We Have Seen the Future and It's 3-D, Mobile and Waterproof

Sizing up the crush of tomorrow's technology at the Consumer Electronics Show

‘Knight Rider’ and The Connected You
The New meaning of ‘Throw’

“This year, what’s at the center is the connected you,” Mark Jackson, chief technology catalyst at McCann Worldgroup, said at CES. The backbone of the “connected you” is the ecosystem of devices including TVs, smartphones, cars and appliances that are able to connect to the Internet and then to each other, conceivably compiling loads of cross-channel behavioral data and introducing new arenas for brands to interact with consumers.

Perhaps the clearest—and most recent—representations of that coming interconnected world are the self-driving and driver-assisted cars that auto brands like Audi and Lexus unveiled. These vehicles are able to connect to devices like GPS systems, mobile networks and each other in order to autopilot through traffic while their would-be drivers sit shotgun. “Auto companies are ahead of the game because they want to make safer cars, but they are also making an open ecosystem around the car,” said Greg Armshaw, another of McCann Worldgroup’s chief technology catalysts. For example, Ford announced tools for developers to build apps for its Sync platform. That could lead to apps that take advantage of data funneled from a car’s black box, so that an auto-service chain’s in-car app could, say, alert a driver when his vehicle is low on oil and direct him to the nearest auto shop.

But mining data from a vehicle is farther down the road than delivering content to a car, said Kris Alexander, chief strategist for connected devices and gaming at cloud-based intelligence platform Akamai, which seemingly has a hand in the distribution of most Internet-delivered content. Alexander would know—Akamai has partnerships with major auto manufacturers, though he declined to name any.

While the growing crop of KITTs may be the most bleeding-edge example of the devices keeping consumers connected, connected TVs are likely to outpace connected cars in adoption. Manufacturers such as LG, Panasonic and Toshiba have partnered to promote smart TVs as another app platform. At its CES booth, LG demoed how a consumer could download The Sims app to his TV and use his iPhone as a controller. The TV-app ecosystem wouldn’t only open up the big screen to console-less gaming but also to cable-less viewing.

Cord-cutting has been a hot topic for years with the advent of devices like Xbox and Roku and streaming services from the likes of Netflix and Hulu. Smart, Internet-enabled TVs could reduce the need for those middleman devices and introduce even more competition for TV networks from existing Web publishers already cranking out lots of video.

In 2013, Forbes intends to “scale our video offering to be a meaningful part of the business,” said group publisher and chief revenue officer Meredith Kopit Levien. In the past, that might have meant more premium videos on and perhaps a YouTube channel, but Levien acknowledged a broader strategy that may possibly include a Forbes smart TV app.

Not everyone is bullish about smart TV applications. Brad Hunstable, founder and CEO of live broadcast platform Ustream, says he’s more intrigued by the idea of a consumer starting to watch a video on his smartphone or tablet and then “throwing” it to a connected TV, á la Apple TV, rather than pulling videos from the Web to his TV.

(Indeed, during CES, companies like Qualcomm and Intel promoted their latest chips, which can wirelessly connect implanted devices to one another.)

For marketers, the idea of everything connected means more data that could conceivably be used for ad targeting, as well as more media on which to run those ads—be it a Jiffy Lube promotion that’s aired over a car’s audio system when its computer detects that it’s time for an oil change, or a supermarket coupon displayed on a refrigerator door to alert you that the milk put inside in a couple weeks ago has likely soured by now.

Said Alexander, “The reality is that anything with electronics will be connected in some way over time.” –Tim Peterson

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