Every year that I attend CES in Las Vegas I reach a point of sensory overload. It’s not just from all the people, lights, noise, and smells, but an overload of product strategies and emerging trends for the coming year.
With everything from R2D2 showing up outside the convention center, to meeting celebrities on the showroom floor, or coming face-to-face with a Paul Bunyan-sized electronic game-playing running shoe by Sketchers, or walking into a booth full of the coolest Chinese technologies ever made but not being able to talk to anyone because they don’t speak English, it’s not possible to describe all the sensations a person will experience at an event like this.
Everyone will experience CES in their own unique way, and the impressions they walk away with will help define their understanding of the world to come. Big time decisions are being made by the impressions made here.
As events go, it’s one of the largest in the world, attracting a record 170,000 people, including 45,000 from other countries. Out of 3,600 exhibitors, 375 of them were startups, with special attention being paid to them in an exhibit area called Eureka Park.
In so many ways, CES sets the tone for the global economy, with tens of thousands of private meetings being conducted in the background forcing more deals to be cut in a shorter period of time than virtually any other event on the planet.
Walking across the exhibit floors is quite a mind-expanding experience. Since I tend to use a radically different set of lenses to experience this show, I walked away with some rather unusual perspectives.
For this reason I’d like to mention twelve of the trends that everyone seemed to have missed at CES.
CES in 1967
History of CES
The first CES was held in June 1967 in New York City. It was a spinoff from the Chicago Music Show, which until then had served as the main event for exhibiting consumer electronics. The event had 17,500 attendees and over 100 exhibitors; the kickoff speaker was Motorola chairman Bob Galvin.
Competing for a while with CES was and event known as COMDEX, a computer expo held at various locations in the Las Vegas Valley, each November from 1979 to 2003. In 2001, the show was sold to Key3Media, a spin-off of Ziff Davis. Reeling from the 2000 economic downturn, Key3Media went into a Chapter 11 in February 2003 making that years show the final chapter in COMDEX history.
As a result, the Consumer Electronics Show has consolidated both COMDEX audiences with their own to make it the standard bearer for new product launches in consumer technology.
12 Emerging Trends that Everyone Missed
It’s easy to report on all the new technology that made its debut at CES. However, the more interesting stories, at least in my mind, are the less obvious shifts in business that can be derived from reading between the lines.
After spending a few days digesting everything, here are a few key observations about the world ahead.
Empty casinos at CES
1.) Traditional Gambling Usurped by Video Games – Even though the gambling industry is trying to tell the world it’s fine, the numbers simply don’t add up. In its 2013 State of the States report, the American Gaming Association reported that 39% of people age 21-35 spent time in casinos, with 90% saying they planned to return. Around the same time, a survey of 3,000 young adults in 16 markets in the Northeast found that only 18% of those under 35 had visited a casino in the past year.
At CES, I walked through dozens of major casinos along the strip and never once did I see a casino operating at more than 15% capacity. The biggest event of all in Vegas and the number of empty seats could fill several giant football stadiums.
However there could be a light at the end of this tunnel of gloom. Since young people would much rather play fast-action rapidly-advancing video games, and gambling laws for slot machines and roulette tables haven’t changed much since the 1950s, the best option may be to build large video game tournament centers and allow people to bet on the action, similar to betting on college basketball.
If casino owners in Vegas were to pick up on this idea, and you heard it first here, major hotels throughout the city could be retrofitted into video game tournament centers, where every major title from Call of Duty, to Middle Earth, Bayonetta, Wolfenstein, and Destiny would have annual competitions. Las Vegas could once again reclaim its position, only this time with a new kind of gambling that appeals in a huge way to today’s young people.
2.) Formation of the Underground Economy for Flying Drones – Flying drones are hot! With over 100 exhibitors at CES showing off the latest in drone tech and the FAA saying the whole industry needs to hold tight until sometime in 2017, the only direction this industry can possibly go is underground. Yeah, theres something very ironic about a highly visible industry involving flying objects creating an underground economy, but since the FAA doesn’t have an enforcement division, and since the operators will soon be miles away from where the machines are flying, it becomes a low risk crime.
That, coupled with a drone industry that is progressing at an exponential rate, while the FAA is still operating with a linear progression mindset, means that we’ll be seeing the equivalent of policemen blowing whistles running down the street trying to stop hyper jet drones flying at 2,000 mph in less than two years.
3.) First Generation Mood-Casters – The Internet of Things had a huge presence at CES as well as vendors offering every kind of Smart Home tech imaginable. The one thing both of these emerging industries has in common is their quest to make life more manageable for everyone.
But here’s the problem. Everyone is different.
