Fast Forward: CES 2017 Recap

Editor’s Note: As with all Fast Forward analysis, this recap first went out to our subscribers via newsletter one day prior to its posting on this site. We also customized our recap to offer tailored CES insights for brands in eight verticals including auto, CPG, retail, travel, and more. For inquiries about joining our subscription list to receive actionable intelligence specifically tailored to your brand’s industry, please contact our Client Services Director Samantha Holland ([email protected]).

This is a special edition of our Fast Forward newsletter, bringing you a summary of the major trends we spotted last week at CES 2017.


The highlights:

• Alexa taking over the smart home, opening a path for brands to enter
• AI-powered solutions ready for market with varying implications
• VR tech continues to mature as AR use cases proliferates

The 50th CES has officially come to an end on Saturday. Throughout the 4-day consumer tech extravaganza, the Lab team scouted the show floors and identified the best and most memorable gadgets on display to show our VIP clients on our guided tours. As with previous years, the industry trends that emerged from the convention centers in Vegas will continue to shape consumer behaviors and expectations in the coming year. Here, we highlight the most important market trends from CES and what your brand can do to take advantage of them.

Alexa Is Taking Over The Smart Home

One of the most obvious and indisputable trend at this year’s CES is how prevalent voice-activated digital assistant services, in particular Amazon’s Alexa, are being integrated into all sorts of connected home gadgets, ranging from washing machines made by Whirlpool to light switches from WeMo, from LG’s Alexa-integrated InstaView fridge to Samsung’s new Roomba competitor.

As many third-party OEMs take advantage of Amazon’s recently introduced Alexa Skills Kit and start eagerly integrating Amazon’s beloved digital assistant service in their products, Amazon, who is not even at CES in any official capacity, is winning a distribution advantage in its battle against rivals like Google Assistant and Microsoft’s Cortana, which announced some high-profile brand integrations of their own. Google Assistant is the service powering NVIDIA’s new connected home product line, while Cortana is coming to connected vehicles developed by Nissan and BMW.

What Brands Need To Do

Judging by what we saw at CES, Amazon is clearly leading the race of voice-activated personal assistants with Alexa and its Echo line-up. The ecommerce giant is estimated to have sold over 9 million Echo devices worldwide over this holiday season, bringing the total number of Echo devices in market to about 14 million. As Alexa can also be integrated into third party products, the total number of Alexa-enabled devices, though, is much higher, and is poised to grow considerably after this week’s announcements.

As Amazon continues to push for Alexa’s integration with other smart home providers, the voice-activated assistant is quickly conquering the home space and bringing AI-powered interfaces to mainstream consumers. It is becoming more evident than ever that voice-based brand-customer interaction is something that brands have to explore and master.

Smart home devices hold great potential for brands because they offer a way in for those brands to reach consumers at home and connect with them in a more intimate, relaxed context. For example, Mattel introduced Aristotle, a connected toy with Alexa integration for kids that also doubles as a shopping tool with which parents can order child care products.

But even brands that won’t embed voice into their own product experiences should still look to capitalize on the opportunity by offering complementary services: recipes, wellness information, and lifestyle content are all popular uses for Alexa, and areas where brands can look to add value.

Amazon has integrated Alexa in its Fire TV service for a while now, and this year at CES, the company is also partnering with Westinghouse and other TV manufacturers to have Fire TV power their sets, therefore bringing Alexa to the living room via voice remote control. In addition, DISH announced it will support Alexa voice control on its Hopper DVR. For brands, this means it is crucial to properly index your branded and sponsored content for voice search so as to  ensure a smooth and easy content discovery on streaming devices.

AI-Powered Solutions Set To Revolutionize Industries

Artificial Intelligence is a term that got thrown around a lot at CES, referring to a number of things ranging from cloud-based computing to natural language processing. But at the end of the day, it means software that gets better based on user input, and it is set to transform various industries ranging from healthcare to transportation by enabling new tools such as autonomous drones and industrial IoT network.

