2019 marks the 51st year of CES and crossing that half century mark has brought with it a maturity with regards to the types of innovation featured most prominently this year. The over-arching pattern in Tech West, which is the home of Fitness and Sleep tech, Health and Wellbeing, Wearables, Baby, Kids and Family tech and The Smart Home, was one of Purposeful Practicality and Personalization. The brands and products that caught our attention were the ones with the greatest potential to significantly enable the individual or the wider community to achieve a better version of themselves or the world around them.
Time and again, we saw the democratization of industrial or professional level capabilities made available to the everyday consumer. Medical-grade technology is now woven into wearables and the very first company we saw upon walking through the doors of Tech West was Valencell Technology, the makers of heart rate sensors for wearables such as the Bose Sound Sport Pulse earphones and the LG HeartRate earphones. These devices provide in-ear heart rate and in-ear audio coaching to ensure you’re training effectively and could easily be complemented by the likes of the Healbe GoBe2, the smart-life wristband that monitors nutrition and health, thus providing a holistic view of one’s well-being. The personalization of one’s diet and lifestyle also came through with L’Oréal’s My Skin Track pH Wearable Sensor which tracks the acidity of sweat with the aim of the results informing treatment options.
When it comes to fitness training, there is now equipment (albeit expensive) available on the market for commercial use. The Botboxer is a high-tech training machine for combat sports designed to be your personal sparring partner. It has high-speed motion and vision sensors that track your movements and can escape your punches, using real-time data to react to your movements and, ultimately, train you to be better. These machines have professional-level coaching capabilities and are emerging across a range of sports (including golf and hockey) and will soon become available in gyms. What this signals is clear: people are driven to be the very best version of themselves, to train faster and harder and to make better use of time through the data streams from both wearables and their mechanical trainers.
Outside the gym, there is also an increasing level of awareness of the need to be better internally. One of the biggest players focused on improving health and enabling better outcomes via healthy living and prevention – as well as diagnosis, treatment and home care – is Philips. Their commitment to a more holistic take on health puts them within the Smart Home realm, with devices that enable you to eat, sleep, and care better. The Philips Sonicare teledentistry service provides consumers with remote dental consultation from licensed dentists within 24-hours through an app. With this, you take a photo of your mouth from three different angles so a dental consultant can assess the state of your teeth and gums and then advise you on the type of the treatment needed. The High-Speed Connected Blender is the world’s first personalized smart blender which helps people reach their healthy living goals (whether that be a boost in energy or reduction in sugar or calorie intake) by coaching them on their blends and creating plans to help them to stick to their goals. And finally, there’s the SmartSleep, the world’s only clinically-proven wearable solution, powered by AI, to improve deep sleep quality using customized audio tones. Together, these devices seek to enable people to take control of their environment so that they can lead better lives.
However, access to technology is only ever one part of the equation. The ability to maintain a change in behavior is also the result of habit formation, which is where we’re seeing the rise of the Nudge Economy. This is the idea that positive reinforcements and indirect suggestions influence desired behaviors. In the context of being our best selves at home, in the gym, and at work, the nudges would come in the form of the encouragements and scores that come through your Fitbit or Garmin wearable, or the leaderboard on your sporting machine that tracks the progress of your fitness and sporting endeavors, congratulating you on a run logged, or suggesting that you might also want to walk a little further than you did yesterday, or take part in a post-ride stretch today. When we combine this level of gamification with the VR and AR capabilities that are being injected into the way we train in the gym and work in offices, it’s clear that the experience of work and play is evolving to become far more immersive and connected.
Increasingly, the very best capabilities from different technologies are brought together to create more responsive and memorable moments. And this makes sense when you consider the end user and that their time and resources are limited. Interestingly, the increased consumer willingness to give away access to personal data in return for greater insight into, and control of one’s health and destiny adds further fuel to discussions around who is best placed to manage the rising volume of data.
Moving from the personal to societal, one of the most laudable products was GENNY Water from WaterGen, the atmospheric water generator that provides a renewable source of clean and fresh drinking water for offices and homes. It was first presented to the UN in 2016 and has been improving since then. Now the speed of water-from-air extraction has increased: it can produce 30 liters of water in 1.5 hours. It is now used in India, Africa, Central America and China where water purity is an issue and the cost of bottled water too high. It has been providing a cost efficient and effective solution. Water Gen also unveiled its partnership with Ford, in which the Genny will be installed in the FX4 so that water can be produced on the go. Whilst there’s no exact date on when this will start appearing in cars, it’s an interesting concept and certainly ticks the box for better, more sustainable living.
The idea of Innovation Through Partnerships and Collaborations became more overt as we moved to Tech East, home to Vehicles, AI and robotics, Drones, Gaming, Augmented Reality and VR, and Wireless Devices and Services. The OMD Tour commenced in the automotive section and what became apparent is that the future of driving is going to less about the drive itself and more about how the changing shape of the interior. The car will become an extension of the home as our attention shifts from the Living Room to the Driving Room.
