Fig 1: Our client, Sony, had an impressive showing.
Fig 2: The new G-Shock with Bluetooth.
Fig 3: The Chambers, by Rza.
Fig 4: Polaroid’s Android camera.
Fig 5: Justin Bieber-bot with Tosy’s mRobo.
I went looking for the future in Las Vegas. From the moment I walked into the first hall of the Consumer Electronics Show I was adrift in a sea of 3D TVs, bedazzled iPhone cases, iPad wannabes and a myriad of lifestyle headphones. “Beats” by Dre have been popular for some time, but have you heard about “Street” by 50? Or, “Soul” by Ludacris? Perhaps you’ve heard of “Chambers” by Rza? Then there was the candy colored assortment from iWave, iLuv and Nixon. One thing is clear — lifestyle headphones are more than a fleeting fad.
We Like to Watch
By sheer quantity, you’d probably surmise that the future is all about TV. Ultra-thin and ultra-big — one was 84 inches! 3D in every flavor — including the new kind with no glasses required. (Speaking of glasses, I saw a TV that up to four people could all simultaneously watch different programs by wearing special glasses with built-in earbuds. I didn’t try it, but I can tell you that without the glasses it could possibly cause seizures).
The 4K and 8K TVs that offer four to eight times the pixel resolution were certainly impressive. Sadly, it may only be an alternate future in which the broadcast industry supports these formats.
For me, TVs that boasted facial recognition and took voice commands showed the most promise. I’m ready to ditch my many remotes and own a TV that knows what volume I like it set at and can pull up my favorite show, based on a verbal description.
“Hey TV, play that episode of 30 Rock when Jack talks to his TV.”
The Evolution of Things
It was the adaption of existing products that did the most to suggest future possibilities. For example, the Bluetooth G-Shock watch that communicates with your phone, Motorola’s smart fitness watch that collects both biometric and telemetric data, or Polaroid’s “smart camera” that runs on Android. There was also a swath of home electronics designed to allow users to control and monitor products and systems via their smartphones — from lights, to security systems, to thermostats, to washing machines and even dog collars. Personally, I loved the Swiss Army knife equipped with a 1-terrabyte drive, demonstrating that even our most basic survival tools are quickly adapting.
“Scissors, saw, sewing needle, screwdriver, bottle-opener, toothpick, all six seasons of Lost and my entire music collection, right here on this handy little pocket knife.”
Meaning in a Mass of Memes
CES does more to surface prevailing trends than to point toward future states. There were loads of replicated ideas, all played out with subtle differences in their form-factor, feature and styling. However, when you looked closely, clues to our future certainly emerged. For me, it was in the things that weren’t prevalent:
Entertainment without interactivity: We may be looking for deeper immersion, but we still love passive entertainment experiences.
Devices without boundaries: With sensors, apps and access to the cloud, smartphones are becoming smart everything.
Control without a GUI: Be it by voice, facial recognition or gesture, natural human interfaces offer wonderful new possibilities.
In my view, the natural human interfaces foreshadow the most interesting future possibilities — suggesting that the emotive connections digital technology can create are far more important than the electronic devices that deliver them.