So while giving people have access to 10,000 options for controlling the lights in their house or giving them streaming access to a million new songs, video games, or TV shows may sound appealing, all these decision points adds more stress to a person’s day, not less.
There is, however, a solution – Mood-Casting.
If every smart device were able to tap into the mood of people it came into contact with, it could easily make the decisions for them. The good news is that much of today’s wearable technology is giving off the signals necessary for these devices to instantly fine tune their decision-making processes.
For example, if a person walked into a room and the lighting was too harsh, sensors could read common stress indicators and keep making changes to the brightness, color, and intensity until it reached an optimal level.
Mood-Casters could be used to play the perfect music while working out, driving, or trying to relax. Every fire in a fireplace could be altered in both color and brilliance to match the desires of those nearby. Restaurants could adjust the smells in their dining rooms until they were optimized for guests on a moment by moment basis. (i.e. people may prefer a different smell while eating appetizers as opposed to eating dessert.)
Health tech everywhere at CES
4.) The Rise of the Healthcare Circumventionist – Healthcare is a hierarchical industry with doctors firmly entrenched on the top rung. It is also one of the world’s most lucrative industries. The entrepreneurial community knows this and has been plotting for years to find ways to tap into these revenue streams.
Doctors, in general, are not a big fan of the hundreds of medical devices coming out of the woodwork that are designed to circumvent their authority.
They’re even less of a fan of the big data analysts, who have never once studied medicine, that are telling them what to do.
In just a few years, many people will be switching from going in for a “medical checkup” to having a “health analytics screening.”
With hundreds of new entries into the emerging wearable tech industry coming out of the woodwork, in just a few years, most people will be able to make their own diagnosis before ever setting foot in the doctors office. The piece that entrepreneurs will have the greatest difficulty prying away from doctors is their ability to write prescriptions. But that too is destined to be undermined with technology work-arounds.
Have you met your virtual self?
5.) Becoming One with My Virtual Self – Every time I look at the Internet through the rectangular screen on my desk I wonder what it would be like to have a screen 10 times bigger. Better yet, what would it be like to eliminate the screen altogether.
In many ways, CES has been this ongoing competition to see which big industry player can cram the most TVs into their exhibit space in the most interesting fashion. Seeing more than a thousand 4K TVs integrated into one massive 40’ high video wall is impressive to say the least.
The days of “observer based” television is on the verge of being replaced with immersive VR, and eliminating the limitations of the viewing screen is only the first of 10,000 steps towards having the observer integrated into the entertainment experience.
Recent studies have shown that VR users can feel like they’re part of what’s happening just by being able to view they’re own hands. Viewable hands will lead to other viewable body parts, as well as friends, pets, and other non-real characters.
Just as 3D television is now loosing its annoying glasses, over time, virtual reality will loose the goggles and be blended into our real life experiences, with an entirely new genre’s of entertainment entering the fold.
6.) Smart Things Vs Smarter Things – In much the same way toy companies began giving a voice to every fuzzy and plastic creature in play land, companies are finding it increasingly easy to make intelligence the differentiator in virtually every new product.
With everything from connected toothbrushes, to smart heated insoles for your shoes, belts that automatically readjust themselves, and helmets that autocorrect their venting system to keep a person’s head cool, the Internet of Things is providing wireless intelligence and connectivity to everything we interact with.
At the heart of the Internet of Things is a micro sensor industry where every new kind of sensor will create an entire new industry, and the sensors themself are becoming exponentially cheaper, smaller, and more ubiquitous.
Projections show the world breaking the trillion sensor barrier in less than 10 years, and the 100 trillion sensor milestone around 20 years from now.
Sensors are meaningless if not connected to other parts of the “anatomy,” and that’s where MEMS (microelectronic mechanical systems), very small machines, come into play. MEMS are the devices that power everyday things like the Pebble Watch, smart light bulbs, and real-time blood-sugar monitors.
Even though the amount of “intelligence” being added to devices today is still primitive, the trend is towards a universe where devices become aware of changes made by other devices and respond accordingly.
Technologies like Intel’s button-sized Curie device is a step toward integrating far more processing power into wearable tech and its field of sensors.
All this integration is setting the stage for the emerging operating system battlefield.
The OS battles have already begun
7.) The Emerging Operating System Battlefield – In general terms, an operating system is the software operating in the background that manages hardware and software resources and provides a set of common services to make everything run better.
Today’s most common operating systems include Android, iOS, Linux, and Microsoft Windows. Each one has its own feature set that makes applications easier to build and more uniform.
The need for new types of operating systems became apparent when smartphones started entering the picture a decade ago.