Manufacturers are preparing for a world powered by 5G (5th generation mobile networks that will significantly increase network speeds and connect people to each other as well as vehicles, machines, city infrastructure as well as public services and safety) by reconfiguring the internal and external space of self-driving cars, introducing screens across the dashboard to create more enveloping and immersive entertainment and information systems. Disney and Ford announced their partnership to bring VR games and movies to passengers, so that the entertainment experience matches the ride itself in terms of both the length of the drive and the movement of the journey, including the stops, starts and turns. The benefit to the passengers is a reduction in the monotony of the journey, although whether you want every ride to be an intense, high-energy theme ride experience is up to you.
It’s interesting to consider the concept of elastic content and how both the form and shape will adapt in cars. How might we tailor it for children on their way to and from school in their driverless shuttle? How might you and I prepare for a meeting with our team or stream breaking news stories in a moving pod? When thinking this way, it’s easy to imagine cars replacing our phones as the most powerful, everyday computers we access. Samsung’s subsidiary Harman unveiled its in-car entertainment system which has facial recognition and biometric data capture to adjust the experience to the driver (particularly helpful if you share the car with your partner). It is integrated with personal assistant apps and connects to the home, allowing you to control the temperature of the fridge, or pop the slow cooker on for your dinner when you’re on the way back from the office. The notion of your car reading your emotions and then responding in a genuinely useful way was delivered by Mercedes in partnership with Garmin, through the vivoactive 3 Smartwatch which connects to the Mercedes me app and MBUX system, and suggests driving routes that most closely align with your heart rate and stress levels, suggesting more gentle routes if your body and mind are in need of relaxation.
The developments in transportation will transform our lives, providing the next space for content immersion and consumption, shaping the way we shop as stores come to you, keeping us connected to our homes and all the devices and people within it, and, ultimately, influencing the way we spend our time and resources. Ford has been working with Postmates to test the concept of food delivery using self-driving cars and considering how people interact with the car so that they can modify the experience to make it seamless and intuitive. This prototyping and iteration will likely inform how other services and brands move into this space and build out their own customer experiences. The other option that for moving people in the future will be air taxis.
Yes, that’s right, the pursuit of flying cars. One of the most visually arresting objects on the floor was Bell Helicopter’s air taxi, with its hybrid-electric propulsion system and six tilted ducted fans. The prototype has not taken to flight yet but the target date for certification has been set at 2025. Bell Helicopter’s goal is to safely and efficiently redefine air travel, expanding the choices that people have for the way they commute, so that we’re able to choose between self-driving cars, motorbikes, scooters, bikes, and air taxis. The air taxi is expected to be fast, enabling us to be more effective and efficient with our time so that we’re spending it in the most productive ways possible.
Whoever wins the battle for the cockpit will win the attention of the consumer and it’s easy to imagine how connectivity and convenience could become dominant deciding factors for consumers when looking at the brands to choose from, however large or small the item. And this is where partnerships will become important. The test of a successful collaboration could be its impact on strengthening brand loyalty and building more valued and valuable connections. The importance of being people obsessed and applying an empathetic understanding of the consumers’ spoken and unspoken needs, wants, hope, and fears are essential in being able to navigate the partnerships space effectively. It’s through a deeper, more rigorous understanding of the consumer that we’re able to develop the content and experiences that will have the greatest impact on driving brand growth and business performance for our clients.
Whilst 5G phones will be available later this year, the widespread roll out of 5G will have to wait for 2020 onwards. In the meantime, companies are preparing for a 5G connected future, testing concepts, building prototypes, and laying the foundations for success. The New York Times announced its collaboration with Verizon on a 5G journalism project to put 5G technology in the hands of journalists. When you consider the impact of VR, AR, and drones on storytelling, and how it can put the audience right at heart of a conflict, or provide access to inhospitable environments, that opportunity to ignite a much more empathetic understanding is increased. But with that comes the need to consider how to deliver fair and unbiased reporting, and whether a story might ever be ethically too close to the action for the viewer.
The loudest signals we heard at CES were that radical collaboration and rapid prototyping across seemingly diverse industries will be key to achieving competitive advantage and brand growth. The willingness to go beyond one’s core competency and partner with others (even those who might have been deemed competitors in the past) will be important as organizations seek to connect more deeply with consumers. The innovations that shone through were those placing a genuine human need at their core. While the future is about imagining what may not yet exist today, it’s also about making what currently exists better.
Look out for the OMD CES Team’s report (coming soon) which details ‘the seven signals of the future’ and covers the consumer needs and new products across Communication, Transportation, Entertainment, the Nudge Economy, Retail, Work, and Play, and consider how to apply them as you guide your clients to make Better Decisions, Faster in 2019 and beyond.