Lessons from 50 years of CES – Transform or Be History

It was only fitting to celebrate 50 years of the Consumer Electronics Show with a sampling of some of the best-of products over the years amidst this year’s showcase of the most innovative products for 2017. Many of the products in the 50th Anniversary cases are now obsolete collector’s items and a number of the brands have even disappeared – only to be remembered fondly like that old friend you lost touch with years ago. Without truly grasping it at the time I checked these out, these cases exemplified what stuck out the most for me at CES 2017 – If we’re not open to transformation, we’re history.

Perhaps the biggest change over the past five years is the diminished priority on the “Consumer” element of the Consumer Electronics Show name. There is definitely still a consumer in the evolving equation, but it isn’t just Mr. Smith who is searching the high street stores to outfit his home. The huge influx of Media and Marketing types who are in attendance because, as digital/technology is not just a corporate sideshow but the core of marketing and communications, was the biggest eye-opener constituency-wise. There’s seemingly less and less of the husband and wife Hi-Fi store buyers walking about. And, the growth of Automotive industry representation caused many to deem that CES actually now refers to Car Electronics Show. I wouldn’t go that far, but here’s where the real transformation is blinding:

The evolution of CES’ main hall from predominantly large television sets and traditional CES-wares, and companies’ transformation to connected ecosystems that may or may not benefit the “traditional” consumer is very telling – and exhilarating. It certainly spells in clear letters that things are no longer the way they used to be.

One prime example was Panasonic’s booth. It still utilized the same large footprint as it has for years, but there were vastly fewer televisions. This makes sense, as they are no longer creating those magnificent Plasma televisions that set them apart. They have transformed to a much larger priority on touting the connected products that automate/augment consumers’ houses as well as numerous products that don’t even serve that traditional consumer. Services for municipalities, industrial entities and content providers took up much of the space previously reserved for showing the difference between 2D and 3D or 1080P and 4K. It certainly was a far cry from when we had Darth Vader and 30 Stormtroopers march in to announce the release of the STAR WARS Saga on Blu-ray with promo video running across hundreds of screens.

If the STAR WARS stunt was an example of how entertainment content used to be the tentpole of CES, there is growing proof that consumers (and manufacturers) are beginning to see content as just a major thread in the fabric of our transformation to connected homes.

LG unquestionably had the biggest buzz based on traditional CES offerings with their release of OLED W7, which finally meets the promise of the original TOTAL RECALL film – where the TV screen is effectively wallpaper. The functional factor of this ultra-thin ultra-HD screen is mind-blowing – coming in at less than 3 cm thick and weighing only 18 pounds. The future possibilities are tremendously cool. At that weight and thickness, could we end up taking smaller screens around with us and just sticking them on walls as we see fit? BUT, the key thing to consider about LG is that they also had all their connected home appliances and they introduced the mobile phone that they hope will compete with all the higher-end phones in the market. If they can get penetration with these these LG V20 models, perhaps they can start setting up their own true ecosystem providing seamless device/household connectivity and brand loyalty.

Connectivity has certainly moved beyond the head-scratching thoughts the majority of attendees had about connected appliances a few years ago. Amazon’s Alexa was the elephant in the room, as many manufacturers were touting Alexa compatibility. While good for quick, seamless activities and actions, do we really want to be giving Amazon even that much more data in order to sell us things? The reality is, these manufacturers need to broaden their services and be compatible across platforms in order to transform their business and succeed into the future.

nVidia is one such company that has transformed more than just expand. While providing graphics cards perfect for gaming for years, the past couple of years have seen them expand into processing, data, automotive and AI. All of these provide true opportunity on a move-forward basis. They announced a partnership with Mercedes-Benz at CES whereby they’ll be providing the AI functionality for an autonomous car to be released by the end of 2017. What might relate more to the general public is their updated nVidia Shield streaming console. Allowing users to play games as well as store and stream entertainment content, the Shield expands upon their graphics delivery core. But, this newest update will also allow for listening – potentially throughout the house – in an attempt to play along the same lines as Alexa, and could help in refining their AI and Data offerings.

We can go on and on about a whole bunch of players that have transformed their product offerings as technology changes. It is questionable how many players will be able to move beyond their offerings that now seem over-saturated (3D printing or drones) to transform in order to stay relevant – like Garmin, who is attempting to stay relevant with their wearables line (now that nobody really needs their original map/GPS products due to smartphones.)
Because, certainly, nobody wants to be considered the next Kodak or Polaroid – two players who famously chose not to transform and are now completely dead — or just licensed…

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