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 (samantha@ipglab.com).

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 (samantha@ipglab.com) to schedule a visit to the Lab.

 

CES 2017 Day 3: Under Armour Joins The Sleep Tech Boom

 Earlier this afternoon, Under Armour CEO and founder Kevin Plank delivered the last solo keynote address of this year’s CES. The fast-talking CEO began with a passionate and detailed account of the transition his company has successfully made in recent years from a sportswear brand into a fast-growing athleisure lifestyle brand supercharged by fitness technology, before moving on to introduce a few new products and updates.

The Sleep Tech Boom
As we noted in our CES First Look on Tuesday, sleep-related tech is a hot area at this year’s CES, which even created its first-ever dedicated “sleep tech marketplace.” Startups like Vobot, Motio HW, ZEEQ, and Acesleep come to showcase their products all designed to monitor and enhance your sleep. Sleep Number debuted a self-adjusting connected bed that can fit various sleeping positions and alleviate mild snoring. 

Now, Under Armour is jumping on the sleep tech bandwagon with a new line of sleepwear dubbed Athlete Recovery Sleepwear. The company partnered with researchers from John Hopkins University and star quarterback Tom Brady to design this high-tech pajama line, made with a special fabric that the company claims can enhance your sleep quality by absorbing heat and improving blood flow and cell regeneration.

The company announced on stage that it is partnering with Arianna Huffington’s lifestyle and wellness brand Thrive Global to promote this new line of sleepwear. On the software side, the company is also updating its UA Record app to incorporate its new focus on sleep. New features for this fitness tracking app include generating reports on sleeping cycles and consistency and offering tips on how to achieve better sleep.

As sleep quickly becomes digitalized and integrated as part of our health and fitness data, we expect to see more fashion, healthcare, and sports brand to come out with their own sleep-related initiatives.

Under Armor’s Digital Fitness Strategy
Beyond its new sleep initiatives, Under Armour also updated its MapMyRun app to add a feature called Jump Test, which asks users to do a set of jumping jacks and uses the sensors on its connected footwear line to determine if your body has sufficiently warmed up for a run.

Under Armour is not the only company showcasing fitness-oriented connected apparels at this CES. Two standout examples from this category are Polar’s new connected sports shirt, which comes with built-in vital-tracking sensors that can share data in real time, and the “E-Skin” bodysuit developed by Xenoma, which is embedded with 14 motion-capturing sensors designed to track your full-body movements during workouts.

A big part of the success that Under Armour has enjoyed so far can be attributed to its digital fitness strategy. Looking beyond physical products like apparels and shoes, the company made a series of acquisitions from 2013 to 2015 that beefed up its fitness app portfolio, which includes the aforementioned UA Records and MapMyRun as well as the popular calorie-tracking app MyFitnessPal. By allowing its customers to aggregate and understand the fitness data they generate with their apps and products, the company has fostered an online fitness community of over 160 million users. For other fashion and sports brands, this digital-led strategy should provide some inspiration in how to effectively reach and engage with today’s connected consumers.

 

CES 2017 Day 3: Healthcare Tech Getting A Boost From IoT Connectivity

What We Saw At CES
Healthcare is getting a strong boost from the recent developments in connected devices and machine learning, allowing medical device manufacturers to create smarter gadgets that work wonders seamlessly. Qualcomm announced it is building an “internet of medical things” upon its 5G network during its keynote session earlier today, and here’s a round-up of the kind of connected healthcare devices that are already on show at CES.

TytoCare created a smart diagnostic tool that goes beyond simply taking your temperature. Equipped with a high-resolution camera, microphones and sensors, this device can check inside your mouth and throat and listen to your heart and lungs for diagnosis. Like other connected devices, TytoHome can transfer the healthcare data it collects to your doctor via a mobile app.

Convincing kids to take their medicines on time could be a taxing job, which is why French startup Meyko created a smart assistant toy for kids with asthma. To encourage kids to stay on schedule with their medication. the penguin-shaped doll is programmed to have “mood swings” that can only be cured by the child taking their medicine. As a connected toy, the Meyko doll will send notifications to parents via its app to report their daily medicine intake and offer advice to reduce exposure to asthma triggers.