As smart technology begins to enter nearly every field, the need for new operating systems has never been greater, and companies are racing to fill the void.
To give you some examples, the operating system for driverless cars will be distinct and different than the operating system for flying drones. At the same time we are seeing a need for separate operating systems for smart homes, the Internet of Things, wearable technology, health tech, learning tech, and robots.
Every unique operating system will have its own unique privacy and security issues, industry standards, language biases, and feature sets.
Those who control the rules of the game will have a huge advantage over everyone else. The OS wars are still in their infancy, and most of the winners will be decided over the next five years.
Portable 3D laser scanner from Z Corporation
8.) Molecular-Level Scanners to Drive Tomorrow’s 3D Printing Industry – The 3D printing world is gaining lots of attention, but often lost in the shadows is a rapidly developing scanning industries with capabilities few ever imagined.
Not only will future scanning technologies be able to scan shapes with nano-scale precision, they will be able to parse exacting details of materials used in every molecule-thick layer of the object being scanned.
This means that someone will eventually be able to scan a smartphone, and with a multi-material 3D printer, reproduce the entire device in exacting detail.
For bio-printing, this means a person that has their finger cut off can have a replacement one printed and surgically connected in a way that few, if any, will know the difference.
9.) Shapeshifting Smart Products – When I first saw the IntelliPillow, a shapeshifting sensor-driven pillow that automatically knows when you’re sleeping on your side or back and adjusts itself accordingly, it reminded me of the columns I wrote on smart shoes and smart car seats over a decade ago.
The three things that the human body interacts with the most in life are the chairs we sit in, the shoes we walk in, and the beds we sleep in. People will pay dearly for any technology that can optimize any of these three friction points.
Using sensors to monitor layers of pressure, and either expanding gels or air systems to compensate for the changing conditions, shapeshifting products are destined to be all the rage in the coming years.
Bang & Olufsen ‘BeoSound Moment’
10.) Touch-Responsive Surfaces – As I came across the Bang & Olufsen ‘BeoSound Moment’ device, I realized I was looking at the world’s first touch-sensitive wood interface.
Extending far beyond glass touch screens of the past, touchable wood opens the door for any number of other touch sensitive surfaces like rock, stone, tile, or even concrete.
But who says we need to confine our thinking to hard surfaces. Will we be creating touch-sensitive carpets, leather, clothing, and upholstery? The answer will soon be an unequivocal yes.
11.) 3D Printing Combined with Robots Paves the way for Large Scale 3D Sculpting & Design – When 3D printing goes mobile, it opens the door for an entirely new kind of design and architecture.
If we can imagine a 3D printer that drives over, refills its tank with material, drives back and precisely extrudes the material into place, you’ll begin to understand the potential here.
Now, consider 100 or 1,000 mobile printers, either mounted on ground based or flying drones, working in swarms to build an entire building. That day is not too far off.
Most large structures of the future will be built this way. This will include everything from cruise ships, to baseball stadiums, hospitals, bridges, skyscrapers, hotels, apartment complexes, and giant sculptures.
Gone are the days of constrained thinking. Tomorrow’s mobile 3D printer technology will unleash a world of creative possibilities unlike anything we’ve ever imagined.
12.) The Massive Growing Need for Micro Colleges – Every new technology creates a need for more training. Very often it ends up being niche learning that takes place in-house with existing employees. But we’re also seeing a growing refinement of industries driving the need for huge new talent pools that currently don’t exist.
Whether its virtual reality, specialized 3D scanning, 3D printing, mobile apps, Internet of Things, flying drones, or reputation management, the need for tech-savvy fast-to-adapt talent pools is growing, and growing quickly.
This is also an area where traditional colleges have missed the boat. Their attempt to put everything into a 2-year or 4-year framework has left the largest untapped opportunity ever for short-term full-immersion courses that help workers reboot their career.
The rapid growth in coding schools such as our own DaVinci Coders is only a tiny slice of a much larger Micro College pie that will get created over the coming years.
In the futurist world, trends are often based on loose signals derived from a few key data points and overlaid on some future timeline.
The trends I’ve described above are a combination of empirical evidence, past observations, industry research, and a fair amount of conjecture on my part.
In many cases, the 1+1=3 formula I use comes from a Situational Futuring technique I’ve been developing over the past few years.
There is great value in this line of thinking because it unlocks possibilities, and more importantly for both individuals and businesses, it can unlock key competitive advantages in a world where differentiation is always a hard fought battle.
As always, I‘d love to hear your thoughts. Please take a moment to weigh in on these and other topics that you find interesting.
Author of “Communicating with the Future” – the book that changes everything