4 Trends from CES 2016

(crossposted from space150’s blog)

Our team from space150 spent last week at CES, the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. As veterans of the show, we’re quick to uncover what’s buzzing, what’s garbage and what has lasting implications. Overall, we have to say the disruptive energy is contagious.

While at the show, we used a 360 camera to get some unique perspectives on things – you can check those out here.

Here are four trends we saw from this year’s show:

1. Smartphone is the Center of Everything:

If it’s not obvious, the shift to mobile-first has fully happened. Almost everything on the CES show floor is connected to, powered by, or augments a mobile phone. Auto brands aren’t trying to replace your phone with their maps anymore; they’re integrating with your phone and leveraging all of the latest and greatest your iOS or Android smartphone has to offer.

Many new devices don’t have their own screens and interfaces. Rather, they assume the presence of a smartphone. Drones, speakers, baby monitors, refrigerators, health trackers and many more items use the phone as the hub. The assumption is that you have a phone, it’s connected to the anytime web, and it’s with you at all times.

Implication: As brands consider how consumers connect with their brands and products, they must take a truly user-centered design approach — integrating mobile tech with existing consumer behavior in a smooth and seamless way. They must think beyond mobile-first to mobile standard. Answer the question, “Just because you can hook your phone to something, should you?”

2. Internet of Things (IoT) and Wearables are Shifting From Products to Platforms:

Consumers just love the idea of automatically controlled lights, window curtains and music. It’s a cliche that has roots in the desire to disrupt the everyday, 130 year-old light switch. A few short years ago, it was “enough” to have a web connected camera, thermostat or lights that just did their own thing. Some of the early connected home products work well (Nest / Hue), but for them to really take off, they need to work simply and easily together with other IoT products on both iOS and Android.

The volume of new IoT products is huge, and at the same time the main platforms haven’t fully developed and consumer demand is still lagging. A new Accenture report just noted, “demand for the next generation of devices enabled by the Internet of Things isn’t growing fast enough to offset declines in traditional categories.”

While the one-off IoT products try to find their home, companies like Comcast Xfinity, ADT and Alarm.com are rolling out full package home solutions that aren’t as good as the best products out there, but are definitely “good enough” and priced well for general consumer adoption. Using security as a hook, these three companies have created central home hubs wired with cameras, smart thermostats and mobile-controlled lights.

On the wearables and health front, we skipped all the wrist-tracking bands, but spent significant time with Under Armour, who just launched the HealthBox, featuring a connected fitness band, heart rate monitor and scale sold in one package. They’re selling a holistic package to health monitoring and have made big acquisitions in the space (MapMyFitness, MyFitnessPal, Endomondo) that collectively have millions of monthly users, Under Armour’s platform approach to quantified self offers a more complete approach to health and fitness over others we saw.


Implication: We’re still in the early adopter phase of quantified self as a trend, and there is still a lack of mainstream IoT standards. Mainstream consumers should know if they buy from an established brand they should have a few years of support with their purchase. But when buying from smaller startups or new entrants, they should be aware that you’re likely part of the experiment. Lastly, continue looking to Google Android and Apple to innovate in this space.

3. Immersive Content — Virtual Reality + 360º Video — is Mainstreaming:

We sampled more than 50 VR and 360º video experiences on the show floor. Even brands and booths that didn’t make sense for this type of content tended to have some type of trade show bait rooted in a Samsung Gear or Google Cardboard-type content offering. This will be the year that all of the main platforms experience a consumer release (Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Playstation VR).


In the race for who will ship first, it looks like Oculus will take that trophy; preorders started on the first day of CES, with the promise of shipping in March. The price for the Oculus Headset ($599) shocked a lot of people, and we suspect the prices of the following two systems will as well. We’re in early days of this technology, so prepare for early adopter pricing on the first consumer releases. The lines for demonstration at Oculus’s booth the Samsung Gear VR theater were the talk of the show.

While 360 Video is not VR, we’ll lump them together here for the sake of discussions. We covered the show with the current best “point and shoot” camera for 360 photos and video: the Ricoh Theta S. It’s ~$400 and shoots good photos and decent videos. Capturing content is simple enough, but the software is buggy and a hassle to publish your content outside their proprietary viewer.

With that said, we were stopped by countless strangers at the show to ask about our 360 rig and how it was working. People are excited about this technology becoming affordable and easier to use than a multi-camera GoPro rig that requires post-editing. Nikon was showing off their upcoming 360º Camera (the KeyMission 360) with the aplomb Nikon deserves, and we’re excited to test it. Look for many of these cameras to hit the market soon (a reason to buy a point and shoot camera again?) and then for this technology to eventually fold into your phone in the long-term.


Also, look for the continued growth of aftermarket products for this space, including VR treadmills, foot rudders, handsets, paddles, haptics and cheesy Google Cardboard tchotchkes. Our favorites were the Samsung Gear VR Rink haptic handset controllers and the HTC Vive, the latter of which we just hosted demos in our Minneapolis office for key clients.