Established medical device maker Omron came to CES this year with a smartwatch that doubles as a blood pressure monitor. Named Project Zero Heartvue, the wearable has a blood pressure cuff embedded in the watch’s wristband, making it the first wearable blood pressure monitor.

Beyond connected gadgets, healthcare tech is also showing up in unexpected places at this year’s CES. Both Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz are coming up with healthcare-themed initiatives, respectively, for their new concept cars, leveraging machine learning to gauge and improve the moods and wellbeings of the drivers. Then there is SimforHealth, a VR training tool for doctors and other healthcare practitioners by putting them through simulated scenarios.

What This Means For Healthcare Brands
All these incredible innovations we saw at CES shows the great potential connected devices and machine learning holds in transforming the healthcare industry. To create better experiences for patients and customers, it is up to healthcare brands to explore the huge potential connected IoT has in normalizing the healthcare devices and integrating them seamlessly into our daily life. The connectivity among healthcare devices will also unleash an unprecedented amount of personal health data, which healthcare brands will need to treat cautiously with respect to privacy and find an ethical way to leverage it for researches and extracting behavioral insights.

 

CES 2017 Day 3: Qualcomm Aims To Connect Everything With 5G

Steve Mollenkopf, CEO of Qualcomm, took the stage at CES this morning to walk us through the ambitious plans the company has for developing and implementing 5G connectivity to power immersive experiences, connecting everything, and transforming industries such as transportation and healthcare. According to a study on the “5G Economy” the company conducted, 5G-related goods and services will generate over $12 trillion in value in 2035 and create over 22 million jobs worldwide.

Powering Immersive Experiences On 5G
In November. Qualcomm unveiled their newest processing chip called  Snapdragon 835, which the company now hopes will work with the 5G network it is building to enable a better and smoother immersive experiences on desktop and mobile devices. The higher data speeds enabled in 5G means faster downloads, which is essential in improving untethered VR experiences. Qualcomm is also working with other media partners to develop VR and AR experiences powered by its processor. The company previewed a Power Ranger-themed VR experience it developed with Lionsgate, as well as a shaper VR livestream of NBA matches that NextVR will be able to deliver over 5G connectivity.

 screen-shot-2017-01-06-at-12-31-38-pm-2Connecting Everything To Build A Smart Future
The enhanced connectivity provided by 5G networks will also enable us turn everyday objects into connected devices. And since the 5G connection will be strong enough to carry a city-wide worth of utility and infrastructure devices, it would bring to life the kind of smart cities that some technologists have envisioned where those connected devices communicate with each other to share data and offer the city dwellers perks of convenience and safety. 

screen-shot-2017-01-06-at-12-41-16-pm-2Transforming Industries With Next-Level Connectivity
Perhaps most importantly, 5G networks, coupled with powerful processors capable of handling that accelerated connectivity, will transform various industries ranging from healthcare to transportation by enabling new tools such as autonomous drones and industrial IoT networks. For example, Qualcomm is working with healthcare companies such as UnitedHealthcare, Novartis, and Philips to create a healthcare network that securely connects medical and healthcare devices over 5G. The faster speed brought by 5G will also be instrumental in the development of connected cars and self-driving cars, according to Qualcomm, which in turn will bring major disruptions for the auto and transportation industries. 

screen-shot-2017-01-06-at-12-55-21-pm-2Key Takeaways For Brands
These innovations that Qualcomm is working to unleash with 5G network will usher in a new reality for consumers and brands, where new immersive formats become the norm, instant connectivity is expected everywhere, and AI-powered automation and data analysis running in the background quietly improves services and customer experiences. To get ready for that future, brands will need to start exploring immersive media formats such as VR and AR to build up their content catalogue, adopt a data-centric omnichannel approach in designing your customer experience to ensure that it stays consistent across platforms, and begin to think about how your brand may incorporate machine learning and AI automation into your products and services to deliver a better customer experience.

CES 2017 Day 2: Nissan To Put Cortana In Cars, Plus More Auto News

For the last keynote session of the day, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, along with several other Nissan executives, took the CES stage to reveal their new Nissan Intelligent Mobility initiative, demoed a new concept car with Cortana Integration, and filled us in on its plan for developing autonomous vehicles.

