Agency executives are back from the futuristic frenzy known as CES, where more than 150,000 people met in Las Vegas to talk about everything from self-driving cars and emotive robots to virtual reality and even a Lean Cuisine ad-blocking machine.
So, which gadgets and gizmos that debuted in Vegas will stay in Vegas, and what will become relevant to marketers in 2016 and beyond?
We asked nine agency execs what they took away from the always hyped tech show:
1. Wearables only matter if we need them.
"This year I navigated a sea of wearables on display at CES in search of the ones that we may actually want to use," said Jez Jowett, global head of creative technology at Havas Media Group. "A wearable's success potential has to factor in how it responds to our emotional needs, and it has to give value and meaning. Otherwise, we just won't wear it. The best products on display this year did just that by using technology creatively to improve each of their categories."
2. Health tech is getting cooler.
"A completely different kind of wearable that I saw at CES was Quell, a device that uses WINS [wearable intensive nerve stimulation] to help manage chronic pain, including a multitude of diagnosed conditions like diabetic neuropathy, fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis," said Ed Grasso, engagement strategist and relationship marketing at Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness. "The main unit snaps into a band which a user wears on their upper calf and stimulates sensory nerves to carry neural pulses to the brain which triggers a natural response to block pain signals throughout the body. There is also a companion app, available on both iOS and Android, that can be used to control the device, calibrate the personalized relief program, track sessions and monitor sleep."
3. Muzik's headphones will make you forget about Dre.
"My favorite product at CES was one that felt like it was made just for me: Muzik's new headphones," said Ian Schafer, founder and chairman of Deep Focus. "With Twitter's investment, these Bluetooth headphones have convertible cups [on ear, over ear], customizable controls, Siri integration (she can tell you the artist and song you're listening to with a button press), one-touch phone calls to a contact and one-touch Twitter sharing of a Google maps photo of your location plus the song you're listening to at any given moment. The best thing was that unlike a lot of other tech at CES, I was able to bring a pair home. Ready for mass consumption beats product of the future for me every time. But from what I've heard about Muzik's product pipeline, there may be tremendous opportunities for brands to collaborate with both the company and its customers."
4. VR isn't for every brand, but it's worth trying.
"While we can all agree that this is only the beginning for the VR and AR world, we, as brand advertisers, need to look at how we can provide relevancy and context within these emerging immersive spaces," said Delphine McKinley, senior communications strategist at Droga5. "While VR and AR shouldn't be for every brand, what are those consumer pain points that some brands can solve for by using augmented reality? Or how can brands move away from the limitations of short-form online videos to create a captivating virtual experience that will blow other digital engagement metrics out of the water? We look forward to seeing how this space continues to develop for advertisers in 2016 and the innovative work to come."
5. The future is meh.
"Innovation has stalled on the show floor, offering only minor improvements in size, design, style and functionality," said Tom Kelshaw, Director of Technology at Maxus Americas. "For fitness wearables, common features like motion sensing, heart rate, smartphone connectivity and wireless charging are now table stakes, and it was rare to find products that offered more. Hundreds of consumer drone variants on display were effectively the same product—offering high-res video, basic autonomy, OK battery life. Some were bigger (Ewing can even transport a person); some were smaller. Smart home tech offered thousands of ways to turn a lightbulb on and off but not much else. [The] reason for this is price: Chinese factories are now tooled up to make all the same parts very cheap."
6. Motors matter.
"This was the year of small, powerful motors," said Rye Clifton, director of experience at GSD&M. "Sure, there were a lot of hoverboards, scooters and bike-like objects, but the unexpected utility of a tiny motor got me really excited. These motors are moving across industries in surprising ways from camera stabilization to haptic feedback in wearables. Gibson even introduced self-tuning guitars, adding utility and technology to the most analog of products. With 'Super Torquey Mini Motors,' we're moving from a sensors conversation to an actionables conversation (I think I just made that word up at the airport), and we'll now start seeing products that don't just monitor consumers' activity but are able to react mechanically."
7. Data protection shouldn't be an oversight.
"It always surprises me how much people—e.g., press, brands, consumers—focus on the seemingly sexy or unusual devices (talking refrigerators! Power tools that charge your smartphone! Hoverboard butlers!)," said Whitney Fishman Zember, senior director of innovation and consumer technology at MEC. "They never seem to pay the same amount of attention to the security-focused offerings that keep all of the data being aggregated/stored/analyzed/shared via their smart (insert any device here). Sure, this is the Consumer Electronics Show, but if consumers are going to proactively lean into living quantified, connected, enhanced lives, shouldn't they have the same confidence and understanding of the technologies keeping their data safe as the technologies telling them how many times they tossed and turned last night?"
8. Virtual reality's ecosystem is as important as the device.
"What really came through in this year's show is the build out of the VR support ecosystem," said Tom Edwards, chief digital officer at Epsilon. "There were a number of sensors to enhance interaction within the VR experience, suppliers that are focused on building VR communities, livestream VR-based events and connect music to virtually immersive experiences. One other VR-based trend that came through is empowering consumers to create VR experiences themselves through new cameras."
9. Self-driving cars are just around the bend.
"This was definitely the year for autonomous driving, with every major manufacturer showing off their own solutions," said Sanjay Rana, vp of digital strategy at Innocean USA. "BMW went as far as to create a system that connects your entire life, from your home to work to your car, all in one single interface. This culminated in a nifty live demonstration of their self-driving car. What I found more interesting, though, was that car manufacturers have realized that autonomous driving is a sea change in how we interact with our vehicles and are really investing in rethinking the whole paradigm. Think of the leap from feature phones with physical buttons and monochrome displays to the smartphones we have today. Now imagine that shift around the act of driving—a task that is infinitely more complex and is a literal life-or-death matter."