CES 2017, Where’s the Beef?

Written by: on January 11, 2017

When I landed in Vegas my mood could be described as jaded. That only increased when the nice person handing out badges took extra time to affix a “10+ Years” ribbon to the badge, reminding me how, for me, CES is in fact an annual pilgrimage and not just a business trip.  The show is monstrous in scale, and is surrounded by other events such as the AT&T Developer Summit.  Seeing everything is not possible, so take the following as the unique thoughts of a veteran attendee who has had many perspectives over the years including as a student, a founder, and an executive.


On the automotive entertainment front there were two things that caught my eye, the SmartDeviceLink Consortium (SDL) and the BOSCH mySPIN for cars.  Both aim to provide yet another way for app developers to get experiences into cars and for carmakers to have more control over the eco-system.  With Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay already in the market, my guess is that consumers will opt for the path of least resistance.  The purchase decision will be influenced by their current device first, then they will gravitate to simple bluetooth audio connections which all modern systems offer.  Entertainment companies already have plenty of platforms to support, so I see them looking to the path of least resistance as well with Android Auto and CarPlay being top of mind.  The mySPIN approach is an app within an app approach, much like Toyota’s current Entune.  Overall, this space is getting more fragmented for consumers, developers, and brands.

When it comes to how we drive our cars, autonomous driving was the buzz.  Dan Burcaw commented and I agree that the concepts shown by major manufacturers are still very traditional and all still include steering wheels and pedals.

Self driving cars are coming, and much sooner than most people think.  Tesla is already on the road beta testing software along with Google and Uber.  In fact, Henrik Christensen predicts kids born today will never drive a car. There is already an overall change in society where the driver’s license is less important than the first smartphone for teenagers.


I look forward to a day when AR and VR are a part of our daily lives and not just a buzzword in pitches. Though we are well passed the experimentation of Virtual Boy there is still a lot of work to do.  In particular, getting a VR experience setup is not an ideal process. The biggest thing at CES 2017 was all of the ways that additional types of controllers are being worked on. Flight simulation, foot controllers, and hand tracking all point to new tools in the VR arsenal that when put together, will create an experience greater than the sum of its parts.  Mainstream consumer VR is still some ways off but it is fun to watch it progress.  Brands should be in experimentation mode, it’s going to take experimenting a lot of ideas to get to the next phase of VR.


Learning Toys

As a parent my kids love screens.  Smartphone and tablet apps have been a part of their entire lives and there are definitely huge benefits to the use of educational apps.  As I walked the floor there were many examples of bringing the tactile experience back with integration to these apps. The way in which future generations will be taught is a very exciting field with lots of opportunity.  For example, Lego launched Boost, which on the surface looks like a polished version of Mindstorms for younger children. It includes a coding language to teach the basics of logic to bring the bricks to life. 


Other booths, such as Square Panda, brought together the physical and virtual worlds by using iPads and real letter blocks to teach phonics lessons.


Voice Control

Alexa was everywhere. New devices that contained the Alexa technology, clones of the echo device itself, and devices that could be controlled by Alexa dominated the show floor. Amazon’s approach allowing developers to create both hardware and software that interacts with Alexa creates a truly, customizable platform. Brands without skills or an Alexa strategy need to be formulating one ASAP. These solutions should be flexible to account for future changes in the voice controlled ecosystem, but Alexa is the place to start.  My favorite example of Alexa integration was the Velop whole home wi-fi system from Linksys. Alexa can tell you how to connect to the wifi, control the guest wifi, and my favorite being the ability to toggle the wifi off for users.  Great for dinner time or other times when the kids won’t get off their devices.


There were also plenty of new devices to capture virtual reality video, underwater video, and other creativity tools. The story is the same as most years, the quality of the capture has increased while the cost has decreased. Brands and agencies should definitely be looking at their internal workflows and tools to consider what additions or replacements should be made in 2017. If you’re an agency not experimenting in 360 video capture it has never been easier to try out.


The best keynote I attended was Under Armour’s. Now it may have been the only keynote I attended, but regardless, I was impressed at the vision they presented balanced with real product shipping. Kevin Plank delivered a succinct vision of how Under Armour sees the future and rolled out a step in that direction with new sleepwear and a new line of footwear. Sleepwear as a new category for an athletic company will most likely inspire other companies to follow in these footsteps.



Late in the day Friday I ran into Parihug. Electronically connected teddybears that let loved ones hug each other from any distance (as long as there is internet). Amazing, kudos to the team working on that.


Bottom line? Even for this jaded veteran, CES is a great place to take a bunch of meetings with old friends, current customers, new customers, and if you’re lucky, there will be a new idea seeded into your consciousness.

Ben Reubenstein

Ben Reubenstein

Ben Reubenstein, CEO of Wunderman Thompson Mobile where he leads a team of highly dedicated, mobile-centric professionals who create native mobile apps and engaging consumer experiences. He also developed one of the first 150 iOS apps for Apple's app store.

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