This CES has no shortage of new connected devices that incorporate AI in one way or another. From the fast development in autonomous cars to smaller home gadgets like the smart kitchen assistant by Hello Egg, artificial intelligence of varying degrees is being integrated to a wide range of products to enable smart automation and personalization solutions.

Aided by the major advances in AI, the race of developing autonomous cars is particularly palpable at this year’s CES, with major carmakers such as BMW and Hyundai and some tech companies like Harman and NVIDIA showcasing some sort of driverless concept models and announcing plans to accelerate their self-driving car developments.

For brands offering services and experiences, the implementation of AI-powered solutions is set to unleash a new kind of customer experiences that they will need to adapt. The best example of this from CES is the new cruise experience that Carnival unveiled during its keynote presentation. Backed by a whole ship full of proximity sensors and a cloud-based computing system, Carnival allows guests to ditch their IDs, credit cards, and cruise cards for a small connected wearable called the Ocean Medallion for all authentication and payments on board.

What Brands Need To Do

For brand marketers, AI is what will power the future of brand-customer interactions as the core of the post-smartphone computing. In fact, many consumers have already made first contact with AI-powered services in 2016 in the forms of conversational interfaces that include various chatbot services and the aforementioned Alexa. Numerous brands have launched branded chatbots to reach customers on messaging apps, and they will only get smarter and more helpful as AI technology advances.

Another important capability that AI will unleash for all brands lies in dynamic creatives that can deliver personalized user experience based on data and user input. Brand marketers need to consider how they can leverage their customer data to to provide personalized experiences with the help of an AI engine.

One additional implication the AI evolution is set to bring for all brands is the additional media time that self-driving cars will free up once we can take our eyes off the road. While it is still a few years off before the technology fully matures, it is never too early for brands to start thinking about how to conquer this new media space and connect with consumers on the road.

Virtual Reality Matures As Augmented Reality Ramps Up

Besides the prevalence of Alexa, another hard-to-miss trend at this year’s CES is the proliferation of VR and AR products. Although they are sometimes lumped together, what we saw at this year’s CES showed that they are in quite different developmental stages.

Virtual reality has benefited from the fast growth in production tools and content platforms and starts to enter a maturing stage as it enters mainstream consumer market. At CES, Lenovo unveiled a light prototype VR headset that works with Microsoft’s Windows Holographic platform. While HTC didn’t update its Vive VR headset, it did introduce a series of add-ons to enhance its flagship headset, including a peripheral called TPCast that can power a wireless VR experience, as well as a Vive Tracker that can turn any physical object into a VR controller.

As with last year, 360-degree and VR-ready cameras are also getting some updates, making the production of VR content easier and cheaper, with varying degrees of immersion. Ricoh’s new 360-degree camera can live stream for 24 hours, whereas China’s Insta360 created a camera accessory that can clip onto any Android smartphone and turn it into a 360-degree camera.

Augmented reality, on the other hand, is still developing as a mass-market product category, but that didn’t stop a lot of brands to come out with their own AR products. ODG debuted two sleek AR glasses powered by Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 835 chip. Then there is the HoloLamp, a lamp-shaped projector that brings 3D animated objects to life in the real world with no headset or glasses required. Similarly, Merge VR created a holographic toy called the Holo Cube, which lets users interact with holograms through its headset.

Besides standalone devices, we are also seeing a lot more VR/AR-ready smartphones and PCs at this year’s CES. The ZenFone AR from Asus is the first phone to support both Google’s mobile AR platform Tango and Google’s Daydream VR platform. Asus also debuted a compact VR-ready desktop PC that will retail for just $799. In addition, Lenovo unveiled two new Legion gaming laptops ahead of CES that are VR-ready.

What Brands Need To Do

All these latest products from CES demonstrates that VR and AR technology are quickly advancing and becoming more attainable for mainstream consumers. As the hardware continues to develop, VR and 360-degree content is quickly emerging as a medium that brand marketers should explore to attract consumer attention with innovative storytelling.

