar product sets because CES is organized by original equipment manufacturers."
Jen Wong, Chief operating officer, Reddit
Hype: Wong says a device that can easily capture hydration levels "will be a game changer for me. I'm bullish on wearables and am excited to see what new lifestyle metrics will become trackable this year."
Gripe: "The CES experience is that the floor is crowded with technology that might never be available to the market. ... I suppose sometimes stuff exists just to exist."
Brian Benedik, VP and global head of advertising sales, Spotify
Hype: "The industry—from platforms and publishers to brands, ad tech firms and agencies—are laser-focused on machine learning and AI. I expect to see this in full force in Vegas."
Gripe: "With our days filled with meetings, walk-and-talks and checking out the show floor, and nights hopping from dinners and parties, it's easy to fill your schedule top to bottom. Resist the temptation of trying to do too much and focus on the important areas. Make a focused game plan that ladders up to your goals for the year before you hit the ground."
Jean Ellen Cowgill, general manager TicToc, and global head of strategy and business development, Bloomberg Digital
Hype: "I'm looking forward to seeing the interplay of screen expansion and improved voice technology, both in and out of the home. There has been so much growth in OTT, voice and digital out-of-home. The way we think about what screens can provide us in our daily lives is changing, breaking through to real-life examples and moving consumers beyond the primacy of the phone."
Gripe: "Given the scale of CES, it's often difficult to connect the disparate threads, ideas and tracks together. I want to come away with these connection points and the impact they will have across industries."