Implication: We are bullish on “my first VR” experiences and also more mature VR experiences that require Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. We have experience with multi-camera GoPro 360 and point and shoot 360. With that said, and after sampling more than 50 immersive experiences at CES last week, we have to say that almost all this content is underwhelming.

There is tremendous room to grow in design, utility — and frankly — ensuring there’s a purpose for making immersive content to start with. Brands need to consider not only how to immediately jump on this trend to earn the brand reputation spark of being first in VR, but they also must ensure there is a meaningful reason to be there with content that consumers care about. Consider this: how can we use VR and immersive content to not mimic the feeling of being at a big event in real life, but making it even better because you’re not there in real life.

4. Iterative Innovation:

The best things at CES this year weren’t new this year; they were significant iterative advances on what we’ve seen before. Some of these advances were amazing. But if you don’t look close, it’s easy to miss them.

  • Drones: One of the best examples of this are the drones from DJI and others. The new models do so much more than the models from just a few years ago: infrared obstacle tracking and avoidance, 4K cameras, automatic takeoff and landing, and some amazing camera focusing and shooting tricks. Just a few years ago, these would have been virtually impossible to build at any price, and they’ve quickly fallen in price to be in easy reach for consumers, prosumers, and professionals. As devices like home security cameras continue to evolve, they’re getting smarter and more automated.
  • Connected Cameras: The Netatmo Presence camera is an external security camera that uses computer vision and other technology to detect and alert you to the presence of people, cars, and pets. It goes beyond a streaming camera, and provides better insight into what is in the scene.
  • Wireless Homes: Wired homes are going wireless. Offerings we’ve seen from companies like Iris and Honeywell are widening the adoption curve by relying less on physical installation and more on DIY installation and wireless connectivity. For many people, the hurdle of wiring is too much, and the mass market solutions will need to be wireless.
  • Augmented Reality: the oft-abused technology that layers a digital view atop the physical world, has been incorporated to a handful of toys in a meaningful way — including the Spin Master’s Air Hogs Connect, an augmented reality drone game that could be a great “my first drone” for a teenager.
  • Smartphone Accessories: In the  case game, this year olloclip iterated by introducing a Studio line that turns your phone into an all-in-one production studio — complete with rail mount for accessories, cold-shoe adapters, a finger grip, tripod mounts and kickstand. As the cameras in our phones get better fast, people are increasingly using them as “real cameras”
  • Appliances: This year we also saw the big appliance manufacturers continue the trend of trying to force-fit screens and proprietary operating systems into washing machines and refrigerators. It’s great your refrigerator has a camera, but experience suggests manufacturer’s software updates won’t keep up with their product’s decades-long working life. There is a certain buyer that will always buy the newest and most expensive, and these devices feel like they cater to that market. It’s easy to see basic connected smarts being part of every appliance going forward that could alert you to malfunctions and the like, but going beyond that has been a challenge.
  • Televisions are Boring: High resolution 4k and 8k models are on the way, and the color accuracy will get better over time. Consumers don’t care enough to upgrade existing TVs, and there isn’t much content at 4k and beyond. The TV industry hasn’t been able to create an offering that’s compelling enough to upgrade year over year.
  • Unbundling: Speaking of television, the unbundling continues. Last year Dish TV launched Sling TV, the internet subscription service that includes ESPN, Disney Channel, AMC and more. Since then we’ve seen a continued trend towards cord cutting and à la carte services. More services and devices mean the landscape is getting more complex, but they’re ultimately driven by the consumer: they want to watch exactly what they want to when they want to.
  • Autonomous Cars: Are technology companies going to produce cars, or are auto companies going to become technology companies? This year we’re seeing a more deliberate push from automakers, with real-world applications at a level we haven’t seen previously. The NHTSA has 5 levels, with level 0 being human drivers in full control to level 4, the highest, where humans aren’t expected to be anything other than a passenger. Level 2 specifies that at least two controls can be automatically controlled at one time (speed control and lane assist for instance), and these are pretty standard offerings in new cars. Self-driving technology launches at the show were incrementing towards level 4 and beyond. We did a handful of self-driving demos that still showed the typical “merge onto a highway” or “get picked up like a taxi” needs for autonomous transportation. Although the technology has a ways to go in rural areas, city and highway driving will absolutely be impacted by this technology in the next five years. The driving experience and plain ownership of automobiles will be radically different than it is today. With all the pressure from new entrants like Tesla (and the rumored Apple “Project Titan” initiative), traditional automakers are feeling the pressure to deliver on the autonomous future.
  • Note: we saw one guy with Google Glass in four days. YES!


Implication: Consumer products are rarely fully baked at launch, and the best companies iterate year over year. Consumers should weigh early adoption with short shelf lives as they invest in the “next big thing” in 2016.

As for us, we’re excited for what’s next and where the industry is headed. We’ve already brought forward some of these new technology ideas to clients, and there’s 12 months to go until CES 2017.

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