With major tech and media companies rushing into VR to capitalize on the booming popularity of the immersive medium, brands should take a cue and start developing VR content that truly enhances brand messaging and contributes to the campaign objectives.

AR, on the other hand, provide some unique use cases for brands across industries. Following the global phenomenon that was Pokémon Go last summer, which introduced AR tech to mainstream consumers, several companies showcased their latest AR initiatives that brands can take some inspiration from.

For example, Intel developed an AR experience using Microsoft’s HoloLens to demo its envisioned autonomous car experience for CES attendees. Gap unveiled an AR app named Dressing Room, which allows mobile shoppers select a virtual mannequin close to their own body type and try on different sizes of Gap items for detailed comparison.

Overall, AR can be a great way for customers to get additional information about your services, to envision your products in their lives. and to launch digital experiences from signage or product packaging. And brands need to start to think about ways for augmented reality to drive new opportunities for your brand.

The Sleep Tech Boom Points To New Area Of Growth

This year at CES, sleep emerged as a hot area for the consumer tech industry, with many companies coming out with their own sleep-related products. As basic activity tracking has become a commoditized part of every wearable and many smartphones, sleep appears to be the next frontier of the quantified self. After all, sleep is an activity that everyone partakes on a daily basis.

Under Armour unveiled a new line of high-tech pajamas designed to enhance sleep quality, as well as some new sleep-tracking features for its branded fitness apps. Sleep Number debuted a connected bed that can self-adjust to fit various sleeping positions throughout the night. ZEEQ smart pillow, which first launched on Kickstarter last summer, also brought their sleep-tracking pillow to the show floor. Then there is the Sleep Dot from Acesleep, a small tracker that you put on your pillow to monitor sleep cycles and body movements. Those are just three highlights among sleep-related products exhibiting at this year’s CES, which even featured its first-ever “Sleep Tech Marketplace.”

What Brands Need To Do

For health and fitness brands, this emerging trend opens up a new product category for them to expand into and benefit from. Integrating sleep data into your brand’s existing digital ecosystem will bring a more comprehensive understanding of your customers and their health habits.

As sleep quickly becomes digitized and emerges as a hot area of interest, however, it will also bring a lot of opportunities that brands in other industries may capitalize on. For example, hospitality brands can partner with companies in this space to equip their rooms with connected sleep products at a low cost. Beauty brands can tap into the idea of “beauty sleep” and incorporate sleep data as part of a branded beauty routine. At CES, both Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz unveiled connected car concept aimed at elevating driver’s mood and wellbeing. It is not too much of a leap to imagine that sleep tech products would be integrated into autonomous cars in the future.

How We Can Help

Feeling a bit overwhelmed by all these new trends in consumer tech? The Lab is here to help. We have extensive experience in building Alexa Skills and AI-powered chatbots to reach consumers on conversational interfaces. So much so that we’ve built a dedicated conversational practice called Dialogue. The NiroBot we built in collaboration with Ansible for Kia is a good example of how Dialogue can help brands build a conversational customer experience supercharged by our stack of technology partners with best-in-class solutions and an insights engine that extracts business intelligence from conversational data.

In terms of immersive content, our dedicated team of experts is here to guide marketers through the distribution landscape. We work closely with brands to develop sustainable VR content strategies to promote branded VR and 360 video content across various apps and platforms. With our proprietary technology stack powered by a combination of best-in-class VR partners and backed by the media fire-power of IPG Mediabrands, we offer customized solutions for distributing and measuring branded VR content that truly enhance brand messaging and contribute to the campaign objectives.

Additionally, if you want to learn more about how to employ AI beyond conversational interfaces or chat some more about the latest sleep tech boom, we have more strategic insights on these topics that we are happy to share and customize for your brand as well.

If you’d like to know how the Lab can help your brand figure out how to tap into these tech trends manifested at CES to supercharge your brand with digital solutions, please contact our Client Services Director Samantha Holland ([email protected]) to schedule a visit to the Lab.