First up, Nissan introduced its Intelligent Mobility initiative dedicated to developing self-driving electric vehicles that aim for “zero emissions” and “zero fatalities.” Part of that initiative is a workaround solution called Seamless Autonomous Mobility (SAM) for the first generation of self-driving cars, which connects the smart vehicles to a command center, where a human manager can help autonomous cars navigate road situations their software may not be able to handle. The SAM system will then learn how the human managers solve certain situations, apply those solutions for similar future scenarios, and broadcast them to other cars within the system.

Nissan-Intelligence-MobilityThe company went on to announce that it will equip the next generation of its best-selling electric model LEAF with the semi-autonomous ProPilot system, currently used in the Japanese-market Nissan Sirena. It also announced a partnership with Japanese ecommerce company DeNA to test driverless commercial vehicles as it hopes to launch a driverless mobility service in Tokyo by 2020.

The showiest part of the keynote was when Nissan demoed a concept car that held a decent back-and-forth conversation with its owner, thanks to an integration with Microsoft’s Cortana. Building on the partnership between Microsoft and Renault-Nissan Alliance, Nissan is aiming to bring AI-powered voice command into its vehicles for a safer, more intuitive driving experience.   

Nissan-CortanaBut Nissan isn’t the only carmaker that’s putting Cortana in their cars. Earlier today, BMW also announced that it will be integrating Microsoft’s voice assistant service into its new models. On a bigger picture, Ford officially became the first auto brand to bring in-car voice assistant to market as it enabled all existing vehicles running the Ford Sync 3 software to connect with Amazon’s Alexa with an over-the-air update.

The competitive race of developing autonomous cars is particularly palpable at this year’s CES, with all major carmakers 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. Hyundai started hosting test drive of its driverless concept car Ioniq for press earlier today, while Honda unveiled a futuristic-looking autonomous concept vehicle named NeuV that is designed for ride-sharing services. BWM announced today that it is working with Intel and Mobileyes to start testing a fleet of 40 self-driving vehicles on the roads in the United States and Europe.

As we’ve repeatedly noted, this wave of self-driving innovation is set to bring a seismic change to the auto and transportation industries. And the arrival of self-driving cars will free up a significant amount of time spent on driving into potential media time that brands should get ready to fight over. Judging by the announcements coming out of CES, voice-activated conversational interface is set to play a major role in the future of in-car media, and it is never too early for brands start preparing for that inevitable future, especially given the quickening pace of development in self-driving cars.

 

CES 2017 Day 2: Brands Start To Apply AR Tech Across Industries

What We Saw At CES
Yesterday, we rounded up some of the biggest announcement in augmented reality on the hardware front at CES. Today, three in-market example emerged that once again demonstrate the versatility and great potential AR technology holds for various industries. Let’s look at them one by one.

First, BMW debuted an app called BMW i Visualiser that uses AR to create virtual showrooms at local dealerships, allowing prospective car-buyers to check out some of its latest electric and hybrid cars in 360-degree views even when the dealership don’t have those models in stock. Users will also be able to personalize the virtual models to see what they would look like with a different set of tires or in a different color. Built upon Google’s AR platform Tango, the BMW app will be available in select BMW dealerships across the U.S., Europe, China, and Japan, and it will be available to download directly from Google Play later in the year to transport the showroom to wherever the customers may be.

Second, Gap unveiled an AR app named Dressing Room at Asus’ CES press event yesterday in conjunction with the gadget maker’s new AR-ready smartphone. The app, which is also developed with Google’s Tango platform, lets shoppers select a virtual mannequin close to their own body type and try on different sizes of Gap items for comparison. Shopper will be able to discover some details such as how a fabric may drape on the body or the differences in fit between sizes.

Last but not the least, New York Times is jumping into the world of AR with a branded app it developed to promote an upcoming movie from 20th Century Fox. The publisher’s branded content team worked with IBM to create a Pokemon Go-style mobile game to promote Hidden Figures, a movie that tells the real-life story of three female African-American mathematicians who contributed to NASA’s 1950s space race. Except instead of catching animated monsters in the real world, players will be directed to science-focused destinations in 10 U.S. cities, such as the NASA Langley Research Center and Kennedy Space Center as well as some major universities, to unlock special in-app content, including 3D renderings, written histories, and audio and video about historical leaders in the fields of science and math.

