My CES 2020 conclusions and trends: from the cool stuff to the building blocks of our future

I had a blast wandering around at CES 2020 this week, almost like a kid in a candy shop. It was the perfect combination of ‘cool’ futuristic stuff – the things you’d expect to see at CES – and some really interesting patterns of brand behaviour emerging through all the exposed products and services. So I wanted to share my key learnings of the last week here with you on my blog.

  1. The ‘cool’ futuristic stuff

Of course, I really enjoyed the obligatory futuristic examples like Uber Elevate’s and Hyundai’s electrically powered “personal air vehicles” (PAV) that will function as flying taxis for up to four passengers on trips of up to 60 miles at speeds reaching 180 mph. And let’s not forget Samsung’s BB-8-like (a rather cute droid character, for those who aren’t a fan of Star Wars) personal assistant ‘Ballie’ which may only look like a big tennis ball but has built-in artificial intelligence capabilities, a camera and a mobile interface. It’s like having your very own Head Butler around who detects things that need changing or improvement and then outsources these to other connected devices: like opening the curtains or summoning the vacuum cleaner for a dirty floor.

I also had a fun ‘FINALLY!’ moment. Remember the smart fridge that people have been talking about for many years? Well, Samsung has finally made that happen with its next generation ‘Family Hub’ which features new AI capabilities. It recommends recipes based on your dietary preferences and the content of your refrigerator inventory. It tells you when certain ingredients have to be eaten first based on their purchase date or outlook. It prepares your shopping list with all the right ingredients or even automates the buying of certain routine ingredients. It’s the ultraconvenient assistant to a healthy diet.

 

What I really missed in this ‘way-out-there’ category, though, were the cool AR cases. AR has been around for a very long time now, and I still feel that it’s not living up to its potential. The things I tried out at CES were basically just the mobile apps on my phone which I could see through glasses: so I don’t really see (pun intended) the true added value, here. Artificial Intelligence has gone through many “winters”. Well, I’m wondering if this is one of the AR winters.

 

  1. The essential symptoms of the future

But that’s ‘just’ the most flashy, futuristic stuff. There were two crystal clear patterns at CES – like some kind of symptoms of the future – which made me a lot more excited than the ‘obvious’, ultraconvenient and smart solutions on display. As you know, I have been talking a lot recently about how brands will need to follow three well-defined strategies to answer to the modern customer’s expectations:

  1. They will need to help customers save time – one of our most valuable assets – by fully automating transactions;
  2. A level higher up, they will need to answer the hopes and dreams of customers and become a true partner in their lives;
  3. And, ultimately, they will move towards solving some of their biggest fears – global warming, the new ‘cold war’ between the United States and China, the refugee problem, Brexit and many other macro-economic conflicts – and start changing the world together with their customers.

The first one is on its way of becoming a pure basic, of course: if you don’t help your customer save time with ultraconvenient automated products and services, someone else will swoop them away. It is mostly the “life partner” and “world saviour” part that are still really exciting. And I truly loved to see that at CES – the gathering place for future consumer tech – these two streams of change were running through a lot of devices and services.

 

The life partners

Though a lot of brands still make the crucial mistake of producing stand-alone solutions – which is pretty crazy and not very smart in this AI-infused IoT-connected world – there are also those brands that realize that they will only be able to move to the next level of truly useful and essential life partner if they connect themselves in a truly seamless and integrated matter to many other solutions. P&G’s All-in-One System Lumi by Pampers – a HD video monitor and a baby-activity sensor (to put on diapers), both connected to an app – was a perfect example of that at CES. The aim of the connected system is to track diaper, sleeping and feeding routines to help parents anticipate their baby’s needs and build a routine. But parents don’t just have more insights into the wellbeing, the health and the evolution of their child: another ultraconvenient part of Lumi is that it allows customers to sign up for a diaper subscription from P&G. Lumi’s solution is a clear winwin: P&G becomes a true partner in the life of its customers (not just a diaper provider), but it also makes a smart move from product to data-rich service which will enable it to learn a lot from baby and parent-consumer behaviour. And let’s not forget the part about direct sales through subscriptions without needing a middle-man retailer.

In fact, in many ways, the ‘Ballie’ and the smart fridge/dietary assistant are examples of this too: in an ultra-personalized data-munching manner, they follow the behaviour and preferences of the user seamlessly and give direct orders to ‘outsiders’ – vacuum cleaners or supermarkets – which allows them to become personal assistants orchestrating an integrated part of the life of the user. That’s the reason why the network economy will only grow in an exponential manner: as the big tech players – like Google and Amazon – are partnering with everyone, and every sector. But it’s not just them, many players will need to collaborate and integrate each other’s products – supermarkets with smart fridges, delivery robots with smart cars, – if they want to become this type of essential life partner and we will see an increased blurring of industry lines: everyone will become a potential competitor of everyone, in fact.

 

The world saviours

Now the above is already impressive, but my top-favourite examples of CES were those that were not only smart and connected but that truly tackled some of the world’s biggest problems. A hugely impressive example was Toyota’s Woven City, a prototype city of the future, which proves that mobility keeps evolving way beyond just manufacturing cars. Woven City will be built and finished in 5 years time, located closely to Japan’s Mount Fuji (which, in the Japanese culture, is seen as a place of luck and good fortune) and it will function as some kind of research lab for future technologies and sustainable living. It will for instance not be connected to Japan’s grid but produce its very own energy and all the buildings will be developed with sustainable materials, surrounded by all types of greenery. But the most interesting part is that it will investigate how its city can best orchestrate the new types of ACES (autonomous, connected, electric and shared) mobility and delivery. We used to build cities around cars, but Toyota has understood that we need to work the other way around and build cities and mobility around people.

Brain robotics was another perfect example of a company with a bigger purpose. It helps disabled people with prosthetics that are truly integrated with the brain: its devices detect brain waves that would for instance control the host’s hand and then it sends those to a hand prosthetic which then functions completely like a flesh and blood hand. Just imagine how this could change the lives of people who were born without or lost one or more limbs.

I also really loved how Delta Air Lines partnered with Sarcos Robotics to empower its employees with mobile and dexterous exoskeletons to boost their physical capabilities and bolster their health and safety. The exoskeleton can enable an employee to lift up to 200 pounds without strain or fatigue.

And then maybe a last one in this category: Impossible Foods, known for its meatless burgers, launched plant-based pork at CES, which is made with soy protein but designed to look, taste and cook like real meat.

I’m really impressed how all of the above brands were able to end the trade-off that consumer had to make for many, many years: “do I choose convenience, taste, pricing, etc. or do I choose what’s best for the environment or society”? An increased number of brands offers both, and one of the most difficult choices of the former years is slowly disappearing.

So, these are my key insights from CES, from the ‘cool’ stuff to the truly essential building blocks of our future: brands are becoming life partners (where connectivity and integration with other players is key and as a result we’ll see the network economy become even bigger) and brands are turning sustainability and (health)care into action (instead of just selling a nice marketing story). I hope you enjoyed them, and that you are figuring out ways how you can use these to the potential of your own company.