What This Means For Brands
As we noted in our Fast Forward analysis on Pokémon Go when the AR-enabled game first blew up this past summer, augmented reality has some potential use cases that could greatly enhances the user experience in retail, home improvement, fashion, and beauty, while the game did a good job introducing AR tech to the average consumers. Thus, it is encouraging to see at CES more examples of brands leveraging the reality-bending magic of augmented reality to better serve their customers. As AR technology continues to evolve and mature, we expect to see more in-market examples like the three listed above.

If you’d like to get some help to figure out how augmented reality can enhance your customer experience and drive new opportunities for your brand, or simply to try out the HoloLens demo we have to experience the transformative power of AR, please contact our Client Services Director Samantha Holland (samantha@ipglab.com) to schedule a visit to the Lab.

 

CES 2017 Day 2: Carnival Cruise Showcases The Future Of Hospitality

For the first keynote address of today, Carnival Corporation President and CEO Arnold W. Donald took the stage to tell CES attendees how one of the biggest cruise companies in the world plans to digitize and transform its guest experience with a proprietary wearable device and an entire cloud-based computing system built to support it. Here are the three key components that the CEO highlighted in his presentation that explains how the company aims to provide a truly seamless, personalized, and dynamic cruise experience for its guests.

Ocean Medallion
Front and center in Carnival’s new guest experience is the Ocean Medallion, a small circular fob that guests can wear like a smartwatch or as a pendant. It is assigned and shipped to each guest at home before the cruise begins so that they may start planning and personalizing their trips. Once the guests aboard the cruise ship, the Medallion will work as an all-access authentication and payment chip, replacing the need for guests to carry their IDs, credit cards, and cruise cards.

According to Carnival, Medallion-ready ships will be equipped with thousands of NFC- and BLE-enabled sensors that communicate with each Medallion to allow the guests to use the fob to open room doors, order and pay for food and other purchases, find family and friends on board, and plan their activity agenda. The Medallions also powers on-board gaming, photo-taking, and various other features that require guest identification. All these add up to a truly seamless cruise experience that removes the hassle of using keys and cards, freeing guests to truly enjoy every precious minute of their cruise.

screen-shot-2017-01-05-at-12-07-35-pmGuest-Centric O.C.E.A.N Approach
At the beginning of his keynote, Donald explained his company’s O.C.E.A.N approach, which it uses to create guest-centric cruise experiences that cater to the interests and preference of each individual customers. O.C.E.A.N stands for “One Cruise Experience Across Network,” which refers to the Experience Intelligence cloud computing system that Carnival has developed to power the Medallions and learn about their guests on an individual level from the data collected by the Medallions. As the system learns more about each guest with the data their Medallion collects, their guest profile will grow more robust, allowing Carnival to not only deliver a highly customized trip but also on future trips should the guests choose to return.

screen-shot-2017-01-05-at-12-18-40-pmOriginal Content Merged With On-Ship Experience
On the marketing front, Carnival is doubling down on original content designed to showcase the feel-good experiences their cruises offer and inspire travel. The company already has three TV series in place and it is launching a brand new one called Good Spirits with A+E Network. Unlike its existing original series, the new mixology-themed show will also be incorporated as part of the guest experience on the new Medallion-ready cruise, with special cocktail lounges where guests will be able to sample and enjoy the drinks they’ve seen on the show.

screen-shot-2017-01-05-at-12-46-15-pmTakeaway For Travel And Hospitality Brands
Altogether, Carnival Cruise’s guest-centric approach offers a good look at the future of travel and hospitality, where wearable tech and cloud computing will work together in the background to deliver a seamless, effortless, and highly personalized experience for each guest, guiding them through each stage of their travel. Once a user profile is established, it will continue to grow and learn new things about the guest each time they return, offering an incentive to establish long-term customer loyalty. As AI and wearable tech continue to advance, their capability to transform the travel and hospitality industries is just starting to emerge, and brands would be smart to start exploring the vast potential they hold and try incorporating them into your guest experiences.

 

CES 2017 Day 2: L’Oreal Debuts Smart Hairbrush, Plus More In Beauty Tech

Welcome to the Lab’s coverage of the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show, the biggest annual tech trade show that sets the consumer tech trends for the coming year. As with previous years, the Lab has a team on the ground in Las Vegas scouting the show floors to bring you the most noteworthy discoveries and announcements that marketers need to know.

What We Saw At CES
As we noted when Apple first started working with fashion brands on the Apple Watch, tech and fashion are two industries that are starting to realize the great benefits to be obtained by working together and converging some of the products. This year at CES, we are glad to see this trend continue to develop and crossover into beauty.

On Wednesday, L’Oreal surprised the crowd with a connected hairbrush dubbed Hair Coach. The beauty conglomerate worked with wearable brand Withings to create this sensor-laden brush that can sync up with your phone. With each brush, it will collect data and analyze your hair types and brushing patterns to recommend the right haircare products and grooming techniques.

Besides L’Oreal, two more beauty-related products caught our eyes so far at CES. Bioreline is an organic cosmetic company based in France, and they come to Vegas this year with VisioDerm, a thermometer-shaped gadget designed to quickly and expertly detects skin imbalances so as to assist beauty consultations and product recommendation.

Then there is HiMirror Plus, a smart mirror that promises to scan your face and generate an honest report of your facial skin conditions, detailing possible issues such as wrinkles, red spots, and pores so that users can know what to focus on in their beauty regime. 

In addition, Samsung breaks away from making smartphones and VR headsets to introduce an experimental beauty product called S-Skin, a handheld gadget that scans and evaluates your skin conditions through a combination of cameras, light sensors, and conductivity sensors.

What This Means For Beauty Brands
Increasingly we are seeing beauty brands incorporating digital technologies into their products and services. On the mobile AR front, L’Oreal’s Makeup Genius app and the BeautyU app from Covergirl are good examples of how beauty brands can leverage the advanced capabilities of smartphones to provide extra utility throughout the consumer journey. In addition, the Hair Coach from L’Oreal demonstrates the value of hyper-personal data to the beauty industry. By gathering data on individual user’s beauty regimen and interests, brands can generate insights on their personal preferences and better understand their customers.  

The Lab has extensive experience working with beauty clients to create and implement digitally enhanced retail experiences. The recently-opened NYX Cosmetics store at Union Square is a proud showcase of our team’s work in this space and elevated NYX as one of the most innovative digital beauty brands of 2016 named by WWD. If you’d like to learn more about how your brand can develop and implement digital-driven solutions to modernize your beauty retail experience, please contact our Client Services Director Samantha Holland (samantha@ipglab.com) to schedule a visit to the Lab.

 

CES 2017 Day 1: NVIDIA Applies AI Computing To Gaming, Smart Home, And Self-Driving Cars

NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsun Huang took the stage at the 50th CES to deliver an opening keynote address that showcased the remarkable advances NVIDIA has made in visual and AI computing, as well as how the chip-making company aims to apply them to a wide range of domains, including gaming, connected TV, smart home, and self-driving cars. Here are the three most important products Huang introduced during his keynote:

GeForce Now for On-Demand Gaming
Competitive gaming has grown into a huge global media phenomenon that attracts huge numbers of viewers worldwide. In fact, Huang called it “the biggest sports event in the world,” citing that there are now 100 million MOBA game players and over 325 million eSports spectators.

With that much consumer attention to capitalize on, NVIDIA is opening up its video game streaming service GeForce Now, previously only available via its own Shield gaming console, and bringing it to PC and Mac to reach more potential players. Using NVIDIA cloud computing powers, PC and Mac devices will be able to run the type of graphically intensive video games it can’t handle locally. The service is set to launch in March and will be priced in a tiered, on-demand manner starting at $25 for 20 hours of play.

screen-shot-2017-01-04-at-9-51-49-pm

For brands, this expansion of GeForce reinforces the growing prominence of the gaming and eSports industry. In the past few years, the competitive gaming industry has quickly grown into a media opportunity that brands should not ignore. Some early-adopting brands, such as Coca-Cola and Snickers, have been sponsoring eSports events to reach its young, male-skewing audience. As media companies race to capture the vast eSports audience, brands, especially those seeking global recognition, should consider leveraging the massive reach of eSports events via sponsorships and ads.

NVIDIA Spot for A Google Assistant-Powered Smart Home
One of the most evident trends we have identified at this year’s CES is how quickly voice assistants led by Amazon’s Alexa have taken over the smart home space as the de-facto interface that facilitates users interactions on those IoT home devices. Now NVIDIA is adding to this trend by introducing Spot, a small connected mic that you can attach to the wall and bring Google Assistant into every corner of your home. NVIDIA Spot, which is set to launch later this year, connects to its new Shield console over Wi-Fi and transfer the voice command back to it for processing. With a few of them strategically placed throughout the house, summoning Google Assistant at home would become a truly ambient experience that seemingly operates without the confines of a hardware device, akin to the way Ironman talks to his digital butler Jarvis in the movies.

screen-shot-2017-01-04-at-10-13-49-pm

With voice-activated assistants quickly conquering the home space and bringing AI-powered voice-activation to mainstream consumers. This means it is time for brands to start exploring how incorporating conversational interfaces may help improve the customer experience, for they offer a way in for those brands to reach consumers at home and connect with them in a more intimate, relaxed context. Therefore, brand marketers, especially those in the CPG, food, and lifestyle categories, need to pay close attention to the developments in the smart home space and start exploring possible partnerships.

Xavier and AI Co-Pilot Show NVIDIA’s Self-Driving Ambitions
At the beginning of his keynote, Huang noted that “GPU-powered deep learning is driving the ability for computers to perceive the world.” Later he added that “AI is the solution to the self-driving cars” when introducing Xavier, NVIDIA’s AI computer for self-driving cars. In addition to this powerful compact processing unit that will power its autonomous car being developed in partnership with Audi, NVIDIA also demoed an interesting “AI Co-pilot” mode, which uses computer vision, machine learning, and natural language processing to turn the self-driving AI software into an all-seeing, all-sensing co-pilot that can alert the drivers of the road conditions they may have missed or not in eyesight via spoken suggestions.

screen-shot-2017-01-04-at-10-24-46-pmThis wave of self-driving innovation is set to bring a seismic change to the auto and transportation industries. And that shakeup is coming at a quicker pace with each announcement like the ones NVIDIA just made. For auto brands, it represents great challenges to adapt to, but also enormous opportunities to redefine the future of driving. For every other brand, the eventual arrival of self-driving cars will free up a significant amount of time spent on driving and transform cars into the next battleground for consumer attention, something that brand marketers need to keep an eye out for.

CES 2017 Day 1: What’s New In VR & AR

Welcome to the Lab’s coverage of the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show, the biggest annual tech trade show that sets the consumer tech trends for the coming year. As with previous years, the Lab has a team on the ground in Las Vegas scouting the show floors to bring you the most noteworthy discoveries and announcements that marketers need to know.

What We Saw At CES
Though the exhibition floors won’t officially open until tomorrow, there have already been a number of high-profile announcements coming out in the Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality arena.

On the headset front, Lenovo unveiled its first VR headset, a light prototype device that works with Microsoft’s Windows Holographic platform, whereas ODG debuted two sleek AR glasses powered by Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 835 chip. HTC didn’t update its Vive VR headset, but it did introduce a series of add-ons to enhance its flagship headset, including an add-on that can power a wireless VR experience, a Deluxe Audio Strap that provides a better headphone solution for the Vive, as well as a Vive Tracker that can turn any physical object into a VR controller.

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.

As with last year, 360-degree and VR-ready cameras are also getting some major updates. 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. To bring more interactivity to the existing headsets, uSens developed $100 hand-tracking module for VR and AR headsets that simply clips onto a headset and tracks hand movements down to the finger level.

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.

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

How We Can Help
Our dedicated team of VR 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.

If you’d like to learn more about how the Lab can help you tap into the immersive power of VR content to engage with customers, please contact our Client Services Director Samantha Holland (samantha@ipglab.com) to schedule a visit to the Lab.